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Parshas Tazria Umetzora 5759

Outline Vol. 3, # 19

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

This issue is dedicated to the memory of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Bas Yitzchak -- Mrs. Selma Bernstein -- who passed away last month at the age of 97.

Most of the sources for this paper can be found in M'vakshei Torah, Krach 4, Koveitz 19.

On the second day of Pesach, the Omer -- an offering of barley, was brought in the Beis Hamikdash. The second evening, the Sefiras Haomer -- the Counting of the Omer -- begins. Every night, for seven weeks, the counting is recited, concluding with 49. The fiftieth evening is Shavuos.

What are we counting, and how is it associated with the Omer offering? There are many different views. The Chinuch, for example, held that there was no intrinsic connection between the counting and the Omer per se. The people were counting from the exodus until their complete freedom. The real freedom would only begin at Shavuos, when the Torah would be given. They should have counted from Pesach itself -- that is, the first day. However, it didn't seem right to mix in another, separate mitzva with Seder night, so they delayed counting until the second night. The second night corresponded with the date on which the Omer offering was to be brought.

Tosfos Rid, however, viewed the counting of the Omer as the connection between the Omer offering and the Shtei Halechem (the two loaves) offered at Shavuos. Shavuos is the Chag Habikurim (Festival of First Fruits) and is defined by the unique offering of loaves of leavened bread. This is one holiday that is not determined by a date of the calendar month. Shavuous is fixed in order to see to it that the Shtei Halechem are brought exactly 50 days after the Omer offering of barley. Since the date of Shavuous is not calculated by the luach -- the calendar -- the court's announcement of Rosh Chodesh (new moon) is not relevant. Instead, the court would count the Omer publicly, and each individual would also count, in order to remember the Yom Tov of Shavuos.

Most authorities do see a connection between the counting and the Omer offering itself. Since there are no longer any offerings today, the counting of the Omer is in itself only a Rabbinic mitzva -- a zecher l'mikdash -- a remembrance of the Beis Hamikdash.

The commentaries struggle at length to explain why the brocha of "Shechechiyanu" is not said over the counting of the Omer. Based on our present discussion, it would seem that, since "Shechechiyanu" is a sign of joy, it was not appropriate to say it when we are recalling the tragedy of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the present exile.

Indeed, the Poskim mention that "Shechechiyanu" is only recited when there is physical benefit or joy -- but not when remembering the destruction.

The Brisker Rav explained that the purpose of the Rabbinic mitzva was not the counting, but to remember the Mikdash. The counting was merely the way they chose to remember. For this reason, Ameimar held that only the days need be counted, rather than the days and the weeks. Since the counting was a Rabbinic ruling in order to remember, it didn't have to be exactly similar to the mitzva from the Torah in the days of the Mikdash.

Why was the remembrance of the destruction at this time of year? Actually, the students of Rabbi Akiva died during the interval between Pesach and Shavuos, and there are various customs of mourning in honor of these great talmidim. The question is often asked: Why is this period a time of mourning? Ramban, in his exposition of the Torah, declared the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuos as being akin to Chol Hamoed -- the intermediate days of the holiday. It sounds as if the entire period would be a festive one!

However, we have seen that the Counting of the Omer was specifically a memorial for the destruction of the Mikdash, and that the "Shechechiyanu" is not recited because of the sadness. That the seven weeks were supposed to be festive is not the only question. Pesach itself is certainly festive, yet the Counting of the Omer -- the memorial for the destruction, is read daily, beginning the second night.

Notice that the last days of Pesach do not entail the "Shechechiyanu" brocha. There is nothing new about these last days. Full Hallel is not recited. Traditionally, eggs -- food of the mourner -- are eaten at the seder -- because Tisha B'av occurs on the same day of the week as Pesach night. What is the connection between the great Yom Tov of Pesach and the great tragedy of Tisha B'av?

Ramban said: The greater the Kedusha (sanctity), the greater the Churban (destruction). When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael in the last years of his life, few Jews were living there. The worst sight was the area of the Kosel (the Wall). Ramban was devastated at the plight of Yerushalayim and the holy areas. Then and there, he instituted the first minyan in Yerushalayim in modern times.

During this period, recalling the korbonos (offerings) of the Pesach lamb, the Omer of barley, the Shtei Halechem (two loaves), we cannot be fully joyous, knowing that Judaism is in turmoil without its central, unifying base. This is a special time for personal growth, Torah learning and character development, in preparation for the Yom Tov of the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. However, we must remember that the students of Rabbi Akiva died during this time, because they didn't honor each other sufficiently.

During a "growth spurt," everything grows -- the good and the bad. A garden needs to be weeded, in order to maintain its beauty. The vine needs to be pruned -- farmers know that cutting away fresh growth increases the crop tremendously. So, too, as we grow, we must do some housecleaning.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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