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 Pituchei Chosam)

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)

Rebbi Chiya

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 at large.


Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

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

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