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Forty-Nine Plus One


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Megilas Ruth narrates the origins of King David, who was born on Shavuos, who died on Shavuos and whose offspring, Mashiach ben David, we hope to greet soon. In the third chapter, Boaz awakens on the threshing floor to find a woman lying at his feet. In the darkness, Ruth explains her mission. Boaz replies, “There is a closer redeemer than I. Stay the night. In the morning, I will go to the city gate. If the closer redeemer will redeem you, well and good. But if not - Chai Hashem! – I will redeem you!”

The Ben Ish Chai explains that the voice of Boaz is also the voice of God speaking to His children: “Stay with me through the darkness of Exile. Don’t be afraid! In the morning, I will search for your closest redeemer, your own merits and good deeds. If they are sufficient to redeem you, well and good. But if not, do not fear. I Myself will redeem you!”

Three years ago at this time of year, my wife and I were on a plane heading for San Diego, where I was going to be scholar in residence for Shavuos. I was working on a speech based on this very droshe from the Ben Ish Chai. The stewardess came around with drinks. I asked for a Coke. Taking a break from my writing, I happened to look at the Coke can. On its side were details of an offer for savings on admission to a popular amusement park: “TWO WAYS TO REDEEM.”

Can you imagine? God speaks to us even from a can of Coke. TWO WAYS TO REDEEM.

What in fact is a redeemer?

We are all separated from something we desire. Jews have been separated for two thousand years from our land. Yes, we have a State of Israel, but the world contests our right to live there, so we do not have peace. For thousands of years, peace has eluded us – external peace and internal peace. Our holy Temple is no more; our prophets have gone away; we have no king. Inside and outside the Land of Israel, our lack of unity weakens us and delights our enemies.

We need a redeemer. A redeemer enables a person or a group of people to return to what they once possessed. If my family possessed a field in Israel and I now desire to return to that field, I can try to redeem it. If I cannot, then perhaps a redeemer will come to help me redeem my field.

And if we desire to return to the holy Temple that once stood upon Har haBayis, from which the Voice of God emanated to the entire world, how will we return? This was once ours. We all gathered there three times a year, on Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos. It stood at the center of our lives and indeed the life of the world. How will we return to it and how will it return to us?

We need a redeemer.

We have just counted forty-nine days of the Omer. During that time, we were attempting to lift ourselves from the impurity of Egyptian bondage so that we would be worthy to receive the Torah. That was true in biblical days and it is true today, for we are all, to one degree or another, saturated with the impurity of the culture in which we live. In the depths of our beings we all want to return to the Torah that was given to us on Har Sinai.

Shavuos is the fiftieth day.

There is another count of forty-nine plus one, and that is the count of the Yovel, the Jubilee, which we recently studied in Parshas Behar. It is remarkable to read what the Torah says (Vayikra 25:23ff): “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine. You are sojourners and residents with me. In the entire land of your ancestral heritage you shall provide redemption for the land. If your brother becomes impoverished and sells of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother’s sale. If a man will have no redeemer, but his means suffice he shall return to his ancestral heritage . [Otherwise] in the Yovel [the land] shall return to his ancestral heritage.”

Hashem says, “The land is Mine. You are sojourners and residents with Me.”

The Sefira count is seven times seven. Seven is a complete week. In the Torah world, the week begins on Sunday, and we count upward toward Shabbos – Yom Rishon, Yom Sheini and so on – because Shabbos gives meaning to our life. Our entire weekday existence is in order to prepare for the kedushah of Shabbos. But the quality of our Shabbos depends on us. It is a gift from Above, but the question is: How will we use that gift? Do we understand its greatness? Do we value the ability to rise above this world and enter the world of Hashem’s Existence?

Seven times seven is the culmination of our efforts in this world. But perhaps we need more. To open the doors to Hashem’s world requires effort beyond our abilities. As we say during Maariv, “Hashem has redeemed Jacob and delivered him from a power mightier than he.”

That is the fiftieth step, the Yovel, in which all property returns to its original owner. That is Shavuos, on which Hashem gives us the Torah and lifts us above this world forever. In other words, God can – and will, it seems – “set the clock back to zero.” He will, if we follow His plan, take us back to a perfect world, even recreate the totally pristine Garden of Eden before the sin, if we will accept His Torah with all our hearts.

I saw a fascinating recent commentary from a contemporary gadol in Yerushalayim on this subject: “Connecting to [the transcendent life to which Torah brings us] is our mission during Sefira. Sefira brings us to the fiftieth day and all of Sefira is positioned to bring us from the limited, from the realm of seven weeks to the fiftieth day. The entire Sefira is oriented toward our escaping ‘midda’ (measure) whose gematria (numerical value) is forty-nine and arriving at ‘yam’ (sea) equaling fifty (in gematria).” (The sea, this gadol explains, is by nature boundless and represents Torah, which is infinite.)

In the darkness of this contemporary world, the voice of God is speaking to us, and He is saying: “Stay with Me through the darkness of Exile. Don’t be afraid! In the morning, I will search for your redeemer, your own merits and good deeds. If they are sufficient to redeem you, well and good. But if not, do not fear. I Myself will redeem you!”

The Morning is coming soon, and it will herald a Day whose light lasts forever, emanating from the Holy Temple shining on Har haBayis. All of us who love Hashem and His Torah will be there to see it.

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About the Author: Roy Neuberger's latest book, "2020 Vision" (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian with a Georgian edition in preparation. An e-edition is available at www.feldheim.com. Roy is also the author of "From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul" (available in English, Hebrew and Russian, Georgian edition in preparation) and "Worldstorm." Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com. Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.


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