Parshas Emor 5758 - '98
Outline Vol. 2, # 28
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2, #18
Preparing for Torah
The upcoming festival of Shavuos (literally "weeks") is discussed
in the parsha. Israel was commanded to count seven weeks -- 49 days --
from the Omer offering on the second day of Pesach. The counting is called
Sefiras Ha'omer. Following the seven weeks would be the holiday of "weeks."
By tradition we know that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai at the time
of the Shavuos festival. The counting of the Omer is thus given the significance
of preparation: the people anxiously counted the time from their departure
from Egypt (Pesach) until the reception of the Torah.
Mourning During Sefiras Ha'omer
The custom that laws of mourning surround the Omer period, derives from
a later age: The students of Rabbi Akiva died during this time of year.
From Ramban's commentary to the Torah, it appears that the Omer period
was to have been a time of rejoicing. Is there any link in the Torah readings
of this period to some kind of mourning?
Perhaps the story of the death of Aharon's older sons, reminds us of
the customs of mourning during the Omer period. In Parshas Shmini -- where
their death is recorded, several laws of mourning are derived: the duty
of the mourner to tear the garment (kriah), and the laws of Onain (the
initial mourning, before the interment takes place).
In a year like the current one, the story of the death of Aharon's sons
is related and reiterated during the Omer period. During certain years,
the Omer period begins later; nonetheless, Parshas Acharei occurs during,
or immediately preceding the Omer period. It concerns the ramifications
of the death of Aharon's sons. Parshas Emor always occurs during the counting
of the Omer. Parshas Emor describes the counting of the Omer itself --
and it begins with the laws of Kohanim and mourning! What is the significance
of the death of the Kohanim, Nadav and Avihu? What relationship does their
story have to this period in the calendar?
The Anshei K'neses Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly)
Pirke Avos is read this time of year. The first Mishnah states in the
name of the Men of the Great Assembly: "Be slow in judgment, raise
many students, make a fence for the Torah."
Immediately preceding Shavuos, we read about the sons of Aharon: "They
died... they did not have sons..." (Bamidbar [Numbers] 3:4) Chasom
Sofer notes the statement of the Talmud that the "sons" refers
to the students. Because Nadav and Avihu were quick to make a judgment,
they died without sons -- the students. The difference is dramatic. Raising
students is reaching out beyond the self, linking to society.
Parshas Acharei states: "These are the laws that man must fulfill
and live by..." (Vayikra [Leviticus] 18:5) The Talmud says, "What
should a person do to live? Die. What should a person do to die? Live."
The meaning is that, should a person live and die in the proper manner,
he will continue living. Should a person live and die improperly, he will
simply die. Aharon's sons were great men; yet the Torah stresses that they
died. They died, and left nothing to show for their lives. They rushed
ahead quickly, pushing for levels that were not suited for them, did not
raise sons or students, and perished without leaving a legacy.
The main service is for the public. Reach out through students! Nadav
and Avihu did not have the chance to help anyone, because they died without
children, without students.
Anshei K'neses Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly), were the prophets
and sages who fixed our services, and established many of the basic laws
we have today. Nonetheless, only three moral exhortations are said in their
name. Be slow, raise many students, make fences. Nadav and Avihu raced
into something, and, as a result, could not have students. Therefore, the
Anshei K'neses Hagedola warned us: Be slow -- think of the consequences
-- and raise many students. Make fences, too. Pious people think that "fences"
are protective measures to guard religiosity. If you are tempted to break
a certain law -- make a protective measure. Well, that's fine. But there
are other areas that require fences too. Take protective measures to prevent
injustices to other people. Don't always think about yourself!
"These are the laws that man must fulfill and live by..."
The end result must be life and continuity. (Toras Moshe, Acharei, and
Nursing the Calf
"More than the calf wants to suck, the cow wants to give milk."
This expression is used in the Talmud in order to indicate how deeply the
Rabbis desire to spread Torah.
Rav Simchah Wasserman said that this statement is misunderstood, in
the following manner. The cow wants to give milk, because not giving milk
causes pain. If this was the truth, the milking would be, essentially,
the removal of a destructive element. The Rabbi, too, wants to provide
instruction, because if not, he too would be in pain. Such a teaching would
also be merely the removal of a destructive element.
This is not the real meaning here. The cow wants to give milk, because
it wants to nurture its calf. More than the calf wants to be nurtured,
the cow wants to bring up its young. The Rabbi, too, wants to give Torah,
because he desires to help his students. The Rabbi wants the students to
grow more than the students themselves desire to grow . (Greatness in Our
Midst, by David Fox)
Many of us are familiar with the story of Rebbi Chiya. The generation
was on the verge of forgetting the Torah. Rebbi Chanina said that through
his pilpul -- talmudic argumentation -- the Torah would be restored to
its former glory among the Jewish People. Rebbe Chiya said that he would
do it his way. He went to plant flax. When the flax was ready, he made
traps and caught animals. He gave the meat to orphans, and prepared parchment.
Upon the parchment he wrote the five chumashim (books of the Torah) and
six Sidrei Mishnah. He went off to a distant area, found small boys and
taught each one a different book, until they could each teach one another.
The Alter of Novardock pointed out that we cannot comprehend Rebbi Chiya's
actions; why was it necessary to do all these endeavors on his own, without
purchasing any ingredients? This much is certain, though -- Rebbi Chiya
held that all this was necessary, and he did not flinch from fulfilling
his responsibilities in this regard.
Don't forget, this is Rebbi Chiya the Tana, the foundation of Talmud,
the author of the Braisos (extraneous Mishnayos). He gave everything to
the children -- so that Torah not be forgotten from the Jewish People.
Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi, author of the Mishnah, used to say: "How great
are the deeds of Rebbe Chiya!" (Madregas Ha'adom, M'zake Harabim)
Lag B'omer -- the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer -- occurred this
week. Last year, we quoted the Bnei Yisaschar's words that the 33rd day
is a turning point. Pirke Avos relates that the best characteristic is
"Leiv Tov" -- a good heart. (Chapter 2, Mishnah 9) "Leiv"
-- heart -- has the numeric value of 32, "Tov" -- good -- has
the value of 17. There are 32 days before Lag B'omer, and 17 days following.
The indication is that we have acquired "heart" during the first
32 days, and the remaining days until Shavuos shall be "good"
ones: the final days of preparation for receiving the Torah.
If the period of the Sefiras Ha'omer is mournful, because the students
died -- we recall the demise of other great men, and the break in continuity.
Lag B'omer reminds us that the main focus -- with "Leiv Tov,"
good heart -- must be outward. We should not merely focus on ourselves,
but each must strive, in his own way, to extend Torah to the community
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi
Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.