web analytics
August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Every Step Counts

YU-051013

By the time these words are printed, there will be only a few more days left before Shavuos. We hope that up until that point, we will still have been counting the days of Sefiras Ha’Omer with a bracha, but we also know that too often, despite our best efforts, we drop out of counting with a bracha some time before the count is complete. The halacha defers to the minority view of the Behag that disallows one from counting with a bracha if he or she has missed any single day of the sefirah, as the Torah’s term “temimos” (complete) in describing the weeks of the omer, would no longer apply.

It is not clear why such a stringent approach, so challenging for fallible, forgetful humans, is necessary. Many have suggested that the Behag’s opinion differs from that of other rishonim in the consideration of the following question: Should the forty-nine days of Sefiras Ha’Omer be seen as one big mitzvah, or as forty-nine separate mitzvos? If the entire sefirah is one mitzvah, it is understandable that any missing part disqualifies the whole. On the other hand, if the sefirah count actual entails 49 separate mitzvos, it would seem that each day is independent, and missing one day should not affect any other day.

Rav Soloveitchik, however, understood the matter differently. In his view, sefirah is made up of 49 individual mitzvos. If so, why is it an issue to miss a day? He explained that the concern is actually not that missing one part of the whole invalidates the whole. Rather, the issue involves the definition of counting. If one were to, for example, declare “five” on the fifth night, but not count the previous numbers, this would not be called counting, but rather “saying a number.” Counting, by definition, requires a deliberate process of marking all of the elements of a set. If earlier items are uncounted, then later items, even if a number is attached to them, are also uncounted.

Rav Soloveitchik’s halachic analysis may also be relevant, in a homiletic sense, toward understanding one of the more difficult aspects of Sefiras Ha’Omer. While this is not described in the Torah, the observance of the sefirah period has taken on a character of mourning. While there are many theories to explain this, the most well-known link the observance to the statement in the Talmud (Yevamos 62b): “Twelve thousand pairs of students of Rabi Akiva died, and all perished in the same (segment of) time. This because they did not conduct respectfully each with one another…. They had died from the time of Pesach until Atzeret (Shavuot); they died a bad death, from (that disease of ) ‘askara.’” A slightly different version of the events appears in the midrash (Bereishis Rabbah, section 61a) that ends with the words, “So, set your minds not to conduct yourselves that way [like the students].”

This passage is always difficult to consider. The notion that Rabi Akiva, who held up “V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” as the crucial principle of the Torah, should have so many students who treated each other so disrespectfully that they deserved to die, is a deeply painful thought that has caused many to struggle to understand. My father, Rabbi Dr. David M. Feldman, brought to my attention the essay of R. Eliezer Levi in his work Yesodot HaTefillah, who builds upon the statement of Rav Sherira Gaon in his Iggeret, that the students of Rabi Akiva died as a consequence of resisting shmad, efforts to force conversion upon them, during the time of the rebellion of Bar Kokhba.

In this understanding, as Rav Levi displays, the Talmud is, out of political necessity, discussing the situation b’remizah, in hinted, coded language. Thus, the relevant passages can be read as essentially the opposite story: the students did treat each other respectfully, and we are told to be like them, rather than to be unlike them.

However, both versions, as different as they are on the facts, emerge as two different ways of saying the same thing: the mourning period of Sefiras Ha’Omer is a time to focus on treating each other with proper respect.

Perhaps, the halachic perspective on the counting and the thematic perspective on the time period can be viewed as connected. The mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer in Rav Soloveitchik’s assessment, requires us to perform 49 independent, deliberate acts of counting, each separate from each other, but each unable to take place if any of the previous countings have not happened. Maybe the homiletic message is this: the sefirah is the countdown to the receiving of the Torah, the defining moment in the history of the Jewish people. That moment most certainly deserves tremendous focus, perhaps of the single-minded fashion. However, that comes with a risk.

Imagine a student in the shiur of Rabi Akiva, privileged to learn at the feet of one of the greatest sages of all time, one of the most accomplished scholars the Jewish people has ever seen. One who is on his way to this lecture might well run with such single-minded focus that anyone in his way, even a fellow student, becomes unimportant; and if that other student must be rudely pushed aside, isn’t getting to the shiur a greater priority? It is possible to be so intently focused on the important “main event” that other important concerns are given short shrift. (It is reminiscent of the 1973 experiment conducted in Princeton Theological Seminary, in which seminarians in a hurry neglected to stop to help people – actually, actors – who seemed to be in need, due to their rush to deliver a sermon about the topic of stopping to help people in need.)

The message of Sefiras Ha’Omer is that focusing on that which is most important can never allow us to miss all the other important steps along the way. We eagerly count down to the Kabalas HaTorah, but we do so by carefully marking every step along the way. We are trained to recognize that we cannot properly accept the Torah if these steps are neglected. Rav Yisrael Salanter, the revered founder of the mussar movement, was asked why he diverted talented students from the study of Talmud to spend time studying character development, and would respond that even more important than gadlus – Torah greatness – is shleimus – completeness of middos and personality.

The mishna (Avot 3:17) teaches that “if there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah.” Rabbenu Yonah suggests that derech eretz, usually rendered as the possession of refined character traits, is necessary if the Torah’s values are to take root; without derech eretz, any Torah the individual studies “lacks a home.”

At this point, the counting of sefirah is almost over – but the main event, the kabalas haTorah still awaits – and there is still time to infuse that acceptance with the message of all of the days that lead up to it; the memory of Rabi Akiva’s students demand nothing less.

About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman is rosh yeshiva at Yeshvia University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Every Step Counts”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and rabbi to Mariupol, Rabbi Mendel Cohen at recent Torah dedication in the southeastern Ukraine city.
Chabad Rabbi Remains with Trapped Jews as Ukraine Troops, Rebels, and Russians Fight for Mariupol
Latest Judaism Stories
Rabbi Sacks

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

The time immediately preceding Mashiach’s arrival is likened to the birth pangs of a woman in labor.

Parsha-Perspectives-logo

Eisenhower understood that motivated men will fight much harder and longer than unmotivated men.

Who does not want to get close to Hashem? Yet, how do we do that?

Hashem recalls everything – nothing is hidden from His eyes.

According to Rabbi Yishmael one was not permitted to eat such an animal prior to entering Eretz Yisrael, while according to Rabbi Akiva one was permitted to eat animals if he would perform nechirah.

Discretion
‘Vendors Of Fruits And Clothing…May Sell In Private’
(Mo’ed Katan 13b)

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Menachem
Via Email

If a man sins and follows his inclinations, he will find comfort in this world – but when he dies, he will go to a place that is all thorns.

Nothing is more effective to diminish envy than gratitude.

The first prayer of Moshe was Vayechal, where Moshe’s petition was that no matter how bad bnei Yisrael were, the Egyptians were worse.

“We’re leining now, and shouldn’t be talking,” Mr. Silver gently quieted his son. “At the Shabbos table we can discuss it at length.”

If we regard pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

More Articles from Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman
YU-070414-Figures

Respect for basic human dignity is such a powerful concept that it overwhelms some areas of Jewish law.

YU-051013

By the time these words are printed, there will be only a few more days left before Shavuos. We hope that up until that point, we will still have been counting the days of Sefiras Ha’Omer with a bracha, but we also know that too often, despite our best efforts, we drop out of counting with a bracha some time before the count is complete.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/every-step-counts/2013/05/10/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: