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by Daneal Weiner
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Shapirah.
We are now in the middle of fulfilling, to the best of our Temple-less ability, a mitsva which comes out of this week’s
The Gemorah Berachos testifies that the Sages of the Great Assembly fixed for Israel her blessings and prayers. Right now, the days between Pesach and Shavuos, we are making the blessing “al sefiras ha’omer”- on the counting of the Omer. That’s quite a blessing to make, stopping to think about it, since A) we’re not counting the omer but the days since offering the Omer. B) The sacrifice wasn’t the omer but an omers worth of barley. The blessing should be al sefiras habarley. So what is the significance of the omer? What is the message of the Men of the Great Assembly?
It has been written in the name of the Ari Hakadosh that omer has the gematria of shai- shin yud- 310. If I wrote that, I’d be writing the obvious. Since the Ari wrote it, he is alluding to the mysteries of creation. But before we go that far back…
Iyov offers a few verses of praise to the concept of wisdom. In it he says, “V’hachachma, mayayin tavoh?”- And wisdom, from where does it come? On a deeper level he is saying, “Wisdom, from ayin does it come!” Ayin as in yeish mayayin- creation ex-nihilo. We’re back to creation already. Wisdom came from creation. Since everything obviously came post nihil, something more is being said here. Maybe getting from Latin back to the Hebrew will help.
We start with, Yeish mayayin- something from nothing. Add in Iyov’s “chachma from ayin does it come” and the result is; Yeish maychachma mayayin- that which is came from chachma which came from ayin. In layman’s terms, First G-d created wisdom and from that He brought forth the universe. We could have saved ourselves a whole lot of work if we took a look at the Targum Yerushalmi on the first words of the Torah, Bereishis barah which it translates as Bereishis b’chuchma bara. Of course, then we would have seen the words but would not have understood what it was saying.
That is actually the difference between chachma and bina- insight/understanding. Chachma is having information. Bina is understanding it. Chachma is a potentiality whereas bina is an actualization. As the Vilna Gaon puts it, chachma is a grasp of the mitsius- reality but not a grasp of its mahus- essence. With chachma you know it but don’t know what it is. Bina tells you what. That is why the letters of chachma spell koach ma. Koach, means ‘potentiality’ (as apposed to po’el- actualized) and ma means ‘what’. Chachma is the potentiality of answering the question what. Chachma is an awareness of a mitsius and Bina will get you to the mahus.
So first was this nothingness that we call ayin. Of course, it wasn’t nothing but only and entirely the mitsius of Hashem. Then Hashem brought all koach- potentiality into being with the creation of chachma. From that came out the entire world.
In Shemos (31:3), by the designation of Betsalel and Ohaliav as the chief craftsmen of the Mishkan, it says, “I have filled them with a G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight and knowledge, and with every craft.” Rashi says, “‘Wisdom’- What a person hears from another and learns. ‘Insight’- Intimate understand of all the things he learned. ‘And knowledge’- Divine inspiration.” It seems Rashi is concurring with all we’ve been saying. Wisdom is an effortless collection of information from others while insight/understanding is the result of toiling in cross-examination and comparison of all the collected information. In this context, a Chacham is someone with a broad grasp of mitsius while a Navon (from the root of bina) is someone who has internalize that mitsius into his own mitsius.
The Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 28:1 says, “Rav Yanai said, ‘The way of the world is for one to bring a measure of meat back from the market and how much toil and hardship goes into cooking it. Yet while mankind sleeps on their beds, Hashem brings winds, forms clouds, brings forth blossoms, fattens fruits, and they don’t give Him anything of it is except for the payment of an Omer. That is what is said, ‘You will bring the Omer, first of your harvest, to the Kohein.’” A somewhat troubling Midrash. There’s more.
Vayikra Rabbah 28:3; Rebbe Berachiya said, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Go tell them, Israel, when I was giving them the mon I gave them an omer for each and every one of them.’ That is what is said, ‘an omer per head.’ [Hashem continues] ‘And now that you are giving Me the omer [the Pesach Omer], all I get is one from all of you combined. And not only that, its not even wheat, but barley!’ That’s why Moshe went to Israel and said, ‘You will bring the Omer [of your first harvest.]’” One more.
Vayikra Rabbah 28:6 warns in the name of a dozen Sages, “Don’t ever let the mitsva of omer be light in your eyes for in its merit Avraham merited inheriting the land of Israel.” It brings other things we merited thanks to the omer, including Haman’s famous words, upon encountering Mordechai and his students learning the laws of the omer, ‘a handful of your flour pushed off 10,000 kikars of my silver.”
First we had two accusations against us of lack of appreciation, revolving around the omer, and finally warning for proper appreciation. What’s this all about?
The Maharal explains the following. The first of the harvest is the first of the newly emerging potentiality of sustenance for the world. Anything that has to it a first, that first is connected to Hashem. The first of something is the emergence of that something from its relative nothing. But once time passes, the emergence is forgotten and the object merely exists. When Israel bring her first fruits, her omer offering, we are remembering. We are recognizing that our food didn’t merely exists. Everything only came into being from a potentiality that Hashem put into the world. The omer attributes to and gives thanks to Hashem, the source of our sustenance.
The Midrash showed us an area where mankind greatly lacks appreciation of Hashem for this basic and necessary life source, and only Israel has taken measures to show proper appreciation, and we have merited many things because of it. That’s one answer for what is the omer.
The Gemorah Rosh Hashanah says that with 10 utterances Hashem created the world. It notes, however, that in Bereishis it only says, “And Hashem said…” nine times? It answers that Bereishis Barah is also counted as an utterance since David Hamelech wrote, “With the word of G-d the heavens were created.” So “In the beginning G-d created the heavens…” points to an utterance as well.
What is behind one utterance going un-uttered while 9 were? The first utterance is not a specific utterance. It is a broad utterance inclusive of all utterances to follow. That is why it says He created “es hashamayim v’es ha’arets.” The untranslatable es is a word which teaches the inclusion of information other than what is written. In the beginning G-d created the heavens, and all that was to emanate from them, and the earth, and all that would emerge from it. Bereishis barah brought into existence all mitsius but yet in a state descriptive of its mahus.
In the beginning…we said, in the name of the Ari Hakodesh, that the gematria of omer was 310. In Hebrew, shin yud- shai. All of you undoubtedly added that mitsius to your library of wisdom but maybe some of you understood its mahus. Shai is the letters yeish, as in yeish mayayin. But rather than sticking chachma inbetween yeish and ayin, we’ll use all that we’ve said to understand what is yeish really is because, after all, our Sages do call creation yeish mayayin and not yeish maychachma mayayin.
If ayin is some unimaginable state of absolute nothingness other than Hashem, then yeish is the first possible, real, potentiality created against the backdrop of ayin. The first first that was first possible. Omer is the gematria yeish. Bringing the omer, we are recognizing that the universe didn’t merely exists. Everything only came into being from a potentiality that Hashem put out from Himself. The omer attributes to and gives thanks to Hashem, the source of the universe.
A Mishna in Sota, dealing with a wife who has been acting exceedingly immodestly, she has to bring a meal offering. But unlike every other meal offering, which is brought from flour, her meal offering is brought from barley. Rabban Gamliel exclaims, “Just as her actions were those of an animal, her meal offering is of the food of an animal.”
Rabban Gamliel is, of course, giving us a broad understanding of all offerings, whether they be wheat, barley, cow or sheep. The type of sacrifice brought is the first lesson to be learned by the bearer.
This being the case, when on the second day of Pesach, Israel is commanded to bring the Omer offering, a barley offering, that is not a complimentary statement about Klal Yisrael. It indicates we are on a very animalistic level. But this is in contradistinction to just 49 days later when we will be bringing a wheat offering before Hashem.
In other words, [and believe me, they aren’t mine. I am only gathering chachma and am not holding by bina] on Pesach, when we bring the Omer, we are expressing the emergence of a new mitsius, only in its potentiality, which has yet to become an expressed mahus! The ‘animal chow’ omer is an expression of a living being who is only first emerging from his relative nothing. He is a living, breathing, functioning collection of tissues, like an animal, but not a human being yet. In just 49 short days, however, we will see that potential realized. That was Israel coming out of Egypt.
When we left Egypt, the Nation of Israel was the potentiality of a nation not yet defined by her essence. When we gathered and experienced the revelation at Mt. Sinai and heard, “I am the L-rd, your G-d Who took you out of Egypt.” what became revealed to us then was the process which had actually started 49 days before. The counting of the Omer is the bina process working on the chachma, the earliest stage of yeish. Taking it, understanding, organizing it and placing all of its parts into their proper places.
[My brain is definitely saying, “No more information, please,” but it just gets better. 10 minute brain break.]
Hashem created the world with utterances. The utterances are created with words. The words are created with letters. That process begins with the adjoining of one letter with another. Our Sages, on a noticeable number of occasions, have expressed adjoining our aleph-beis in pairs, not aleph to beis, gimel to dalet, etc., but by cutting the alphabet in half and sliding the second half back in line with the first. What comes out from this is the aleph with the lamed, the beis and the mem, the gimel and nun, etc., until the yud and shin and the chaf and sav. This arrangement is the root of the utterances of creation.
The great kabbalist, the Ramah m’Pano said that the foundation of the 10 utterances are the combinations from aleph-lamed to yud-shin and the last combination, chaf-sav, stands alone. Chaf-sav is the root of keser- crown.
Our 22 letter alphabet, cut in half, paired, and removing the last pair leaves us with 10 pairs. One pair is basis of each utterance with yud-shin, yeish, as the first and aleph-lamed as the last. Bereishis barah was the yeish from out of ayin which brought all creation into mitsius.
In a Mishna in Akatsim, Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi says, “In the future Hashem is going to give every Tsaddik 310 worlds. As it says (Mishlei 8:21), ‘To bequeath to those who love Me, there is, and I shall fill their storehouses.’” The Bartenura on the Mishna, points out that regarding l’hanchil…yeish- To bequeath…there is, yeish has the gematria of 310. He continues, Hashem is telling us the pleasure and gratification of the righteous in the world to come will be 310 times that of this world.
The Rambam writes although the pleasure of the World to Come is unfathomable, every soul will merit it and its pleasure will not end. He intentionally included information we might not have brought in. It will not end. That is in contradistinction to the pleasure of this world which will end. So the mark of true pleasure is not just qualitative but quantitative as well. Is it fleeting or if it will endure? This adds new insight, puts a new spin on yeish and ayin which turns them entirely round.
The yeish, which has represented everything that this world is, is limited in time. Although it’s everything we call real, it’s not real at all because it will end. Ayin, which we perceived as the nothingness is not nothing but everything that IS real. It is only Hashem and not subject to time. So the real yeish, the mitsius that is the true and everlasting mitsius is ayin. When Mishlei brought, ‘To bequeath to those who love Me, there is, and I shall fill their storehouses.’” The words l’hanchil…yeish- to bequeath…there is, is saying that that which will be bequeathed to the righteous is that which there truly is. The true yeish. Ayin. An eternity with Hashem.
True reality is, by definition, that which is, not that which isn’t. In Hebrew, a word for what isn’t is Lo- no. Backwards, it’s al- don’t, another word for negation. Al, aleph-lamed was the opposite end of our letter combinations from yeish, yud-shin. Yeis”h is the reality that really is and a”l is the reality that isn’t.
The Ramah writes that name of the people who landed the job of struggling between these two realities is Yisrael. Our name has yeis”h to the right, and a”l to the left. In the middle is the letter reish. The word reish appears in Mishlei (30:8), “Reish v’osher all titian li”- Poverty nor wealth do not give me. There it is spelled reish-aleph-shin, which we usually read as roshe- head. So the center letter of Israel, reish, is in position, physically and spiritually, to be drawn either way. Right, towards the yeish, or left towards the a”l.
The Tosofos Yom Tov, on the Mishna in Akatsim, writes another possibility for this Mishna’s mentioning 310.
Israel is presently like an unwed women. An unmarried daughter receives a tithing of her fathers land, as an inheritance, to be used as a dowry. We know that we are 1 nation amongst 70 nations of the world. Upon entering the land of Israel we defeated 7 nations. That’s one tenth. We know from Nach we defeated 31 kings. Assuming that figure to be a tenth as well, that gives us a starting point of 310.
This works out well with the language of the Mishna. It said Hashem will bequeath to the righteous 310 worlds. Bequeathing is an expression of inheritance. Since the Mishna is talking about the righteous’ rewards of the World to Come, that’s earned reward, not an inheritance. According to the Tosofos Yom Tov, however, bequeathing and 310 are terms connoting land. That works well as we do have an inheritance coming from our forefathers, described in Gemorah Shabbos as nachala bli meitsarim- an inheritance without borders. That’s based on the promise Hashem made Yaakov, during his dream of the ladder. “Your seed will spread out like the dust of the land, north, south, east and west.”
The Midrash said because of the omer we merited the land of Israel. When Yehoshua brought the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel, the first mitsva they performed was bringing the omer.
Rashi, on Bereishis barah, brings Rebbe Yitschak who says the Torah didn’t need to start but with the first mitsva heard from Moshe, Hachodesh hazeh lachem. Why did it start with creation? To teach that which it says in Tehilim, “The strength of His deed He declared to His people to give them the heritage of the nations.” If the nations of the world call us thieves, we can respond that all the world belongs to Hashem and He can give what He wants to whom He wants. He desired to take it from them and give it to us.” What is our relationship to anything that belongs to Hashem, that were it not for that we are to be considered as thieves?
Our connection is the mitsva of bereishis. Of reishis. Of the first. What is the first? The omer is the first of the produce which we bring to Hashem as recognition and thanks that all is His and we are grateful to Him. The omer, whose gematria is 310, is our connection to yeish. The real yeish. Right now we only merit a 10th of that real yeish. Israel is the 10th. It is the taste of the World to Come. Of course the first mitsva Yehoshua and Israel performed was bringing the omer because only with its merit could they be there.
Being in Israel is being in the Omer. Participating in the mitsva of the Omer is participating in the yeish. Someone who takes the mitsva of the Omer lightly is moving away from the yeis”h at the right and is moving towards the a”l on the left. From roshe to reish. When Israel falls, becomes poor, bereft of Torah merit, we falls so far that we go right past the animals. Marsa bas Bysus, whose marriage contract promised 1,000,000 gold dinar, was so broke and despondent with the destruction of the Second Temple, that she was picking barley seeds from the dung of donkeys in order to have something to eat.
She is who Rav Yochanan ben Zakai was referring to, in Gemorah Kesuvos, when he said, “Happy is your lot, O’Israel! When you do the will of your Creator, no nation can touch you. And when you don’t do the will of your Creator, you’re given over to the lowest of the nations. To the animals of the lowest nation.” The first half of his words are indeed something to be happy about. But the second? Yes, even the second. Because they are two sides of the same coin. They are the two potentials of the mahus of Yisrael. If that lowliness is what awaits us, if G-d forbid we move to the a”l on the left, even that indicates how grand and noble our lot if we connect to the yeis”h on the right.
Even more than this, there will absolutely come the time when we do connect to the yeish, inherit that which was promised our forefathers, and find true pleasure in the presence of Hashem.
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