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Pesah Newsletter

The Laws of the Moadim

A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

The Laws of Sefirat Ha'omer

The Missvah of Sefirat Ha'omer

The Torah writes (Vayikra 23:15-16), "You shall count from the day following the Shabbat, from the day you bring the waving omer, seven complete weeks they shall be; until the day following the seventh week you shall count fifty days." Similarly, the Torah writes later (Devarim 16:9), "You shall count seven weeks, when the sickle begins with the grain you shall begin to count seven weeks." Hazal (Masechet Menahot 65b) have a tradition that "the day following the Shabbat" refers to the day following the first day of Pesah, which is called a "shabbaton" (day of rest, similar to Shabbat). Therefore, there is a "missvat aseih" to count "sefirat ha'omer," starting from the night of the sixteenth of Nissan through the next seven weeks.

The view of most rishonim, and that of the Shulhan Aruch, is that in the absence of the Bet Hamikdash, when the missvah of bringing the offering of the first harvest does not apply, the missvah of sefirat ha'omer applies only on the level of "derabanan" (rabbinic ordinance), in commemoration of that which was done in the time of Bet Hamikdash. Therefore, it is proper to omit from the "Leshem yihud" introduction to sefirat ha'omer the sentence, "We now come to fulfill the positive commandment of counting the omer, as it says in the Torah, 'You shall count.'" One should rather say, 'We now come to fulfill the missvah of sefirat ha'omer, to bring 'nahat ru'ah' to our Creator." (All the more so on the final night of counting it is inappropriate to make reference to the pasuk, "Seven complete weeks they shall be," because this may already be considered the counting for that night. Nevertheless, if one did say this even on the last night, he may still proceed to count with a berachah.)

The rishonim are in dispute whether the missvah of sefirat ha'omer is one missvah that stretches over the course of forty-nine days, and this is the meaning of the phrase "seven COMPLETE weeks," or if sefirat ha'omer includes forty-nine separate, independent missvot, each night's counting constituting its own missvah. This dispute has many practical ramifications, such as a case where one forgot to count one night and remembered on the following night. If all forty-nine days fall under a single missvah, then he already lost the element of "complete" and can therefore no longer count the omer with a berachah. If, however, we view each night's counting as an independent missvah, then an individual in such a case may continue counting with a berachah. The halachah follows the more stringent view, and thus one who forgot one night may not count with a berachah for the rest of the sefirah period that year. He rather counts without reciting a berachah. The rishonim also argue as to how one counts sefirat ha'omer: from the seventh day on, must one mention each day not only the number of days but also the number of weeks? Another issue arises within the view that one must count weeks, how precisely to go about this counting.

The pasuk states, "Us'fartem lachem," which literally means, "You shall count for you." From the plural form of "lachem" ("for you") Hazal derive that every individual must count the omer. Nevertheless, if one heard sefirat ha'omer from the hazzan, who was himself obligated in the missvah, and both the listener and the hazzan had in mind that the hazzan's berachah should apply to the listener, as well, then the listener has fulfilled his missvah of sefirat ha'omer. Not to mention the fact that if one heard the berachah from the hazzan, and both parties intended for the berachah to apply to the listener but the listener himself recited the actual counting, then he has certainly fulfilled his obligation.


The Third Plague - Lice

"It is the finger of Elokim!" This was the Egyptians' response to the plague of lice. The magicians were convinced that this plague was not brought about by sorcery, and Hazal explain that witchcraft has no control over creatures smaller than a grain of barley. Lice are divided into two general groups: those that suck and those that sting. The former live on the bodies of mammals and, with the help of their remarkably strong cheeks, penetrate the host's skin and sucks its blood. There have been discovered around one hundred and twenty different types of lice within this category.

Two of them attack humans, around a dozen live on house pets, and the rest reside on the bodies of other wild animals. Among the more damaging type of lice as far as humans are concerned is the louse that attaches itself to clothing, which is around three and a half millimeters in length. This louse is particularly dangerous because through its sting it transmits typhus fever, which is very contagious. First it stings a typhus patient, sucking his blood and thereby ingesting the typhus parasites. It then stings a healthy person and passes the dangerous parasites into his bloodstream. Much to our dismay, there is no reason for us to introduce head-lice to our readers. In recent years it has become a health and aesthetic nuisance to an unprecedented extent. This louse is two millimeters in size and lives among the hairs on people's head.

When cleaning one's hair from lice, he should bear in mind that if a single egg remains, after ten days from its having been hatched a new louse emerges - a new generation of lice. What spiritual phenomenon does this resemble?

Hazal teach us that the evil inclination does not entice an individual only once. Rather, it approaches him a little at a time, day after day. Today it tells him to do this, tomorrow that, and eventually the victim is led to idolatry. It seems, therefore, that one cannot respond forgivingly to things that may seem insignificant but involve transgressing any one of the missvot of the Torah. No one may decide what's considered a "small" missvah and thereby undermine its significance. This resembles the tiny louse that is left alive and proceeds to give rise to the next generation. The war against the yesser hara is worthwhile in that it helps ensure a "clean head," that we remain pure from violations and impurity, worthy of being Hashem's nation. We have learned that the Almighty promised that if we sanctify ourselves down below, He will sanctify us from up above, as the pasuk states, "You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy."


Why do we eat massah? Because our ancestors in Egypt had sunken to the forty-nine "gates of impurity," and were they to have deteriorated to the fiftieth level, they would have been lost, God forbid, in Egypt, with no hope of revival. The Almighty therefore quickly saved them before they reached that final level. He rushed them out of Egypt, and their dough had no chance to rise.

Therefore, their ancestors for all generations are commanded to eat massah and refrain from hamess on Pesah. In this way we remember our covenant with the Almighty, that He will never allow a Jew to become detached from his nation. Even should one deteriorate to lowest depths, from there Hashem will save him and carry him like on the wings of eagles back to the Almighty. Indeed, we have been promised, "Hashem will not take away the life of one who makes plans, so that no one may be kept banished" (Shemuel II 14:14), and the prophet declares, "For I will give the order and shake the House of Israel - through all the nations - as one shakes in a sieve and not a pebble falls to the ground" (Amos 9:9).

The Creator never lets a Jew fall; He never allows him to become detached from his roots. When all is said and done, everything will be corrected and restored to its root: "My kindness shall never move from you, nor My covenant of friendship be shaken, said Hashem, Who takes you back in love!"

(Yeshayahu 54:10). He will yet bring us back, and we will return; He will renew our days like the days of old!


A Jew once came before his rebbe, the great Reb Shemuel Shmelke zs"l of Nikelsberg. He sought salvation from his abject poverty. He worked all day for a livelihood but couldn't make ends meet. His sustenance was indeed as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea.

The rav listened to his plight and said, "If this is all that troubles you, then truly you are deserving of blessing. May Hashem grant you speedy salvation! From what I understand, you have no requests regarding spirituality; it sounds like everything is fine, that you set aside time for Torah study."

"Rebbe," protested the pauper, "I told you from the beginning that the burden of livelihood weighs heavily upon my shoulders. I have not a free moment, and at night I collapse, my strength sapped."

"I see," replied the rabbi. "Then perhaps I may assume that you also do not oversee your children's education or monitor their progress in their studies."

The man's face reddened with shame, but he quickly regained his composure.

He had his excuse all ready: "Rebbe will believe me that I do not even see my children all week. I leave for work at the crack of dawn and return late at night. On Shabbat, I make up for all the sleep I did not get during the week."

The rabbi did not answer. The astonished look on his face accurately told of what he thought of such a Shabbat. "What about prayer with a minyan?"

he finally asked.

The man spread his arms out to the sides and said, "I am busy looking for livelihood. I pray alone in some corner."

The rabbi sighed and said, "Indeed, your livelihood is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea."

Though dumbfounded by the sudden transition from his spiritual emptiness to his financial woes, the man quickly nodded in consent and said, "Awfully difficult."

The rabbi then continued, "It seems that Shelomoh had you in mind when he wrote in Shir Hashirim, 'I have likened you, my beloved, to a horse in Pharaoh's chariots."

The man was utterly confused, and he waited for the rabbi's explanation, which was quick in the coming: "I always wondered, what is meant by this comparison to a horse, and specifically to a horse in Pharaoh's chariots?

Then I saw Hazal's comments in the Mechilta that during the splitting of the Red Sea the pillar of cloud came down and moistened the ground of the split sea, turning it into mud. Then, the pillar of fire came and boiled the mud so that the hooves of the Egyptian horses melted from the intense heat.

They tried turning around to flee, but the Almighty removed the wheels from the chariots, leaving the poles stuck in the mud. Then the walls of water came crashing down and drowned them in the sea."

The man was enraptured by the drama, but then the rabbi asked, "We have a tradition that the Almighty does not bring about miracles for no reason.

He performs them only if there is meaning and significance latent within them.

What is the underlying message behind the removal of the horses' hooves and the chariot wheels? The answer is that horses are animals and chariots are made from wood and iron - inanimate materials. Generally speaking, living creatures dominate the inanimate world - the horse pulls the chariot. Here, however, something unusual happened - the animal tried to flee from the burning ground underneath, but the inanimate object, the chariot, held it back. The chariots prevented the horses' escape, and led to their destruction.

"Clearly," concluded the rabbi, "there is a great lesson here. Just as the living creature is superior to the inanimate, so is spirituality superior to the physical. The body is, in essence, inanimate, without the soul that sustains and leads it. Indeed, this is how it is supposed to be.

Spirituality is to be the central component, and the physical should remain subordinate to the spiritual. Torah classes, children's education, proper tefilah with concentration and a minyan - all these are to be the focus. The Egyptians, however, reversed the order. For them, the physical became the focal point - their desires, food and physical needs. They were thus punished 'midah kenegged midah' - measure for measure - and their chariots controlled their horses. The inanimate dominated the animal, and together they were destroyed. Shelomoh therefore cries, 'I have likened you, my beloved, to a horse in Pharaoh's chariots.' Dear Jew, the living spirit lies within you, a portion of the Heavenly God! Will you let the chariot gain the upper hand, will you allow your livelihood subjugate you without giving time to the soul, without emphasizing spirituality at all?"


"You shall eat massot for seven days"

Rabbenu Behaye zs"l explained the reason behind the missvah of eating massah and the stringent prohibition against eating hamess according to the wisdom of Kabbalah. As we know, dough is, at its core, nothing more than flour and water, of which massah consists. However, dough has the capacity to ferment and rise. Furthermore, certain flavoring can be added to the dough and produce "massah ahirah" - egg massah, through which one cannot fulfill his obligation of eating massah on Pesah night. All this contains deep and profound meaning. Benei Yisrael witnessed in Egypt the Hand of Hashem and His wonders - the great miracles, the outstretched arm and powerful hand. Yeshayahu (19:22) says, "Hashem plagues the Egyptians, and heals." Meaning, He smites Egypt and heals Am Yisrael. He executes judgment towards Egypt and deals kindly with Benei Yisrael. The danger thus arose that Benei Yisrael would think that they effectively appeased the Attribute of Judgment and gave rise to the Attribute of Mercy, while in truth both attributes are those of the single God, Who possess all powers and attributes. Only to Him must one pray and him exclusively one must serve. In order to emphasize this point, writes Rabbenu Behaye, the Torah ordered us not to eat hamess, which symbolizes that which is added to the basic substance. Instead, we must eat massah, the elementary substance. This teaches us that in our avodat Hashem we must turn only to the source, without anything added. We must look only to the Almighty, the Master of everything and the source of all powers that govern the world.

Rabbenu Mosheh Alshich zs"l adds an explanation for the seven days of massah consumption. In Egypt, we deteriorated to the depths of the forty-nine "gates of impurity," and were we to have remained there any longer we would have plummeted to the fiftieth level, from which we would have never been able to lift ourselves henceforth. The Creator therefore hurried to save and redeem us with overt miracles and wonders. In commemoration of the hastiness and urgency of the redemption, we were commanded to eat massah. But now that we are redeemed and saved from the depths of impurity, we may think to ourselves that the world now runs by pure force nature. The Almighty therefore comes and commands, "You shall eat massot for seven days. Massot shall be eaten throughout the seven days."

The seven days of eating massah correspond to the seven days of creation, teaching us the eternal lesson that even in the natural course of life, Hashem's Providence watches over everything. The power of miracles, which, as manifest in Egypt, does not allow a Jew to sink in the depths of impurity, continues to guide us forever!


Rabbi Yaakov Abukara zs"l

Rabbi Yaakov Abukara zs"l was the rabbi of the Portuguese community in Tunis. He led his community on the foundations of faith and fear of Hashem, delivered lectures and taught regular classes in Tanach. His mouth poured forth treasures of Torah knowledge, and his expositions and lectures achieved such a widespread reputation that the priest of the local Protestant community would come to here his shiurim. Quite a few people would remain afterwards to ask the rabbi to clarify issues that weren't clear. The great sage would expand upon his words, much to the enlightenment and joy of his audience. In this way, the Name of Hashem was sanctified before the gentiles.

Once, the priest dared to say that he did not accept the rabbi's view on a given matter. The rabbi pleasantly replied, "This is not my view; it is the view of the Torah and its sages!"

"It may be," conceded the priest, "but in our works it says differently."

Even before he could say what is written in their books, the rabbi cut him off and said, "Listen and I will tell you an incident that occurred to me, personally." The priest lent his ear, and the rabbi began his story.

"Once I went to the market to purchase a bag of coals for a fire. I stopped near a store that had on display bowls filled with pieces of high-quality coal manufactured from olive trees. I realized that the merchandise in this store was of superior quality. I turned to the merchant and expressed my interest in buying a full bag. The man hurried to bring me a bag and stated a reasonable price. He even offered to carry it to my home. I agreed, but figured that I should first see the merchandise he was giving me. I asked him to open the bag, and when he opened it I found inside low-quality coals, which produce when lit a lot of smoke and heartache, and only a little fire which is extinguished very quickly. I said to the merchant, "Sorry, but I am not interested in this merchandise."

The priest understood the hint, and made no more attempts to tell the rabbi what is written in his books.


The Espionage Case (9)

Flashback: A Russian provocateur framed Efrayim Leboviss, a German student learning in the yeshivah of the Hafess Hayyim zs"l in Radin, by hiding in his pocket architectural plans of the fortresses of Kovna, just before the German attack upon the city during World War I. Efrayim was imprisoned together with his host, the brother-in-law of the Hafess Hayyim. After the two were tortured in the detective's cellar in Vilna, the Hafess Hayyim's brother-in-law was freed due to lack of evidence, while the student remained in prison. The efforts to free him came up empty, and as the battlefront approached Vilna, the boy was transferred to the interior regions of the country; his tracks were lost.

The warfront progressed and began approaching the area of Radin. The administration of the yeshivah, led by the Hafess Hayyim zs"l, debated the next move. The responsibility resting on their shoulders was immense, as they had to decide the fate of hundreds of yeshivah students. "Students are like children," precious and beloved. On the one hand, leaving for the interior regions of Russia would be fraught with great difficulty. There the yeshivah has no source of funding. How will they house the hundreds of students? How will they be fed? On the other hand, remaining near the battle lines was dangerous. The storm troopers knew no restraint; they would plunder and riot mercilessly, like animals. They would draft civilians for compulsory work on behalf of the army, and they would treat anyone cruelly - especially Jews.

Finally, the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Ssevi Levinson zs"l, stood and conducted the lottery of the Vilna Gaon, thus consulting the Torah itself for guidance in this situation. The lottery landed on the pasuk, "He [Yaakov] split the nation that was with him. into two camps." The answer was therefore clear.

However, the Rosh Yeshivah did not want to assume this decision-making role.

He came before the Hafess Hayyim and humbly suggested, "Rebbe, perhaps it would be worthwhile to conduct the lottery of the Vilna Gaon?"

"Why should we do that?" replied the Hafess Hayyim. "After all, there is no question without an answer in the Torah. When the battlefront - led by Esav - approached Yaakov's family, he split is camp into two. What need is there for a lottery?"

And so, a portion of the yeshivah remained in Radin, led by Rav Mosheh Lendinski. Meanwhile, the Hafess Hayyim, joined by Rav Ssevi Levinson, Rav Elhanan Wasserman and the majority of the students, left for the interior. "It seems," said the Hafess Hayyim, "that this is the way we will be able to track down Efrayim Leboviss".

to be continued.


The Gemara tells that Rabbi Broka once met Eliyahi Hanavi in the marketplace. He asked Eliyahu, "Is there anyone here who is going to the World to Come?" Eliyahu answered, "No." As they were talking, a man dressed as a gentile was seen crossing the market. Eliyahu said, "Here - this is someone who is going to the World to Come!" Rabbi Broka quickly ran over to the man and asked, "What do you do?" The man answered, "Let me be right now; come back tomorrow." The next day, Rabbi Broka returned to the man and asked, "What do you do?" He answered, "I am a prison guard. I keep the men in one wing and the females in another wing, while I myself sleep in the hallway leading between the two, thus preventing any inappropriate behavior. When I see a Jewish girl taken into captivity and in danger, I risk my life and sneak her out of the jail."

Indeed, such self-sacrifice clearly earns one a portion in the World to Come. However, why did he dress as a gentile? He could be a Jewish prison guard. When asked about this, he answered, "By dressing as a gentile I earn the trust of the non-Jews. I am present at their meetings and hear the decrees they are planning. I then quickly inform the Torah sages so that they can seek divine mercy and have the decrees annulled." Rabbi Broka then asked further, "Why did you not answer me when I came to you yesterday?

Why did you refuse to answer my questions?" The man replied, "At that moment a harsh decree was issued, and I had to hurry and tell the sages, so that they could seek mercy and have the decree annulled!"

The second part of the conversation is ten times as shocking as the first! In the beginning of his response, we learn of his active devotion, sleeping each night in the hallway and, when necessary, risking his life to help convicts escape. But then he reveals that his entire life is spent in danger, as he disguises himself as a gentile. We can only imagine what would happen to him if he would be caught praying with a minyan! He had to observe missvot secretly - what immense spiritual self sacrifice this is! And why did he do this? So that he can hear of the decrees in the planning and quickly inform the sages so that they can pray for their annulment. What incredible faith this is in the power of the tefilot of the ssadikim, such resolute confidence of the efficacy of their entreaties on behalf of Am Yisrael. He was sure that if they prayed, the decrees would be annulled. This deeply entrenched faith, with which he lived, guaranteed his place in the World to Come.

Why do we bring this up here? Thirteen of our fellow Jews are currently being held in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage. We do not have the ability to sneak them out of jail, nor are we being asked to risk our lives for them. However, have we done what we can, meaning, have we prayed on their behalf? Yes, prayer, even a short prayer, so long as it comes from the depths of our hearts. The rabbis instructed that we say for them three chapters of Tehillim - 56, 77, 142. Have we said even one short perek that we know by heart, such as "Mizmor l'David Hashem ro'i."? The following is the list of their names. Each one is a world unto his own, and may Hashem help them and save them from their crisis. Let us say even the shortest perek of Tehillim - "Hallelu et Hashem kol goyim" - and mention their names that they merit redemption during this month of redemption: Nigat ben Sarah Beruchim, Parhed ben Hamdam Selah, Shiharuch ben Shahnaz Paknahd, Rahamim ben Osheret Kashi, Asher ben Shempaneh Zedmahr, Nasser Yaakov ben Goar Levi Hayyim, David Yaakov Zev ben Morhartrem Bet Yaakov, Ramin ben Malkah Nahamti, Daniel ben Sarah Tefillin, Nabid ben Sarah Blazadah, Ramin ben Menzel Prazam. May they soon earn salvation, and then we will know that our prayers took part in their being saved!

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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