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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Masechet Avot (the shiur was delivered in the year 5760)
"Rabbi Elazar Hamoda'i says: One who desecrates the sacrifices, shows disrespect for the festivals, embarrasses his friend in public, violates the covenant of Avraham Avinu, or who expounds a meaning in the Torah not in accordance with normative law - even if he has with him Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the world to come." (3:11)
Rabbi Elazar Hamoda'i lived around fifty years after the destruction of the Mikdash, in the town of Betar, which at that time was a very heavily populated city. Hazal say (Eichah Rabbah 2) that the Jewish general Bar Kochba, whom Rabbi Akiva thought was the Mashi'ah, lived in Betar. The Roman army besieged Betar for three years, during which time Rabbi Elazar Hamoda'i sat in sackcloth, praying. The Roman general saw that he could not capture the city and prepared for withdrawal. A certain person with him, however, asked him to wait one day and he will ensure that the city will be captured. He entered the city through the sewage system and found Rabbi Elazar praying. He pretended to whisper something in the rabbi's ear, but he didn't notice. Rumors then spread that Rabbi Elazar conspired with the enemy in order to hand the city over to the Romans. The man was brought before Bar Kochba for questioning and confirmed the alleged rumor. Rabbi Elazar was brought before Bar Kochba, and when he denied the allegation Bar Kochba killed him. Betar was then destroyed and Bar Kochba was killed.
"One who desecrates the sacrifices" refers to instances such as one who performs the avodah in the Mikdash with gloves in order to avoid direct contact with the blood and meat and the sacrifices. This violates the law requiring that no material stand in between one's hands and the korbanot as he tends to them. The Gemara in Pesahim (57a) tells of one kohen gadol who did this, and, as a punishment, ultimately had both his hands severed.
"One who shows disrespect to the festivals." The Gemara in Pesahim (118a) equates disrespect for the festivals with idolatry. The Rashbam explains this "disrespect" as a reference to performing forbidden work ("melachah") on Hol Hamo'ed. Tosefot (Hagigah 18a) reject the Rashbam's interpretation, claiming that melachah on Hol Hamo'ed constitutes but a rabbinic prohibition. They therefore explain that this passage refers to melachah on Yom Tov itself. As the Yamim Tovim all commemorate yessi'at Missrayim, one who violates them denies the miracles of the Exodus and divine providence; he is thus considered as having worshipped idols.
"One who embarrasses his friend in public." The Gemara in Baba Messi'a (59a) writes that one should enter in a situation of possible adultery rather than embarrass his fellow in public. Furthermore, one should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly embarrass another. We must therefore be very careful with regard to the honor of other people. This becomes a particularly important matter among schoolchildren; they must be taught to exercise extreme care in this regard. It is clear from Tosafot (Sotah 10b) that the Gemara's statement concerning casting oneself into a furnace is to be taken literally. This emerges as well from the comments of Rabbenu Yonah in Sha'arei Teshuvah (3:139).
"One who expounds a meaning in the Torah not in accordance with normative law." Hazal (Sanhedrin 99b) points to King Menasheh, the son of Hizkiyahu, as an example of one who misinterprets Jewish law. He would concoct nonsensical expositions on pesukim in order to arrive at incorrect conclusions.
"One who violates the covenant of Avraham Avinu." The Midrash in Beresheet Rabbah (48:8) writes that in the future, Avraham will sit at the entrance to Gehinnom and prevent the entry of anyone with a berit milah. However, for those who have committed too many sins he will remove the foreskin from babies who died before having a berit and place it on those sinners, who will then be brought into Gehinnom.
All these sins listed in the Mishnah as rendering one unworthy of share in the world to come apply only to those who have not repented. Even those who commit these sins earn a share in the world to come if they perform proper teshuvah.
"There is no free lunch" - not even, and especially not, in Gan Eden. One's conduct will determine whether he earns entry or not. Advanced payment is required at the gate, and the payment must be in cash - Torah, missvot, faith, kindness, good qualities, etc. Everything is weighed with meticulous precision, and the reward is calculated accordingly.
There is no free lunch. He who toiled on Erev Shabbat will eat on Shabbat. He who amassed Torah and misvot in this world will partake of the fruits of his labor in the world to come. In effect, the concept of reward constitutes a remarkable kindness - one which can hardly be understood given its enormity. True, we earned it through our actions. But who had wished or even imagined that through such a tiny act we could receive unlimited reward! "A person gives a handful to a poor person in this world, and the Al-mighty gives him a handful (of the Al-mighty, as it were) of goodness in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 100a). The Gemara there asks, how does the lowly, confined human being have the capacity to handle such immense goodness and blessing - a handful of the Creator, as it were? The Gemara answers that this occurs miraculously; the Al-mighty grants people the unique ability to receive and contain this endless bounty of goodness.
This is what the pasuk means, "Kindness, Hashem, is Yours, for You repay each in accordance with his deeds" (Tehillim 62:12). Our sages already asked, payment in accordance with one's actions is a debt owed to him, not kindness. In light of what we have seen, however, it becomes very clear. The payment is dozens of times greater than the action performed. For just a small handful, we receive a handful from the Creator. And all this is for just one good deed. If we give twice, then we receive double the immense reward. Twenty times, we receive twenty handfuls - each of which cannot be measured or fathomed, and requires a miracle to contain. Can we even begin to imagine the reward that awaits us? Every smile to a friend is an act of kindness, a misvah from the Torah. Every kind word, every compliment, yes, even at home, and especially at home - when it comes to the laws of kindness the rule is that the one closest to a person takes precedence over others…
Many will perhaps wonder upon hearing this: a compliment to someone in the family, a smile, a kind word, sure, it is nice and good, but can we really consider it a misvah? But in truth, why not? Hazal ask on the pasuk, "Fortunate are those who preserve justice, who perform kindness at all times" (Tehillim 106:3), is it really possible to perform kindness at all times? They therefore explain the pasuk as referring to one who feeds his young children (Ketubot 50a). If we understand that performing kindness with others, speaking with them pleasantly, saying kind words, finding time for them and giving them attention are considered missvot, then why can't we understand that doing the same within the home, with our family members, also constitutes a misvah? To the contrary, it's a much greater misvah!
The great sadik of Jerusalem, Rav Shalom Schwadron zs"l, told that once one of his children took ill, and woke up with a very high fever. He took his son to the medical center, and along the way he met the Rosh Yeshivah of Slobodka, Rav Yis’hak A. Sher zs"l. He wished him good morning and asked him where he was headed. Rav Shalom explained that he his son had a high fever so they were going to visit the doctor. The Rosh Yeshivah declared, "The cow walks with the calf." Rav Shalom was confused, and he did know what the Rosh Yeshivah meant. He explained that a cow concerns herself with her calf, the horse with the pony, the cat for the kitten. There is nothing unique about a parent caring for his or her young. But a Jew must think differently, he must understand that the Al-mighty entrusted him with a soul, and he must therefore care for it. This is one's misvah, responsibility and destiny. This marks a fundamentally deeper and more profound perspective - one which brings merit for the world to come.
Thus, if we hear about a Jew who decides to work extra hours in order to give more charity to the poor, to expand the range of kindness that he performs, we must look upon him with respect and honor. Imagine the reward he will receive in the upper world, not only for the coins that he donates, but also for those hours of work! If so, then every father who works extra hours to bring more money home to his family, so that his wife will be happier, that his children will live with more and could be married off more generously, then all this constitutes a misvah. He will then receive reward for his hours of work as if he was occupied in acts of kindness. As this must be the perspective of the husband, so shall the wife have this outlook. For every grocery bag she brings home from the supermarket, she will receive a full bag of reward and blessing, an endless bag of blessing from Hashem - if she looks upon this as an act of kindness, caring for others and their well being, even if that "other" is one's spouse or child!
Many plants, particularly in tropical regions, live in symbiosis, meaning, they live in a partnership of sorts with various species of ants. A well established relationship exists between these plants and the ants, and both sides benefit from this cooperation. Scientists even came up with a name for these plants, one which flows from this relationship: ant plants. The acacia trees, which have symbiotic relationships with ants, received from the Creator special membranes that assist ants. The acacia's thorns, for example, are large and swelled with a spongy interior. The ants gore a hole in the thorn and simply live inside it. As if this weren't enough, the leaves secrete a nectar rich in carbohydrates, which serves as food for the ants. Furthermore, little balls grow on the leaflets which contain fat and protein. These, too, serve as an important source of nutrition for the ants. What can we say - a true paradise for the ants. The acacia trees provide them with shelter and save them the trouble of having to look for food. Perhaps you might ask, what's in it for the tree? The ants populating the tree are particularly aggressive. Their sting hurts and at times they spray chemical materials that deter potential foes. They thus chase away and kill harmful insects that could land on the tree and scare away animals. The ants also destroy the sprouts of other plants within a certain range of their area, thus eliminating the threat of competitors for the tree's nutritional sources.
The defining characteristic of this relationship between the acacia tree and the ant is mutual giving. What can we say? Whereas it is possible in a plant-animal relationship for both parties to give to each other, or for one party to give and the other merely receive without either one feeling slighted by the arrangement, in human relationships, "lehavdil," it is far more pleasant to see mutually beneficial giving. We Jews know that even the wealthiest, wisest and kindest person himself has a need - for someone less fortunate than he who needs his giving. By giving, a person fills the need of expressing gratitude to his Creator. There will always, then, be a mutual relationship through the act of giving. Indeed, the Hebrew "n.t.n.," the verb that means to give, is read both forwards and backwards - for the giver also receives!
Three Pieces of Advice (8)
Flashback: The man who had been gone from his family for several long years heard a terrible rumor upon his return that his wife had been unfaithful in his absence. But he remembered the advice offered him by the great sadik, Rav Levi Yis’hak of Berditchev zs"l, not to accept any rumor until he sees it with his own eyes. He therefore disguised as a wayfarer in transit and asked his family for some food and lodging overnight. Dressed as a stranger in his own home, he could tell that the rumor was entirely false. He found only purity and fine middot permeating throughout the house. But then, in the middle of the night, he heard a knock on the window…
The man looked at the window and was shocked - a strange face peered through, the face of a young, gentile man! The wife left her room carrying a candle and opened the door, and the two went into the interior room.
The guest saw all this and his heart began beating wildly. Indeed, the rumors were true. He himself saw her; she indeed has been doing evil with the young gentile. The third piece of advice given to him by the sadik didn't help him.
He arose, felt around in the dark for his clothing, and secretly sneaked out of the house into the pitch darkness of night. He fled from the den of iniquity, from the home of hypocrisy, from his own house…
He walked like a sleepwalker by the light of the moon, angry and embittered. He felt deceived and humiliated. He left the town, crossed the meadows and arrived in the forest. In the dark, the forest seemed like a black hole, imposing and frightening. He easily made the comparison to his own life, as his future was shrouded by dark mystery and menacing uncertainty. This was now the end; all hope is lost. He will spend the rest of his life wandering, suffering the anguish of despair. He now has nowhere to return.
But then a different thought entered his mind.
Is this really so?
Is this really the end, is all hope gone?
The sadik's advice once again dominated his thoughts and rang in his ears. Is he really so sure of his wife's guilt, with absolute certainty, without any shadow of a doubt? Maybe, just maybe, she is perfectly innocent!
Maybe she has some explanation for her actions?
He then decided to obey the sadik's order exactly as he issued it. After administering his blessing, the ssadik told him to return home, to return overtly, without disguising himself in a borrowed identity. The forest, after all, isn't going anywhere.
Morning rose. He washed himself off in the river, rinsed his hands, and prayed. He prayed with a lot of emotion, asking the Al-mighty to show him the way. He then trimmed his beard, curled his "pei'ot," and headed towards the town. He took out his money pouch and purchased fine clothing. He bought expensive gifts for his wife and children, and then once again knocked on his family's door.
To be continued
The Rishon L'Siyon, Rav Refael Meir Panizhil zs"l
An extraordinary story is told of Rabbi Refael Meir Panizhil zs"l, author of the work, "Lev Marpei." Before he served as Rishon L'Siyon, he was sent by the community of Yerushalayim to help raise funds for its institutions. His trip took him to the city of Tunis, Tunisia during the period when Rav Yehoshua Abssoiz zs"l served as its rabbi. For some reason, neither the hearts nor the wallets were opened. He asked the city's rabbi to join him on a trip to the royal garden. The rabbi was startled by the request but nevertheless agreed. They arose and left, with several of the community leaders joining them. Upon reaching the garden, they found it closed. The guard told them that they had arrived too late. There were very specific visiting hours, after which visitors were not permitted in the garden. Two vicious, man-eating dogs were let loose in the garden in order to prevent would-be trespassers from entering and thereby destroying the beautiful foliage. As the guards negotiated with the rabbi and community representatives, the rabbi from Yerushalayim circumvented the guards and entered the garden. The guards shouted after him but he did not respond. Instead, he proceeded further and further into the garden until he disappeared from sight. Suddenly, fierce, terrifying barking was heard - and then, just as suddenly, there was total silence. The guards lamented, "Too bad, he was eaten by the dogs." The rabbi was stunned and tore his clothing. The community leaders with him then did the same.
Several minutes later, they saw the rabbi from Jerusalem returning, holding in his two hands the chains attached to the dogs' collars. They tiptoed alongside him, as his cloak covered their backs. They were are amazed by what they saw, and he invited them inside. But they stood frozen in their places. "Still you are afraid?" he asked, puzzled. He took the dogs and brought them into their kennel. He shut the door and invited his comrades to join him in the garden.
The rabbi asked him, "Did you work with the sacred Names, or through Kabbalah?"
He replied, "With neither. We have been promised that whoever does not harm his own divine image will have his fear instilled upon all creatures - and I have never harmed mine!"
Needless to say, from that moment his trip on behalf of the poor of Jerusalem was far more successful…
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
As a result of the sin of "hillul Hashem" (desecrating Hashem's Name), wild animals and beasts abound, diminishing the population and leaving the roads desolate (Shabbat 33a). This sin is punished immediately, without delay, and no distinction is made between intentional and unintentional violations when it comes to hillul Hashem (Kiddushin 40a).
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
What is an example of hillul Hashem? Rav said, "If a person such as I would purchase on credit and be late in his payments." When Abayei would purchase an item from two partners, he would pay both of them, in case one will not find out that he had paid the other. Rabbi Yohanan gave an example of someone such as he walking four cubits without tefillin and Torah study. People who see him will not realize that his intensive Torah learning weakened him, and they will incorrectly learn from his example to take time away from learning (Yoma 86a).
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
Our Sages comment (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 3:9) that the sin of hillul Hashem is the most severe of all transgressions. Let us now consider how great is our obligation to sanctify the Name. For the primary purpose for which Hashem sanctified us with His Torah and misvot and separated us to become His nation is in order that we sanctify Him and fear Him. It is proper for those who sanctify Him to be themselves sacred, for even the utensils used in the service of Hashem must be holy, as it says, "You shall not desecrate My sacred Name, and I shall be sanctified in the midst of Benei Yisrael; I am Hashem who sanctifies you." Pay attention to understand that this which we said is explicit in this pasuk. (Sha'arei Teshuvah 3:158)
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
One who tells or accepts lashon hara violates as well the prohibition of "You shall not desecrate My sacred Name," since this involves no desire or physical benefit through which one's evil inclination will overcome him. This sin is therefore considered an act of rebellion and a rejection of the yoke of the kingship of Heaven, and one thereby desecrates the Name. If this sin was committed in public, then certainly the sin is particularly severe, and the individual is considered as having desecrated G-d's Name publicly. (Hafess Hayyim, introduction to Hilkhot Issur Lashon Hara)
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
Even one who violated this most severe prohibition is granted the opportunity of repentance and atonement. These are the words of Rabbenu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuvah 1:47): "There is one sin, namely, the sin of hillul Hashem, for which repentance and punishments suspend [punishment] and death atones, as it says, 'This sin will not be atoned for you until you die.' When a person makes an effort to support the hand of truth, to assist it and arouse himself in its words, and its light appeared in the view of people from his nation, and he supports men of truth and raises their prestige, and he humbles the bands of falsehood, casting them to the dust - these are the ways of kiddush Hashem, and brings glory and grandeur to the faith in Him and service of Him in the world, and strength and splendor to the sanctuary of His Torah. Therefore, through one's increased activity to sanctify Hashem and encourage truth, to solidify it and promote it, he will be atoned for the sin of hillul together with repentance, as he places truth in opposition to the guilt of the desecration, the measure of his repentance in opposition to the measure of his iniquity. This is what the pasuk means, 'Sin will be forgiven through kindness and truth'."
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name"
How severe is the prohibition of talking while the Sefer Torah is open! How disrespectful it is to take one's ear away from listening to the word of Hashem - and his sin is too great to bear. For even one who leaves during the reading, it is said about him, "Those who leave Hashem shall be destroyed," all the more so, then, one who remains in the Bet Kenesset and wishes not to pay attention to the Torah. And beyond this, it often happens that this results in a public hillul Hashem, as his sin is witnessed by everyone, and this perhaps involves, 'You shall not desecrate My sacred Name'." (Bei'ur Halachah, 146)
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The custom is to conduct oneself with added joy on Lag Ba'omer, the day of joy of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Some say that Lag Ba'omer is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon, and although generally the day on which a sadik died is generally one of sadness, and some have the practice to observe a fast on the anniversary of a sadik's passing (see Shulhan Aruch 580), Lag Ba'omer is an exception. The reason is that Rabbi Shimon was saved from the decree of the evil emperor who sought to kill him and died of natural causes only after he earned the privilege of revealing the secrets of the Torah and Zohar. (The Zohar writes that on the day of his passing he revealed to his students the work, "Idra Zuta.") Furthermore, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai himself wanted this day to be observed as a day of joy (as Rav Haim Vital writes in the name of the Ar"i). Others, however, claim that Lag Ba'omer is not the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing, and we rather celebrate this day because on Lag Ba'omer Rabbi Akiva began teaching his five final students, including Rabbi Shimon, who was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. Others argue that we celebrate on Lag Ba'omer because on this day the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva's students came to an end. (According to the Shulhan Aruch, however, the plague ended on the 34th day of the omer, not the 33rd.)
Some have the practice of conducting a special learning session on the night of Lag Ba'omer. They study the praises of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai that are scattered throughout the Talmud and the Zohar, as well as the work, "Idra Zuta," and this is a praiseworthy custom.
Tahanun is omitted from shaharit and minhah on Lag Ba'omer, as well as from minhah on the 32nd day of the omer (Erev Lag Ba'omer). When Lag Ba'omer falls on Sunday, we do not recite "sidkatecha" at minhah on Shabbat, the day before. The paragraph of "Lam’nasse'ah… Ya'ancha Hashem" is likewise omitted in the shaharit service on Lag Ba'omer, as is "Tefilah le'David hateh Hashem oznecha." The Ashkenazim have the practice of saying "Lam’nasse'ah." The custom among the Sefaradim is to recite "siduk hadin" over a deceased person on Lag Ba'omer, while the Ashkenazim do so only at the funeral of a Torah scholar.
One may not fast on Lag Ba'omer, even should it mark the anniversary of the passing of his parent. One may fast a "ta'anit halom" (a fast observed after experiencing a frightening dream), and one who does so need not conduct another fast after Lag Ba'omer (as is the case concerning one who observes a ta'anit halom on Shabbat).
Kohanim may not pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai at Meron or at the grave of other sadikim, as this violates their kehunah. This is the view of the majority of poskim and the accepted practice. A kohen who wishes to make a pilgrimage to Rabbi Shimon's grave must stand outside such that he does not enter the building, so as not to be under the same roof as the actual grave.
This Tuesday marks Lag Ba'omer, and on Monday evening the skies over Israel will be lit by the light of tens of thousands of bonfires, giant "yartzeit candles" for the soul of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. The Gemara (Me'ilah 17b) tells that when the Roman government issued decrees against Am Yisrael prohibiting them from observing Shabbat, performing berit milah and observing family purity, the sages elected Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai to intercede on the nation's behalf, since he was "well trained in miracles."
As we know, Kelal Yisrael as a whole has the power equivalent to that of the sages of that generation (see Margaliyot Hayam, Sanhedrin 10b). Just as the scholars of that generation looked to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai to have the decrees annulled, and, as the Gemara explains, he succeeded in his mission in wondrous and miraculous fashion, so does all of Am Yisrael on this day looked to Meron, "to the place of a fiery flame," as the Or Hahaim zs"l described it when he reverently ascended the mountain, and ask: there are so many decrees, judgment is spread over us, there are so many "prosecutors" working against us! There is an ocean of tears, there are rivers flowing with blood. There is so much pain, so many wounded and crippled. So many bereaved parents, widows and orphans - for how much longer? Not to mention the poverty, unemployment, economic recession, and the nation's distance from tradition, from its heritage, from Torah and misvot. We ask that Rabbi Shimon intercede on our behalf to have the decrees annulled, to bring our salvation and our final redemption.
In our parashah we read of the misvah to count the omer, the misvah that we observe each night during this period: "You shall count for yourselves from the day following the shabbat [referring to the first day of Pesah], from the day when you bring the omer [of grain] for waving, they shall be seven complete weeks." We do not engage in the hidden areas of the Torah, but it is enough for us to know that which the sacred Kabbalist, Rav Haim Vital zs"l, wrote (in his work, "Ess Hada'at Tov," Parashat Re'eh) regarding the pasuk, "You shall count for yourself seven weeks." Hazal often interpret the word "lecha" (for yourself) to mean "for your own benefit." How does the counting of the omer serve one's own interests? We can understand the use of the term regarding the misvah of Sukkot - "You shall observe for yourself the festival of Sukkot." This is the festival of joy, when the individual eats and drinks and enjoys his sukkah. But what joy and benefit is there in the counting of the omer? Rav Haim Vital explains, "You know that these days of sefirat ha'omer are days of absolute judgment with regard to all particulars." The counting thus reminds us to perform teshuvah and pray in order to earn a favorable judgment - "and there is no greater benefit than this!"
"The concept of sefirat ha'omer is a great concept, and those who count bring sublime sanctity upon themselves," writes the Shelah Hakadosh zs"l. "Therefore," he continues, "one must awaken his heart in repentance and become sacred and pure." Regarding this "sublime sanctity" we can tell a story that occurred recently, in a yeshivah in Haifa. In the yeshivah worked a secular boy, who comes from a secular family and secular society, who lived a secular lifestyle and whose entire frame of reference was secular. The rabbi would always greet him pleasantly, as he would every other person, asking them how they are and speaking to them in a friendly manner. Every now and then he would ask the worker if he would perhaps agree to put on tefillin. Clearly, he asked this not for his own sake; after all, what does he gain from this? Rather, he wished to bring merit upon the young man through his performance of this misvah. But the worker always politely refused, as if he had been offered a cigarette. This repeated itself several times over and continued like a spinning top that never tires. Finally, one day, the rabbi asked, "Perhaps you will agree to repeat one sentence after me?" This already was a request that's hard to turn down. "Say after me: today is the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, in the omer." All right, the boy said it. The next day, the rabbi asked him, "Perhaps you will agree to put on tefillin?" - the standard question. But this time, the boy replied, "Of course, why not?" What happened? What changed all of a sudden? The counting of the omer shone sublime sanctity upon the young man, it blew a flame into the spark of Judaism…
But we must understand: wherein lies the greatness of the sefirah that can shine such light onto the soul? What is the underlying, lofty concept of sefirat ha'omer? Once again, we do not engage in the hidden areas of mystical knowledge. As we know, the Kabbalists have uncovered very deep meaning behind the counting of the omer, such that each day corresponds to the holy "sefirot." But how should we understand this concept on a simple level?
The direction is given to us by Rav Azaryah Figo zs"l, in his work, "Binah L'itim." He writes that Moshe Rabbenu was told from the very outset of the ultimate purpose of yessi'at Missrayim: the receiving of the Torah. When the nation left Egyptian bondage they were not content; they did not rejoice over their freedom, the removal of the painful yoke from their backs. They did not even request a period of recovery or relaxation. Immediately upon their exit from Egypt, on the following day, they realized that all this was but an introduction, a point of departure. They understood that the goal still lay ahead, and they were headed towards that direction. They began counting: one day, two days, three, etc. - just as a traveler counts the stones along the way, the intersections or the signs he passes in transit.
Not that the road they traveled was a smooth one. Not that they did not have their moments of regression and weakness. They experienced intense fear before the splitting of the sea and they demonstrated spiritual weaknesses at various points thereafter. But the goal remained before them at all times, their direction was clear. The old saying goes, "calculation equals half the price." Once the obligation has been established, all that's left is bringing it to actualization.
The message of this concept extends beyond the period of sefirat ha'omer. In effect, herein lies the basic distinction between the believer and the heretic, the religious and the secular, between one whose road is paved and one who is lost and wandering. For us, this world is but a hallway leading to the banquet hall. Throughout this hallway we count the "sefirat ha'omer" of our lives - another tefilah, another Shabbat, another festival - and with each one we approach the final goal, our eternal world, and we prepare provisions for this journey: an extra hour of learning, another act of kindness. In this manner, the passing days have a purpose, they lead towards a certain goal and destination. There is direction and a definite target. Woe unto the person who cannot distinguish between the hallway and the banquet hall, and his entire life passes him by like an empty wasteland.
Luna Bat Miriam and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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