Always Time For Torah
וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת… שבע שבתות תמימות תהינה (כג:טו).
“You shall count starting after the holiday (of Pesach)… seven complete weeks (until Shavuos)” (23:15).
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l points out that when it comes to all of the Jewish holidays the Torah states the exact date upon which they are to be celebrated. Pesach is the fifteenth of Nissan; Rosh Hashanah is the first day of Tishrei, etc. Why then does the Torah not specify the date for Shavuos, the sixth of Sivan, rather, we must figure it out based on the verses informing us that it occurs fifty days after Pesach, why is this holiday different?
He explains how this Yom Tov differs from the others. This day is not an anniversary that commemorates a past event. Pesach is celebrated to remember the day which we were brought out of Egypt by Hashem; Sukkos remembers the Clouds of Glory by which Hashem sheltered the Jews in the desert. The giving of the Torah took place at Sinai but it continues to be offered to us everyday and every moment! Chazal even instruct us to view the Torah as if it were just given to us, this is literal! Torah is not an old instruction book from antiquity, rather it is as vibrant and relevant as ever!
The Torah did not want to ascribe a specific date to Shavuos, as this may erroneously mislead someone to think that Torah is old history and that it is only available at specific times. Rather, we must know that Hashem teaches us constantly, His voice is eternal; our job is to give Him our ears and hearts!
Reb Moshe adds two more hints to this idea. Firstly, Chazal teach us that the aron in the Mishkan, which contained the Sefer Torah inside of it, took up no physical space. What is the lesson? This is to signify that Torah is not earthbound or limited to a certain place! The Torah applies everywhere! Secondly, we do not know in which limb our neshamah, soul, is contained, rather the entire body is imbued with its holiness. Man must bring Hashem into every time and place that he finds himself. This is the lesson of Shavuos, Torah is eternal and always prevalent and available!
After I wrote this beautiful idea, I decided that it would be most appropriate to save it for Shavuos and instead I would write something relevant for Parshas Emor. Then I stopped in my tracks and laughed at my silliness! The whole point of the Dvar Torah is that Kabbalas HaTorah is applicable at any time! Thus I hope you benefited from this thought as I did whenever you read it!
Shabbos vs. Yom Tov
This week’s Parsha is read on many Yomim Tovim, as it discusses (Shabbos and) all of the Jewish Holidays. It has always been fascinating to me to understand the exact difference in holiness and to define the goal of Shabbos vis-a-vis the goal of Yom Tov.
I hope that the following stimulating questions will lead to one unifying answer:
1- The Shulchan Aruch (OC 274:1) states that on Shabbos night, we make Hamotzi on two Challos, loaves of bread, and we cut and partake of the bottom one. On Shabbos day we cut the top one. On Yom Tov, by both night and day, we always cut the top Challah. What is going on here?
2- On Shabbos, we daven three different texts in Shmoneh Esrey. On Yom Tov, we daven the same text all three Tefillos (Atah Bechartanu). Additionally, the text of Shabbos seem to contain a fascinating progression. Each one of the prayers differs one from the next especially in the nuance of Viyanuchu… Bah, Boh, and Bam, and the Jews shall rest in it (Shabbos, expressed in female, male and plural form).
3- We often find the distinct term “Oneg” used in reference to Shabbos and “Simcha” by Yom Tov?
4- On Yom Tov we say the Yaaleh V’Yavoh prayer, why don’t we recite it over Shabbos?
5- The Ramchal in Derech Hashem (IV:7:5) states that Shabobs is more holy than Yom Tov. What does this mean?
6- Why is Mashiach’s time described a “Yom Shekulo Shabbos, the day which is an extended Shabbos”?
Rav Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok Shabbos 3:13) explains that in attaining understanding there are two levels. The first is to hear a novel and fresh portion of knowledge. The mind is highly stimulated and enjoys learning new ideas. The next stage is to digest and internalize the portion, only to finally conclude that although it may have never crossed one’s mind and thus originally appeared new, in truth, it is a simple and self-evident reality. Namely, one now understands and appreciates the simplicity of that given insight. At first it seemed novel and then in time it saturates and blends into one’s existence and outlook, taken in as a simple axiom.
Yom Tov brings us new understanding, it provides flashes of light throughout the year. Feelings and ideas catch our attention and inspire our hearts. Miscellaneous and alternating flavors of truth and beauty. Emunah, Hashgacha, Ahavah, Avodah, Yom Tov recharges us. Shabbos on the other hand is the time in which we develop these ideas even deeper and internalize them to the point that they become seen as utter simplicity. Yom Tov jolts and Shabbos settles. Shabbos is utter simplicity and in truth a deeper inculcation of the lessons of Yom Tov, thus it is the most holy.
Rav Dessler explains that the top Challah represents “mashpiah, giver/influencer” and the male polarity. The bottom Challah represents the female aspect of “mikabel, accepter/influenced”. Shabbos’s deep understanding must be developed, hence, it proceeds in gradual stages. On Friday night we show that we are only on the first stage, the lower Challah. As the day progresses and the Torah truths become more internalized and simplified, we graduate to the top Challah. This is why the three Shmoneh Esrey texts develop in stages. They go from female to male to unification. This is the goal and objective of Shabbos. On Yom Tov, we are automatically up to the top Challah when we start, as Yom Tov is a jolt of energy, not a progressive internal development. Its message is available fully from the onset.
“Simcha” is used in reference to Yom Tov as it refers to new excitement and inspiration. “Oneg” refers to fulfillment brought on though deep contemplation and developed understating. This corresponds with the dual goals of the respective days.
Yaaleh VYavoh is said only on a day that “Yaaleh, elevation and spiritual stirring” is the goal. Shabbos is a day of rest, when the soul is inspired through the settlement of deep ideas into the heart! Shabbos is a day of Menucha, rest, internal peace.
Indeed, Mashiach is the time where all of the truth of Hashem will be evident to the world. The pieces of the mysterious and presently unfathomable world will all come together in self-evident and utterly simplistic truth. This is Shabbos. May we experience it soon.
Talking The Language
The first verse in our Parsha seems to contain two extra words. “Speak to the Kohanim and say to them…” Obviously, Moshe is to tell them this message, why state, “ואמרת אליהם, and say to them”? The Emunas Yirmiyah gives a fundamental explanation. When one speaks to others, he should try to convey the message in a way that the listener will receive it best and most clearly. Hashem was commanding Moshe not just to teach these laws to the Kohanim, but also to give it over in a way that was in line with how they needed to be communicated with.
Why is this lesson being noted specifically here? I believe it is because the nature of the laws being put forth here were very difficult. Firstly, they were very strict and limiting. Secondly, these restrictions only apply to the Kohanim, making them more difficult. Human nature dictates that it will be harder and more challenging for them to be accepted. Thus, Hashem instructed Moshe to be extra careful to assure that he expressed the laws in a manner that would maximize their ability to enter the ears of the Kohanim. Extra care must be taken to articulate them with sensitivity and clarity.
In our parsha we have the commandment to make a Kiddush Hashem. This Mitzvah is one of the most fundamental in the entire Torah. Hashem created us to be His representatives on earth. When we act properly, people see us and learn how the Torah dictates that we should act. Ethicists have studied the impressive moral standards of Jewish businessmen and have stressed how impressed they were with Jewish honesty and integrity. I recently read an article describing the great trust and commitment captured by a simple handshake given in the Jewish Hasidic diamond district. Tens of millions of dollars in business is carried out with no contract or lawyers but only with a simple verbal commitment and handshake.
Rebbe Akiva is famous for the end of his life that personified giving up one’s life Al Kiddush Hashem, bringing honor to Hashem. He was murdered by the Romans on account of his teaching Torah to the Jews. The Gemara (Berachos 61a) tells us that when the Romans began to comb Rebbe Akiva’s back with iron combs, their most famously painful torture in those days, the students heard Rebbe Akiva saying Shema and accepting Hashem’s rule upon himself. They asked him, “does it go this far?” He replied, “my whole life I waited to fulfil this Mitzvah.”
The Shlah HaKodosh asks, how did Rebbe Akiva find the strength to bring out this greatness? He explains that what Rebbe Akiva answered his students was that the way that he got to the level of being able to actively accept Hashem’s will was by practicing and imagining this everyday. When we plan and practice ahead of time then we are able to perform at the most important moments of truth.
Life is about preparation. We should not try to learn a new character trait when we are pressed to do it, rather we should learn and practice it beforehand so that we come prepared to the anticipated situation. If one is working on being more patient with his children, he shouldn’t wait until he is frustrated, upset and overwhelmed by his kid’s actions and only then begin to think about ways to stay calm. Rather, on a calm day he should think about possible things that his kid does that get him upset and devise ways in which he can stay calm and solution-focused when it becomes relevant.
Indeed, this is the entire theme of counting Sefiras HaOmer. We are counting and actively preparing for Shavuos. May we all succeed in preparing ourselves for the things in life that are important to us.
The Torah enumerates all of the special Jewish holidays: Pesach, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. What is most strange is that right in the middle of the holiday listing comes a verse that seems totally out of place. The verse talks about the responsibility to give part of your field to poor people (see Vayikra 22:32). Rashi (ibid.) tells us that the Torah places the mitzvah of tzedakah, charity, right in between the laws of Pesach and Shavuos and the laws of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos in order to teach us a vital lesson: “Anyone who gives the proper charity from his land is considered to have rebuilt the Bais HaMikdash and brought sacrifices there.” What does this all mean?
A Vital Perspective
I believe that there is a powerful message being expressed here that relates to the crux of the Jewish holidays. We work hard to be thoughtful and caring people; we strive to recognize the needs of others and to help fulfil them. A Jewish person celebrates Yom Tov with a beautiful meal and with much fanfare in honor of the occasion. We also must not forget about those who cannot afford to buy food for Yom Tov. The Torah is encouraging us to be sensitive to the needs of others. While we are sitting and enjoying our celebration, we must always remember those who are less fortunate that us. We wish to include them in our celebration.
Caring For Others
Every single Yom Tov and Jewish celebration has with it a concept of thinking about those in need. We begin our Pesach Seder by announcing, “anyone who is in need of a meal, please join us.” This is even after making donations to the city tzedakah fund for Maos Chitim, Pesach wheat monies, to ensure that everyone can have matza and other Yom Tov necessities. We dedicate time on Purim giving Matanos LaEvyonim, gifts to the poor. The Rambam even states that when faced with a choice of where to spend our money, on Mishloach Manos for friends or Matanos LaEvyonim for the poor, the decision is clear. It is most praiseworthy to spend our money to gladden the hearts of those in need and those who are downtrodden (see Mishna Berurah 694:3 that this is the actual halachah). It is now very understood why the Torah interjects the laws of the holidays with a focus on providing and caring for those in need. Charity and caring for others is an integral part of each and every Yom Tov.
My father is fond of saying that the Hebrew word for שמחה, family celebration or Yom Tov, is equal numerically to 353. If you add those three digits together you get the mispar katan of simcha which is 2 (3+5+3= 11, 1+1= 2). The number two represents plurality and signifies that a simcha is not a joyous occasion unless it is shared with others. Indeed, a source for this concept is found in Vayikrah Rabbah (34:3) which states that all simchos should be shared with relatives and loved ones. The Jewish holidays become true days of simcha when we care for those in need and include everyone in the celebration.
Parshas Emor discussed all of the Jewish holidays. It is important to understand that each holiday has a specific day or span upon which it is celebrated on the calendar but also has relevancy throughout the entire year. For example, Pesach is celebrated on the 15th of Nissan for seven days, but the lessons of emunah, faith, and inspiration for service of God remain strong and relevant throughout the entire year. This essay will discuss the holiday of Succos and its timely message for all days of the year.
The verse tells us that on the 15th of Tishrei after celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are to celebrate seven days of Succos followed by one day of Shemini Atezres (Vayikra 23:39). We know that the holiday has us outside sitting in a Succah, hut, commemorating the Jew’s sojourn in the desert and Hashem’s protection of them through huts and a cloud of glory. The verse also requires us to take the Four Species that are made up of the lulav, esrog, hadasim and aravos. What are they for? The Talmud tells us that these items need large amounts of water in order to make them grow and therefore since this time of year begins the rainy season they are brought. When we shake the lulav bunch we are praying to Hashem to send good rains and helpful winds so that our produce will blossom and agriculture and humans, who depend on food for survival, should receive what they need.
Rabbeinu Bechaya explains based on the Zohar that the Four Species represents the most primary aspects of the human body. The lulav is long and represents the human spine. The esrog represents the heart, the central part of the human body. The hadasim represents the eyes; the aravos represent the lips. Put together, these four items make up the human body. What is the meaning here? Succos comes right after the Jewish Days of Awe and Judgment. A person is inspired to serve Hashem to his fullest. The 4 Species remind him how to focus on bringing his body and efforts together to fully serve Hashem. More so, when one sits in a Succah he performs a mitzvah simply by sitting, eating and evening sleeping there. He elevates even the most mundane acts to methods for achieving mitzvos and closeness with Hashem. So too, we work on elevating our body for His service.
Rabbeinu Bechaya adds that the esrog hints to Avraham as it is called, a “hadar, honorable and beautiful fruit” and Avraham was one who gave great honor to Hashem. Kapos temarim, the lulav refers to Yitzchok who was kafus, tied up, upon the altar for God. The hadasim represent Yaakov. Just as the myrtle branch is covered with leaves, so too his 12 children living in harmony surrounded Yaakov. Arvey nachal, the aravos represent Yosef. Just as they wilt, refresh, wilt and refresh very easily, so too Yosef’s life had many ups and downs with an ultimate victory at the end. We see that the holiday of Sukkos hints to very deep concepts teaches a vital lesson about what we strive for as Jews. May we succeed in dedicating ourselves to the true service of Hashem all year long.