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FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"You shall count for yourselves from the day following the Shabbat. you shall count fifty days"
The missvah of counting the omer appears in our parashah. The Rif and Rambam, as well as a few other Rishonim z"l, are of the view that even nowadays, in the absence of the Bet Hamikdash, the counting of the omer remains a missvah at the level of "de'orayta" (Biblically ordained). Most Rishonim, however, including Tosafot, the Ba'al Ha'itur, Rashba, Rosh and others, maintain that after the destruction of the Mikdash, when the omer offering cannot be brought, the missvah applies only "miderabanan" (through rabbinic enactment). We pray that the Bet Hamikdash will soon be rebuilt so that we merit the privilege of fulfilling the missvah at the Biblical level of obligation.
Regarding the reason behind the missvah, the Midrash states that when Benei Yisrael left Egypt, Mosheh Rabbenu informed them that the purpose behind their redemption is to receive the Torah from the Almighty. They asked Mosheh when this great moment will occur, and he answered that they will receive the Torah fifty days hence. They then counted the days until the receiving of the Torah with intense excitement and anticipation. Once the Torah was given, the Almighty commanded us to count the omer in order that we remember this great excitement, involve ourselves in Torah study and fulfill its missvot. This Midrash is cited in Shut HaRashba (volume 3, 284).
An additional reason behind this missvah appears in the Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 3, 97b), cited by the Or Hahayyim and Akedat Yisshak. While in Egypt, Benei Yisrael deteriorated to the forty-ninth level of impurity, and Hashem saved them from this dangerous situation and took them for Him as a nation.
Now the halachah states that once a woman agrees to marry a man, she must then wait seven clean days in order to be purified from her impurity before the wedding (see Vayikra 15:21). Correspondingly, Hashem commanded us to count seven weeks. In the forty-nine days between the Exodus and Matan Torah, Benei Yisrael were elevated to the forty-ninth level of sanctity.
The Akeidat Yisshak adds that herein lies the reason why we do not recite "shehehiyanu" on the first night of counting the omer. These days were not ones of joy, but rather of distance and preparation for the great moment of closeness at Matan Torah.
The "Sseror Hamor" adds that just as a bride is purified before her wedding in a mikveh, so was the final purification of Benei Yisrael brought about through Torah, which is compared to water (Ta'anit 7a). Thus we saw the fulfillment of the verse, "I will take you for Me as a nation" (Shemot 6:7), referring to Matan Torah (see Rashi). Rav Hayyim Plagi zs"l thus cites in his work, "Mo'ed L'chol Hai" the words of the Shelah HaKadosh: "The concept of counting the omer is a great concept, and heavenly sanctity is brought about upon themselves; therefore, one must arouse his heart in concentration, that he be sacred and pure."
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
A World of Colors
Hashem created for us a wondrous, colorful world. It consists of flowers of all shades and colors, and animals that run the gamut of the rainbow's colors. The most interesting question is, how does man see all the various colors? Light is composed of many tiny waves of varying lengths. When a person sees colors, he actually sees light of differing wavelengths. Each color has its own, unique wavelength. Sunlight appears to us as colorless, and it is therefore called "white light." In actuality, however, sunlight is a composite of various colors or, if you will, many, many wavelengths.
When a rainbow appears in a cloud, one can see some of the colors. A rainbow results from the deflection of the rays of light from their path as they pass through raindrops. Light with a particularly long wavelength, such as red, deflect a little more than light of shorter wavelengths, such as violet, for example. Therefore, the colors leaving the raindrops spread out like a fan.
When we look upon various objects, most of the visible colors emerge from the breaking of the rays of light, and they then undergo the process of "reduction of colors." When sunlight, which contains the entire array of colors, hits a certain object, a portion of the colors are absorbed in the object, while the other colors are returned therefrom. These colors give the object its color. In other words, the visible color of the given item is actually the waves that bounce back. Thus, for example, an object that appears red absorbs all the waves of light that reach it and returns the color red.
How reminiscent this process is of the human world! Every person contains within him many different and varying qualities. Yet, each individual has his own, unique characteristics, the qualities that single him out and shine forth from within him. This awareness can prevent the awful disease of jealousy. Some people may think that the color that shines from his friend is of a higher quality, forgetting that he possesses his own special color, talents and characteristics that he can utilize for his own good, for his spiritual progress, the good of his family, and the good of Am Yisrael and the world.
The Espionage Case (12)
Flashback: A Russian secret agent hid the architectural plans of the fortresses of the city of Kovno in the pocket of Efrayim Leboviss, a German student in the yeshivah of Radin, in the height of Russian-German conflict during World War I. The boy was arrested under the charge of wartime espionage, and urgent intervention on the part of the Jewish community saved him from a quick military trial which would have certainly resulted in his death sentence. He was transferred to Vilna for questioning, and with the advance of the German forces he was moved to the country's interior. The yeshivah of Radin, too, was forced to relocate, and the prisoner was identified in a prison in Panza. The Hafess Hayyim sent there one of his students, who managed to meet the prisoner for a brief moment under the guise of the contractor's assistant during the prison's renovations.
Mosheh Yehudah, the messenger of the Hafess Hayyim, returned to the Hafess Hayyim in Shumiass, where he had established his yeshivah. Here, too, the ssadik's home became the site to where throngs of Jews would flock to pour out their hearts and tell of their personal troubles, seeking a blessing from the ssadik. When the Hafess Hayyim saw his student, he asked his guests' indulgence while he brought the student into his room for a private meeting.
"Shalom aleichem," he warmly greeted. "Did you speak with him? What did he say?"
The student answered, "He said, 'Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; illuminating eyes rejoices the heart.'"
"This is a ben Torah! Do you understand what he's saying?"
"It seems to me, rebbe, that he refers to a Gemara in Arachin 8b. The Gemara explains that 'Your righteousness is like the mountains of God' refers to leprosy brought about upon people's skin, the fate of which is determined in a single week. 'Your statutes are a great abyss' refers to the afflictions that appear on the walls of homes, the status of which is determined only after a three-week process. Although in the one week the skin infections can be determined to be impure, the torture involved in the suspense of the ruling regarding the home is ten times as aggravating."
"You, too, are a true ben Torah!" exclaimed the Hafess Hayyim exuberantly.
"What about the second pasuk - 'illuminating eyes rejoices the heart'?"
Mosheh Yehudah sat silently, and the Hafess Hayyim continued, "He was referring to the Radak's commentary to the pasuk. Illuminating an unclear issue rejoices the heart, for there is no greater joy in the world than resolving doubts. Efrayim is asking that we try to expedite his trial so as to relieve him of the torture of suspense, that he find out his fate once and for all.
"This is your responsibility. Meanwhile, I will return to my responsibility, of listening to the broken hearts of Jews and try to console them."
To be continued.
THE MASHGIAH'S SPEECH
Ten months ago, a prominent man named Rav Nahman Shabtai Gelinsky z"l, passed away. Among his possessions were found his notes from speeches delivered by the famed "mashgiah," Rav Yehezkel Levenstein zs"l, during the Six Day War. These speeches have recently been published, and one who reads these summaries can only be amazed by the purity of soul and loftiness of spirit that emerges.
The following speech was delivered on 27 Iyyar 5727. Those who lived through those days will never forget the suspenseful period of waiting, the frantic changes among the leadership, and the preparations of massive graveyards that followed the proclamation from Cairo, the thick cloud of war that hung over the nation. Suddenly, the salvation of Hashem came forth in the blink of an eye; the enemy's air force was destroyed in their base, their battle lines breached, and Shechem, Hevron and Bet Lehem suddenly came under our control. Battle was waged over Yerushalayim, and the Western Wall, the only remnant of our Bet Hamikdash, was liberated. Whose heart wasn't stirred, whose eyes did not pour forth tears of joy! The mashgiah stood up and spoke: why all the celebration? How can we rejoice?
Soldiers fell in battle, there is mourning and bereavement. How can we not cry together with the wounded, not sense their pain? Moreover, how can we proceed with such peace of mind, when the battle has yet to end?
Thousands of Jews still stand in the battlefields, their lives in danger. How do our hearts not pound with terror together with theirs, how can we remain calm? After all, this is very foundation of Judaism: "You shall love your friend like yourself - this is a great principle in the Torah." We must sense the pain of others, we must bear the burden of our brothers. One who carries on with such ease demonstrates his belief that the war is decided on the battlefront, and the people there carry out their work dependably. But we know that the fate of battle is determined in the Heavens, where other weapons are used: every page of Gemara is a bomb; every chapter of Tehillim is a cannon shell; every added prayer and level of Torah study and fear of sin means that fewer soldiers are hurt, leading to an easier victory. One who knows this, who senses this, cannot remain calm. He cannot possibly allow himself peace of mind. He knows that he stands in the front lines, and he must therefore exert himself tenfold in his devotion to missvot!
"THE NOBILITY DEMANDS"
Our parashah opens with the commandments regarding the kohanim, specifically the prohibition against their contact with tum'a. The Torah offers a reason for this prohibition, a reason which speaks to all people, not just the kohanim: "He should not defile himself as a husband among his kin, and so profane himself" (21:4). The Ramban zs"l explains, "Because of the stature of the kohen - since he is worthy to be the greatest and most respected among his nation - he is warned not to profane his stature forever."
Rav Yeruham Halevi zs"l of Mir commented that the Torah here teaches us a general lesson that applies to everyone, not merely the kohanim. A Jew, no matter who he is, at whatever level, may not conduct himself like a gentile.
He may not imitate the gentiles' lifestyle in terms of mode of dress, song, etc. You are a Jew; guard your stature! One who observes Torah and missvot belongs to the nobility, which demands a higher standard, that one speak with more refined speech, dress in a dignified manner, and maintain more controlled behavior. A yeshivah student is of a special stature, and must therefore protect this stature with extra care. There are places where he must never be seen; he may not walk around in any type of clothing. He must stand out in his proper mode of speech, general conduct, and even eating; he must sanctify the Name of Hashem by his very appearance. How much more so does this apply if he had the privilege to become a rabbi or teacher of Torah.
This message applies as well, and perhaps especially, to parents. You are great and noble in the eyes of your children. Ensure to maintain proper, controlled behavior, so that your stature is not belittled in their eyes!
EDUCATION - SAVING LIVES!!
I recently heard a remarkable story, one which brings to life the reason why our great rabbi Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a devotes himself tirelessly to the pure education, why this issue remains at the very top of his agenda, and why he fights the sacred battle to increase and more fully establish its operation.
The story occurred during World War II, when Europe was drowning in a deluge of blood, fire and smoke and the Jews were locked inside ghettos and sent to be destroyed. Various organizations involved themselves in saving whatever lives they could. Groups of youngsters were sent outside the borders, and they crossed through countries and oceans until their arrival in England, which was then fighting for its life. Enemy aircraft and missiles brought widespread destruction, life became a nightmare and desperation rose. The German intrusion, it seemed, was imminent, and the Prime Minister guaranteed the people "blood, sweat and tears."
The young refugees were taken by various organizations, both Jewish and otherwise. The Jewish organizations included both Torah observant groups as well as those bereft of any connection to the Jewish religion and heritage.
The religious organization that dealt with the absorption of refugees organized for them a camp with counselors, teachers and educators, plus a kitchen and "camp mother." Obviously, all this required a lot of funding.
Other children needed adopting families, all at a time when inflation rose to the sky and unemployment abounded. Donations gradually subsided, as many donors went bankrupt and others simply could not part with their wealth out of fear of what may come. The organizers gathered in the home of the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of London, Rav Yehezkel Abramski zs"l, to report on the grim situation. "Rabbi, the money has been depleted, and we are compelled to cease the operation. The youth will have to be given over to other groups, where they will at least receive food and shelter but without a Torah education. We have no choice."
The rabbi asked, "There is no other source of funding? None at all?!"
They shook their heads. They had already turned to everyone, they tried everything. They had heard of Lord something-or-other, a Jew by birth who had lost all ties to Judaism. He observed nothing other than the day of his parents' passing, when he would go to Bet Kenesset to recite kaddish.
Despite his immense wealth, they did not even bother to approach him. He was as far away from religion as east is from west.
Right there and then, the rabbi telephoned the wealthy man and scheduled a meeting.
"I come for a matter of life and death," the rabbi said as he sat opposite the man. He proceeded to tell him about the organization. The man sat and listened until the rabbi finished, and replied, "I already support life-saving operations. I provide funding for the Red Cross and other similar organizations. Forgive me, rabbi, but this institute is not involved in saving lives. The youngsters were saved once they left the burning continent. Here, in England, their lives are secure, and it makes no difference to me where they receive their education."
"Judaism maintains that Torah education is also considered saving lives," responded the rabbi. "Detachment from the fountains of Torah and observance of missvot is equivalent to the loss of life!"
"I'm sorry, but the rabbi has gone a little far afield," claimed the man.
"I don't know what you mean exactly when you say 'saving lives.'" He stood up, and the interview came to an end. The rabbi left empty-handed.
On Friday night, at 11:00 PM, the phone rang in the wealthy man's residence. Shabbat was for him like a weekday, and so he picked up the phone. "Hello?"
The voice coming from the other end was familiar: "This is Rabbi Abramski, the chief rabbi of London. I am calling you on Shabbat eve, because saving lives overrides Shabbat, and educating children towards Torah and missvot constitutes saving lives. Is this clear enough an indication that I am speaking here of saving lives?"
The man was startled. "How much money does the rabbi need?"
The rabbi told him the amount, an enormous fortune, and after Shabbat the lord came to his house with the money. The operation continued, and lives were saved as the youngsters were given a Torah education.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Yehudah Ben Atar zs"l
Around three hundred years ago, the light of Rav Yehudah Ben Atar shone in Morocco. The Hid"a zs"l wrote that he was "the great, sacred rabbi, the head of the rabbinical court in Fez," and that "he was trained in miracles."
The Hid"a adds, "My ears have heard of several wonders that occurred to him, both during his lifetime and after his death. I heard from our rabbis, the sacred ones of the West, that he was a sacred man of God, that he was cast into a lion's den and saved after having spent there a day and a night."
It is highly doubtful that we will ever be able to reach his exalted levels of sanctity. After all, "If the early ones were like angels, then we are but human beings." Nevertheless, we are obligated to learn to walk in his ways and follow his superior conduct and fine qualities. As the following incident demonstrates, together with his greatness, we find his remarkable humility.
Once, Rav Yehudah, the head of the rabbinical court in the kingdom's capital, walked past a stand where a merchant sold coals. The man turned to him and said, "Rabbi, Rabbi, I am hungry. Is it okay if you stay here to watch my merchandise while I run home to get something to eat?" The great rabbi consented willingly, and the merchant went off.
Soon afterwards, Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Ssur zs"l passed by and was astonished to see the revered head of the rabbinical court sitting in the marketplace by a stand of coals. He inquired as to what was going on, and the rabbi explained that he was asked to watch over the merchandise while the shopkeeper enjoyed his meal.
"But what about the honor of the Torah?" asked Rabbi Yaakov.
Rabbi Yehudah smiled and said, "I have always wondered about the testimony of Rebbi (Rav Yehudah HaNasi) that he was prepared to fulfill the wishes of every individual: 'Anything a person tells me, I would do.' Now I understand what he meant, that even if he would be asked to watch over bags of coals, he would agree. And if Rebbe would agree, then certainly I must."
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
Taken from the work, "Osserot Yossef" by Rav David Yossef shlit"a,
The Customs Involving Mourning During the Sefirah Period
Hazal say (Yevamot 65b) that Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of (or twenty-four thousand) students, all of whom died during one period - between Pesah and Shavuot - because they did not afford honor to one another. In commemoration of this tragedy, we observe several practices of mourning during the days of sefirat ha'omer. The custom of the Sefaradim and Eastern communities is to observe these practices of mourning from Pesah until the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the omer.
Several communities amongst the Ashkenazim, however, observe the period of mourning for Rabbi Akiva's students only until Lag Ba'omer. Other communities of Ashkenazim observe the mourning period from the second day of Iyyar until Erev Shavuot. According to this custom, haircuts may be taken and weddings may be conducted on Lag Ba'omer itself, and the mourning then resumes thereafter until Erev Shavuot. There are other Ashkenazim who begin the mourning period on the first day of Rosh Hodesh Iyyar (30 Nissan) and continue until the first of the three "days of preparation" before Shavuot, i.e. the morning of 3 Sivan. Followers of this custom, too, may take haircuts and conduct weddings on Lag Ba'omer, after which they continue the mourning period until the third of Sivan.
Several other communities of Ashkenazim, however, observe the mourning period from Pesah all the way until Erev Shavuot, relaxing the prohibitions only on Lag Ba'omer. Some Ashkenazim are lenient also on the two days of Rosh Hodesh Iyyar as well as on Rosh Hodesh Sivan. Other customs exist, as well, and everyone should follow his custom. The common denominator between all the customs of the Ashkenazim is that no mourning is observed on Lag Ba'omer. The Sefaradim do not observe the mourning practices from the thirty-fourth day of the omer onward.
The basic prohibitions during this period are weddings, haircuts and shaving, listening to musical instruments, and dancing.
The custom among the Sefaradim and Eastern communities in Eress Yisrael is not to marry from Pesah until the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the omer, after sunrise, as a reflection of mourning for the death of Rabbi Akiva's students. Weddings are then permitted from the thirty-fourth day of the omer onward. The Ashkenazim have the practice to be lenient and conduct weddings on Lag Ba'omer, and some Ashkenazim are lenient even on the eve of Lag Ba'omer. Although some communities of Sefaradim also have the practice to be lenient in this regard and conduct weddings on Lag Ba'omer, the custom is Eress Yisrael follows the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, who forbids weddings until after sunrise on the thirty-fourth day of the omer.
Rabbis of every locale have the obligation of ensuring not to officiate at weddings until the thirty-fourth day of the omer onward if the bride and groom are from Sefaradi communities, who accepted upon themselves the rulings of the Shulhan Aruch. They may marry only from the thirty-fourth day of the omer on, as it says, "Do not abandon the teaching of your mother" (i.e. one must follow their familial customs).
In extenuating circumstances, such as if the couple cannot find a suitable hall unless they conduct the wedding on Lag Ba'omer and they would have to delay the wedding for a considerable period of time, or if they mistakenly signed on a hall for Lag Ba'omer and began the preparations, and the groom has yet to fulfill the missvah of procreation, the couple may be lenient and get married on the night of the thirty-fourth day of the omer (that is, the night after Lag Ba'omer). There is no room for them to be lenient and get married on the night of Lag Ba'omer. In a situation of great need, they should consult a competent authority proficient in halachah.
If the groom is a Sefaradi and the bride is Ashkenazi, or vice-versa, the groom's custom determines the practice they must follow. Thus, if the groom is a Sefaradi, then they may get married only on the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the omer; if the groom is an Ashkenazi, then they may conduct the wedding already on the morning of Lag Ba'omer.
Sefaradim and those from Eastern communities may attend weddings of Ashkenazim - even with musical accompaniment - held on Lag Ba'omer, and they may even participate in the song and dance in honor of the groom. Similarly, Ashkenazim may attend weddings of Sefaradim and those from Eastern communities held on the thirty-fourth day of the omer, even if their custom is not to conduct weddings after Lag Ba'omer.
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
Produced by Cong. Bnai Yosef and the Aram Soba Foundation - translated from Ma'ayan Hashavua in Israel
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