[This sicha was updated on Apr. 26, 96]

SEFIRAS HAOMER
A SICHA YOU CAN COUNT ON

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

1) This sicha has a lot of nostalgic and sentimental value to me as it is the first sicha I ever gave in Neveh in 1978 in (Neveh Yehoshua - Netanya).
There is a common misunderstanding about the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer. Many people think this Mitzvah was given as a sort of commemoration for the Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva, who died between Pesach and Shavuos. However, this is chronologically impossible, because the Mitzvah was written in the Torah many years before Rabbi Akiva's Talmidim were even born, so obviously the significance of the Mitzvah must be something else. Of course we do mourn the Talmidim during this time period, but that is not the main concept of the Mitzvah.

2) First we have to understand what the "Omer" is. The Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 302) says that there is a mitzvah to bring a special barley offering (korban) on the 16th of Nissan. The amount that was brought was called an Omer which is a tenth of an Eipha - approx. 3 pounds. The root of the mitzvah was to declare at this time of the year, when we are harvesting, that we acknowledge that all of our produce comes from Hashem.

3) In mitzvah 306 the Chinuch brings the mitzvah of sefiras haomer. We start counting the days from when the Omer was brought until Shavuos, a total of 49 days. He explains the root by stressing the point that the main purpose of the Jews is only the Torah. Because of the Torah, Heaven and Earth were created as it says in the Posuk "If not for my covenant (of Torah) day and night, I would not have established Heaven and Earth" (Yirmiyahu 33:25).

[When Rav Shlomo Brevda recently quoted this point of the Sefer Hachinuch ,he referred to the famous sefer, "Nefesh Hachaim" from Rav Chaim Volohzhiner, the great talmid of the Vilna Gaon. He says in Gate 4 Chapter 11 that the constant existence of the World is totaly dependant on Torah. If it would happen that in the entire World there was not even one person learning then G-D Forbid the World would be destroyed. (I once heard from my Rebbi that this could be the reason why Hashem made different time zones around the world. When it's night in Israel, it's day in America, and vice versa. If it was night all over the world at the same time then there could be a time where everybody was sleeping and nobody would be learning. Hashem prevented this problem by making it that when people are sleeping in Israel then people are up in America, and vice versa).

Rav Brevda also pointed out that the "Nefesh Hachaim" also says that the amount of people learning will proportionately affect the QUALITY OF LIFE. That means that if only one person in the world would be learning then the world would not be destroyed, but the quality of life would not be good. It would be a world of problems and fights. The more people learning the better the quality of life that will be existing in this world. (From all of this we should realize how important and indispensable our Kolel people who learn Torah most of the day are. We should not criticize them and call them "parasites" who just "kvetch debank"- sit and learn and don't do anything for society. I always compare it to the greek mythological ATLAS who was sitting and holding up the earth. Can you imagine someone asking him why he was just sitting there, why don't you do something for society?)].

So too the main purpose of us coming out of Mitrzayim was not merely "FREEDOM" to be able to do whatever we want. The main intention was the imminent receiving of the Torah (kabolas haTorah) on Har Sinai (see Sh’mos 3:11,12) fifty days later. One of my Pirchei Leaders Rav Eliezer Weinstein, pointed out to me many years ago that many people quote from the Torah (Sh'mos 7:16), "Let My People Go", (which incidentally is also quoted on the 10 Shekel bill) leaving out the main point, which is the next word in the possuk - "v’ya’avduni" - "So They May Serve Me".

Every year we count these same days in anticipation of that great moment of receiving the Torah, to show that we just can't wait till it happens. The Sefer Hachinuch compares it to a slave who counts the days in anticipation of his liberation. (We can relate to this when we count the days to our summer and winter vacation from school).

It is important to point out that although we received the Torah over 3300 years ago, Kabolas HaTorah repeats itself every year on that same day. In "The Haggada", (published by Mesorah publications) Rabbi Joseph Elias quotes;

"Any achievement that was attained, any great light that radiated at a certain time - when that time comes around again, the radiance of that light will shine again, and the fruits of that achievement will be received, for whoever is there to receive them." (Derech Hashem)

"Each season of our year thus contains its unique emanations of holiness; through the cycle of the year we can seek to relive the great of happenings of our history, and - entering into their spirit - draw from them strength and inspiration for the future." (S’fas Emes)

This can also help us understand a question that we can ask about Pesach. How did we celebrate Pesach as a time of Freedom during the Holocaust? What kind of Freedom was this? The same can be asked about the Crusades and about any time that the Jews were persecuted. This question is found in "The Hagadah Treasury", and the author explains with a Moshol.

"A poor fellow buys a lottery ticket and wins a lot of money. He uses the money for good things and even hires a Rebbe to teach him Torah, soon becoming a Talmid Chochom himself. Every year on the anniversary of the day that he won the lottery he makes a special party, and thanks Hashem for all that He gave him. One year unfortunately he lost all of his money and found himself once again a pauper. He nevertheless still made a big party like he made every year, but not as lavish. When asked why make a party when all the wealth, which was the purpose of the party, is no longer here? He answered, "The main thing I gained was not the money, but rather the wisdom of Torah that I gained through the money. I still have that wisdom"."
Likewise in our case the main FREEDOM was not just physical freedom to be able to do whatever you want, but rather it was the Torah we received.
The Mishnah in Pirkey Avos says: (Chapter 6 Mishna 2),
"...For you can have no freer man then one who engages in the study of Torah..."
The Tiferes Yisroel (ibid.) so eloquently explains,
"...And this is the [real] Freedom that his soul is not enslaved to the bodily desires [as a result of his learning Torah], only this is the true freedom and not when his desires are liberated and his soul is enslaved to the desires."
This Torah is still with us despite all the persecutions. Nobody can take it away from us. That is the main celebration of Pesach, and it can be celebrated even during the darkest periods of our history.

4) Now that we see that the significance of our counting the Sefirah is to show that we can't wait to learn Torah, how contradictory would it be if we count Sefirah and then we don't even bother to study Torah during these days. (Of course I'm not saying not to count if you aren't go to learn Torah, but rather work on improving your Torah study during this period)

5) There are many people who say that "I learned enough, I have to get on with life". This is unfortunately a big misunderstanding. People do not realize the implications of such a statement. In Ma’ariv we say, "Ki heim chayainu v’orech yomainu" (The Torah is our life and gives us long days). We are talking about Torah, and we say that TORAH is our LIFE. How can we then say that we have to get on with life and go do something else?!
The Gemoro in Makkos (10a) says that if a student has to go to a city of refuge (if a person killed someone accidentally, he must run to one of the cities of refuge and remain there until the Kohen Gadol dies. Y.L.) then you must send his Rebbe along with him. This is learned from the verse in the Torah that says "He should run to one of these cities and "LIVE"." Without a Rebbe to teach him Torah this is not LIFE. (See Rambam Hilchos Rotzaiach 7:4)

Of course making a living is important, but we must get our priorities straight. If, for example, a person has to go to Washington DC to talk to the President on behalf of the Jews, he plans his itinerary very carefully. It would be very strange if he puts aside 3 hours of his schedule for eating and only 15 minutes to prepare for talking to the President. There is no doubt that eating is also important, but how can you allot so much time for that and so little time for the main purpose of his trip? This is how we are behaving when we allot so much time for making a living and so little time for our main purpose in This World which is Learning Torah and Doing Mitzvahs.

6) We also have to understand the vast difference between Torah and l’havdil what the Goyim call Wisdom. This can be very well illustrated with a story about the famous Philosopher, Aristotle. He was once found by his students doing an immoral act. When he was asked how such a great man can do such a lowly act, he said, "Now I'm not Aristotle." In other words when I'm lecturing in the University standing at the pulpit wearing my frock, then I'm Aristotle the Philosopher. But after I finish my lecture, step down, hang up my frock, and go outside into the desires of the world, then I'm a normal human being with animalistic desires just like anybody else. My teachings don't have to affect my way of life.
Rabbi Leff in his Sefer on Chumash (Parshas Noach) brings a story about a Professor of Ethics in City University, Bertrand Russell who was found to be immoral. When he was asked how an immoral person teach Ethics? He answered, "You don't have to be a triangle to teach Geometry."
Torah is not like that. Torah is not just a garment that you take off when you leave the Beis Hamedrash. It is rather something that is that is supposed to be incorporated into one's self, to refine his Midos - Characteristic Traits. It teaches him how to interact with others in the wide world, how to control his animalistic desires, and learn to be satisfied, not jealous of others.

The Lev Eliyahu (by Rav Eliyahu Lopian, zt"l, vol 4, pg. 351) discusses the concept of Ben-Torah. He questions how come when one learns Math he doesn’t become a Ben-math? He explains that Torah changes and refines a person's Midos, thus transforming him into a different person. It is as if the Torah gave birth to him, hence the name Ben-Torah (son of Torah). Other subjects have no such effect on the one who studies them.

I read an article in the Reader's Digest 1990, "Rajan's Monster Memory" about a guy from India who had a phenomenal memory. At first he would use his gift to memorize train and bus schedules, and amaze his friends. After a while he saw there was nothing to gained from this, so he decided to use his talent to make it into the "Guinness' Book of World Records". He memorized the mathematical formula for Pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter which is about 22/7 or 3.14...) which goes on infinitely, and beat the record for that. When asked why would anyone want to know that, he answered that "it was for the challenge of it". In sharp contrast "Love Your Neighbor" (by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, p. 256) brings a story of a Rabbi Eliyahu Kletzkin, who also had a phenomenal memory. He used his memory "to assist others by memorizing the schedules of trains and ships all over the world. This way he could aid people who planned trips." This underscores the point we made before as to the difference between Torah and Wisdom. The person without Torah used his talent only for his own glory. He couldn't see any gain in memorizing schedules. The idea of helping others didn't dawn upon him. Rav Kletzkin on the other hand only thought about using his gift to help others, even though he wouldn't be making trips or getting glory for himself.

7) We all get a chance to put what we learned from the Torah into action when we go out to the big world. How we act there with the friends, family and associates can either be a big Kiddush Hashem or G-d forbid. the opposite.

8) Receiving the Torah is like someone giving away free lemonade. How much we get depends on how big a vessel we bring. If we bring a cup, pail, or barrel, that will determine the amount we get. So too with Torah. How much we will get, directly depends on how much we prepare for it. What better way to prepare then to show how important Torah is to us, by setting up times to learn, maybe learning a little extra, or even giving up an opportunity to do something else.

9) There's an interesting story in American literature books, called "The Necklace" by Guy De Maupassant. It's about a woman who borrows a pearl necklace and loses it. Since she is embarrassed to tell her neighbor that she lost it, she spends a lot of money to buy a replacement. It costs so much that she has to sell her house, move to a poorer neighborhood, and go to work. Many years later, she meets her old neighbor, the one who lent her the necklace. Her neighbor didn't even recognize her, because the hard work had aged her tremendously. When the neighbor asked her what happened, she replied that I may as well tell you the truth. It is because of YOU! When the neighbor inquired how, she told about how she had to spend so much money to replace the pearl necklace. When the neighbor heard this, she turned white and exclaimed, "Oh my, the necklace wasn't genuine; it was an imitation; it was only worth a few dollars!" In this story we see that it is possible to disillusion oneself throughout life into thinking that one has a genuine item, when he really doesn't. How heartbreaking it is when a person discovers that all the actions of his life are based on this misconception?
What may be more heartbreaking is, to have a genuine item and not realize its true value. This can be illustrated in a story I once heard from Rabbi Josh Silbermintz zt"l many years ago, (about 25 years ago. But as Hashgocho would have it, I met him a few years ago at my nephew's Bar-Mitzvah, and I was able to corroborate the story.) A Rabbi who taught his Talmid about the importance of Torah. He said it was worth more than gold and silver, as it says (Mishlei 3:15) "Y’karah hi mi’p’ninim" (the Torah is more valuable than pearls). The Talmid was very inspired by the lesson. He once went to a restaurant for a meal, but forgot his money at home. Remembering the lesson that he learned, he told the owner that he can pay him with something worth more than gold and silver, a Torah thought. The owner just laughed at him and made him pay by washing the dishes. The Talmid was very disillusioned and questioned his Rebbe. "How can you say that Torah is worth more than gold and silver, if I can't even buy a meal with it?" The Rebbe calmed him down and took him to the horse in the barn just outside his house. He told his Talmid to get his wife's diamond necklace and put it next to the horse. The horse just nibbled a little on it and went away. The then Rebbe told him to put a bail of hay next to the horse, and naturally it gobbled it up like a horse. So the Rebbe asked the Talmid, "Which is more valuable, the hay or the necklace?! Obviously the necklace is worth more, but to a horse who doesn't understand what the necklace is, then the hay is more valuable. So too with Torah, people who don't understand what Torah is act like that horse. You should not be like that horse. You must realize what a treasure the Torah is". I hope that we follow that Rabbi's advice.

10) In conclusion, I refer you to the story called, The Lost Moment, in The Maggid Speaks by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, p. 206. (Reprinted with permission from Mesorah Publications.) This story teaches us the importance of putting into immediate action any inspiration we may get or else it may wear off, no matter how great it was.

The Mother of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Z"L, Rebetzin Tzivia Auerbach, was moving with her family to a bigger apartment. In one of the rooms there was a young family of unobservant chalutzim (pioneers), who requested permission to stay for one more week before they moved. The Rebetzin agreed but on one condition, they should not desecrate the Shabbos. They agreed, yet when Shabbos came, the Rebetzin was shocked to see the husband writing a letter. She sent her young son Rav Shlomo Zalman to speak to him. The pioneer apologized and explained that he didn't realize that writing was desecrating the Shabbos, he thought that only making fire and using machinery were. As they were talking the pioneer said to Rav Shlomo Zalman "Don’t think I don’t believe in Hashem. I believe in Him just as strongly as you do". Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him, "So how come you know so little about Shabbos?" "It's a long story," the pioneer sighed, "but if you want to hear it I will tell it to you. Let's take a walk." So they walked through the street and field and he told him the following story:

I was a young man attending school in Russia, when I was drafted into the Army. World War I broke out, and we were shooting the enemy and hiding in foxholes with several cease-fires to remove the fallen soldiers from the field. We were exhausted, but I noticed that next to me there were young religious Jews who would be saying Tehillim and pray with great intensity. When they were finished I saw that they were comforted, and had confidence in Hashem. I didn't have that comfort, and I needed it very much. I was angry at my parents every time I saw these young Jews, because they never taught me anything about Yiddishkeit. The only thing I knew about Yiddishkeit was that my Grandmother lit candles Friday night. Finally one day when I was in a foxhole I cried out, "G-D, You know that it's not my fault that I don't know how to approach you. My father didn't teach me anything, and it's not my fault that I don't know how to be a good Jew. I am facing the enemy trying to stay alive. I don't know them, and they don't know me. I don't want to kill anyone. If a bullet hits my hand, so that I can no longer shoot, it will be a sign from you, G-D, that You are indeed here, even on this battlefield." I finished my prayer and all was quiet. A few minutes later, the sound of a single bullet shattered the silence and it hit my finger! (The pioneer then showed his finger which had become useless since then.) My gun fell from hand, and I passed out from excruciating pain. I awoke in a military hospital, and I promised myself that as soon as the war was over I would find someone who could teach me as much as possible about Yiddishkeit. I was never sent back to the front. When I came home, I decided to first go back to school for 3 months and get a diploma in agriculture. After learning a trade I would go to a yeshiva or shul to learn about Yiddishkeit. Three months later my head was clear, and I tried to learn. Logic dictated that I should learn with intensity, but now 3 months after my original resolve, my heart just wasn't in it anymore. I thought I could continue learning, but it just didn't go. If I would have started three months earlier, maybe I would be a different person today. The first Yom Kippur I tried to daven in shul with my machzor. I became frustrated with my inability to read Hebrew and the next Yom Kippur I didn't bother go to shul anymore. Had I started learning about Yiddishkeit right after I came out of the army, while the fire of inspiration was within me, perhaps today I would have known that writing is forbidden on Shabbos.

They both walked back in silence, but when Rav Shlomo Zalman got home he told his mother the story. Then he cried, "Klal Yisroel (the Jewish People) had lost a golden neshamah (soul) only because a young man had not seized the moment..."

I conclude with that wise advice. I hope that we might have received some inspiration, and that we put it into immediate action. May we all follow the advice of Rav Yehuda Mandelcorn zt"l, (the former Menahel of Neveh Zion), who would quote Rabbi Berl Wein's statement "Don't just count the days, rather let's make the days count".

May we all merit a true kabolas haTorah.

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