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July 28, 2015 / 12 Av, 5775
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Parshas Emor: ‘Stuck In Place’

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Although it was almost twenty years ago, I think that any of my classmates from second grade remember the time that, “Staum got stuck in his chair.”

Our classroom was full of little chairs tailored for little second graders. The wooden chairs had a gap between the chair and the back, and we loved to climb into that gap so that the chair was snug against our waists. Then we would walk around the room with the chair hanging from our bodies, drumming on the cushion of the chair.

I too occasionally engaged in the fun of transforming my chair into a drum… until that fateful afternoon. One day during an afternoon break, I climbed into the chair’s gap and hoisted it around my waist. I proceeded to join my fellow chair-drummers, walking around the room. A few moments later the teacher called the class to attention. We walked back to our places and began pulling ourselves out of our chairs. The only problem was that I was stuck. I simply could not get myself out of the chair. I panicked and told some of my friends, who, in turn, told the teacher. After a few more futile attempts the bewildered teacher sent a student to summon the principal.

Although it seems humorous now, it was quite traumatic for me back then. The principal arrived and surveyed the situation. After seeing the problem, I am sure he turned around to laugh as well. Then he called the resident expert on all such matters, i.e. the chief janitor. As the janitor approached I was filled with dread as I overheard some classmates murmuring that the janitor would have no choice except to saw the chair apart, with me in it. But the janitor’s prognosis was otherwise. Suffice it to say that thankfully the problem was resolved with no damage, other than a bit of a second grader’s pride.

For years, my classmates would remind me of the incident and thank me for the extra recess they enjoyed that day. You can bet that afterwards I no longer climbed into chairs. I was advised to play baseball or basketball instead.

 

(23:15-16) “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving – seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d.” This is the Torah’s instruction regarding the mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer, the verbal counting of the days between the first day of Pesach and the holiday of Shavuos. The Gemara (Menachos 65b) derives from the words of the pasuk, “You shall count for yourselves” that there must be a count for every individual.

Some halachic authorities explain that the Gemara’s exegesis is coming to inform that the principle of “shomea k’oneh hearing is like answering”[1] doesn’t apply to the counting of the Omer.[2] Since the law states that every individual must count, one cannot fulfill his obligation by hearing someone else’s recitation.

HaRav Nissan Alpert zt’l offered a novel explanation of the Gemara’s statement. He explains that when the Torah demands an individual count, it does not merely mean that every person must himself/herself recite the words of the counting. It is also a call for every person to count himself, in other words, to make himself count! The counting of the Omer must be a personal experience, and therefore, Reuven cannot recite it for Shimon and Shimon cannot recite it for Reuven.

The counting of the Omer involves a count of one’s life days, weeks, months, and years. It reminds us of the fleeting passage of time. The message of Sefiras Ha’Omer is “if one does not master time, time will master him.”

Rabbi Alpert continues that on the first day of Pesach, Klal Yisroel physically left Egypt en masse. As soon as they traversed the physical confines of the country of their servitude they became free men. The greatest symbol of freedom is personal control and the ability to manage one’s time. Many commentators explain that the blessing recited each morning, thanking G-d “shelo asani aved – that He did not make me a slave,” is one of gratitude for our ability to decide how to use our time. A slave’s life is dictated by his master; how he utilizes his time is beyond his purview.

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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