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by Daneal Weiner
A final Omer Tov to you all as this week we finally finish the Sfiras
HaOmer, the special count down from the exodus from Egypt till the
revelation at Mt. Sinai. Our count down is actually a counting up, from 1
to 50, because, in general, in Judaism, we're always trying to strive for
greater things and specifically, at this time, we are trying to elevate
ourselves, from having just thrown of the shackles of servitude and wanting
to be worthy of wearing the crowns of Torah. If Judaism had to be summed up
in one word which would say it all, that word would be "growth". The
greatest potential we have for growth is this time of the year, the holiday
of Shavuos. But that's Saturday night, Sunday and after. First, a couple
points for Shabbos|
By the way, are you ready for the vort I promised last week? If you're thinking, "What vort?" Great! I couldn't find it. Only because I promised it. Next!
The first thing in this weeks parsha is the census of Bnei Yisrael. Hashem commands Moshe to take a count of all males, 20 years and older, fit for service and according to their father's house (Gemorah Bava Basra indicates no one older than 60 was counted). Although it is the mother who determines who is a Jew, it is the father by which is determined the ancestral heritage the tribal affiliation, need I say the consanguine connection. Which reminds me, the Vilna Gaon (Grah) said that within the partnership of human creation, it is Hashem Who provides the soul, the mother who provides the flesh and blood and the father who provides the bones. When Yaakov made Yoseph swear not to bury him in Egypt but bring him to Israel, Yoseph responded, "I will do as you say. " I don't remember who said it but I remember learning Yoseph's response wasn't (paraphrasing), "I will follow your instructions," but rather, "I, myself, will do, for myself, as you say, for myself!" Yaakov asks Yoseph to bury him in Israel and Yoseph says, "I'm heading there too"? What's he answering? With the insight from the Grah it's much more understandable. Yoseph makes the brothers swear that when Hashem remembers them and takes them out of Egypt that they bring his bones with them! His BONES! The contribution from the father! Yoseph told Yaakov, "Not only will I take YOU out of Egypt, but even MY bones which are an extension of you will be taken out of Egypt!"
In the grave, the first to decompose is the flesh. The bones take considerably longer. Chazal say that the luz bone does not decompose. It is from this luz bone that Hashem will reconstruct the dead in the time of the resurrection. So if it's from the bones that at the end of time we will be 'reborn' like our beginning of time, it is indeed through the father's house that we stay connected to our ancestral heritage, our tribal tradition, our desert clan, need I say...no. I bet you thought a flew off into space from that last vort and I swung it right back round!!!
Next in the parsha is the layout of the encampment of Bnei Yisrael in the desert. The Midrash says that at Mt. Sinai, Bnei Yisrael saw how the heavenly angels were stationed around the Throne of Glory and wanted to imitate that formation. Relative to the throne upon which Hashem sits, k'v'yachul (anthropomorphicly speaking), is the Mishkan- Sanctuary, where Hashem 'sits' here on earth. The Mishkan was the camp's center. To it's east were the tents of Moshe and Aharon. On the other three sides was the tribe of Levi, who were charged with the Mishkan's maintenance. Only Moshe and Aaron were close to the Mishkan. The Levites were stationed 1000 amos away (An amos is approx. 1.5-2 ft.) At a distance of 2000 amos from the Mishkan and to all four directions were the remaining tribes of Israel.
The Midrash Pirkai R. Eliezer, explains the significance of the four directions, what forces they each represent. The tribes were stationed were their attributes could either amplify the good or protect from the bad of the forces emanating from the four winds of the world. Back by the parshas which dealt with the initial construction of the Mishkan, it was explained how the Mishkan is a microcosm of the world. The protection provided by the tribes of Israel are that which protect the world.
The east is where the suns rises. Light is symbolic of Torah. Understandably so, Moshe and Aaron's tents were in the east by the merit of their dissemination of Torah. The east is also the source of the harshest of the four winds. The greater the potential for good always means the greater the potential for evil. Perhaps this relationship in the east is what led Chazal, our Sages to say that without at least one person in the world learning Torah the world would revert back to desolation and void(ness). Even one Jew learning has what it takes to deflect those most devastating east winds. It says in the Ethics of the Fathers (Ch. 2), "Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages..." (But the Hebrew here for 'fire' is not 'aish,' rather 'ooran' from the root 'or'- light) "...but beware of their glowing coals lest you be burned."
From the west comes the snow, hail, heat and frost. The south is the source of blessing of the rain and dew. And the north is, literally, where the sun don't shine. It is the source of the harmful agents Hashem sends into the world.
As an example regarding the camps of Bnei Yisrael, in the east were camped Yehudah, Yasachar and Zevulun. Yehudah is the father of the monarchy of Israel. A cursory reading of the prophets makes it very clear the relationship between Yehudah and the east. The king has the greatest ability to elevate the nation to a Torah life or take them away, r'l. It warns in Dvarim 17:18-19, "When he [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah...It shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life." Ultimately will be descend from Yehudah the Mashiach who will bring every soul back to it's Torah source.
Yisachar were the Torah giants of the of all the tribes, per capita. Their flag was black and had on it a sun and a moon. Black like a raven who's young are not fed by the mother. The young cry to Hashem and He sends insects flying into their mouths. So too is Yisachar solely dependent on Hashem. The sun and moon are symbolic of the mysterious traditions and calculations of the orbits and rotations of the stars. They were the experts in this most complicated area of Torah study and solely dependent on Hashem because all day long they all only studied Torah. The worlds first Kollel. And it was 54,400 strong, out of 600,000. If only the numbers learning in Kollel today were remotely close to that figure! And still, that would be out of millions of Jews, not hundreds of thousands!
Yisachar's sustenance was sent by way of the third tribe in the east, Zevulun. Their flag was white with a ship. The white was symbolic of the joy of a bride and the ship represented commerce. Even though their earnings came with great effort, like a ship set out on a long journey over hostile waters, they were always happy fulfilling the will of Hashem, supporting the tribe of Yisachar and their own Torah scholars as well.
The Ba'al HaTurim points out that when the Torah list the tribes of each of the four sides, it mentions a tribe, designated with the direction (ie: to the east was...) and then lists two other tribes which camped with it. These other two tribes are connected with, "And..." (ie: "And camped next to..." or "And the tribe of...") Only the Kollel supporters, Zevulun, is not introduced by the word 'And' (v.2:7). The Ba'al HaTurim brings from the Midrash that this is to teach us Zevulun should not be seen as secondary to Yisacher, who was just mentioned ahead of it. Zevulun's share will be as great as Yisachar's! Don't look at it as [Yehudah and] Yisachar and Zevulun, rather, [Yehudah and] Yisacher-Zevulun. One tribe, commited to Torah!
Getting back to the future, this Saturday night begins the Holiday of
If I recall correctly, it was exactly 3510 years ago this Sunday that we and every other soul of Bnei Yisrael were anxiously awaiting at the foot of Mt. Sinai to witness the Divine revelation.
There is a Medrish that says H' went around to every nation of the world and asked them if they wanted the Torah. The nations asked what was in it? G-d answered them with the biggest challenges the Torah presented them. They all rejected it. When H' came to us we immediately answered "Na'aseh V'Nishma!" "We will do and we will listen."
At least a couple interesting questions. One; what if another nation did decide to accept the Torah? And two; How is it that we are called the chosen people if WE did the choosing?!? Both questions can be covered with the same answer.
If another nation would have accepted the Torah they would not have been standing next to us at Mt. Sinai. For that only we were chosen. Even if there were today another nation on earth that was living by the 613 mitsvot, only we would have claim to the nation wide prophecy, to the undeniable testimony that withstands the test of time. This would mean that if the Jews and this other nation fell into argument over laws or jurisprudence, it would not be "their word v.s. ours." It would be their word v.s. Divine national revelation. We are the control group by which all others are measured up. That's what we were chosen for after we said we'll take it.
What we've said many times before but never enough, is that a Jewish holiday is not a memorial or tribute to something that was. What was is alive and vibrant today. Whatever forces Hashem put into the world yesterday or thousands of years ago are still around. The battery doesn't get used up. The effects are strongest when, time wise, we are closest. That's the time to take most advantage of it. Hashem set up the holidays so we can tap into those sources. Yom Kippur's "force" is forgiveness. Pesach's is throwing off material burdens. Purim's is protection from our enemies. And Shavuos is when we receiving the Torah, became the Jewish nation, achieved a level of Adam and Chava pre-sin. This is what I was referring to in my opening paragraph that this is the time for the greatest growth. If we can reconnect to that power of the revelation we can merit an unbelievable potentiality which can come into fruition this coming year.
So please do take advantage of this holy holiday. The custom is to stay up all night learning Torah. If you can't stay up all night than just push yourself as much as you can and you did your best. As it is the morning services start at the earliest possible time so all night is not as all as you think. All year round you can tap into Torah but right now we're standing next to the holding tank. Take a drink! Take a swim! It's filtered.
There is a custom of eating dairy meals on Shavuos. There are many allusions to this in the Torah. To mention a few, later in Bamidbar, when Moshe is reviewing the laws of the holidays he says regarding Shavuos (28:26), "Mincha chadasha L'Hashem b'shavuosaichem." The first letters of the last three words spell the word "chalav"- milk!
King Solomon wrote in Shir haShirim, "The sweetness of Torah drips from your lips, like honey and milk it lies under your tongue." Honey is understandable. It's sweet. What's so great about milk? Ever try to feed a human being the exact same food every day, three times a day for 2 years? 1 year? 6 months? Who could tolerate it? A nursing baby! Drinks the same milk every time! Chazal tells us that when a baby nurses, it's mother's milk tastes like it's the first time, every time! Making milk a very appropriate symbol for again receiving the Torah for the first time.
Knowing that milk symbolizes the sweetness of Torah, it's not too difficult to see meat, that which milk should never come in contact with, as symbolizing materialism. On the day we reached pre-sin Garden of Eden, is it not appropriate to eat the most spiritual of foods available? At least what represents it?
I've heard it said, but have not seen it written, that on Shavuos and Shavuos alone, some have the custom NOT to wait the usual 6 hours if they've had meat and are wanting to eat milk. Milk, symbolizing Torah, also symbolizes life (and it is absolutely life for a baby). This would be the opposite of what meat represents. Judaism takes extra efforts to separate life and death. The priests not coming in contact with the dead is because they represent life. They are the quintessential servants of Hashem. That is what life is all about. Other than their two weeks of Temple service they learn Torah all year long. They are a source of blessing. A source of atonement. Representing life they separate themselves from death.
Halacha- Jewish law, requires the proper disposal of clipped fingernails or toenails, lest a pregnant women step on them and risk a miscarriage, ch'v'sh. The nails are dead cells, the very opposite of what a pregnant woman is and represents. Everything on earth is the manifestation of some spiritual source that, by the time it makes it's way through the heavens, it appears the way it does. So whatever the source of the nails are, it's diametrically opposed to life, especially a life source. Basically, Chazal warn us that these are two wires which should not be crossed. If they are, what ever short occurs in heaven may end up representing itself here on earth by a miscarry.
I went a little out of the way but we can see Jewish law is there to protect us. It also prohibits eating milk and meat. Now, one can eat meat immediately after milk but not milk right after meat. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the fact that when we're alive, we can go at any minute. Not time frame necessary between life and death, in that direction. But to go from death to life, that's much harder. There will be a time of the resurrection of the dead but not for a while. So after experiencing meat, some time must pass before tasting milk.
On the first Shavuos, at the revelation of Mt. Sinai, Chazal tells us that when Bnei Yisrael heard the words of the commandments uttered from the mouth of Hashem, k'v'yachul, their souls left them. It was instant overload. They had to be revived. After the second commandment, their souls left them again. Again they had to be revived. Bnei Yisrael came to Moshe and asked him to mediate. Chazal say that even hearing the commandments from the mouth of Moshe, their souls still left them. 10 times that day they died and were brought back to life. Life to death was as quick as death to life. So perhaps there is a custom amongst some that on Shavuos, one can go from meat to milk just as easily as from milk to meat? I'm certainly not recommending it! Only pondering the possibilities should it be true.
One thing for sure is true. You have to have Shabbot Shalom and a recharging, life tapping, Torah connecting, growth stimulating, Chag Shavuos Somayach!