Parsha Potpourri: Emor


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Parshas Emor – Vol. 5, Issue 29
Compiled by Oizer Alport 

לא יקרחה קרחה בראשם ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו ובבשרם לא ישרטו שרט -21:5

The Torah prohibits various extreme forms of mourning the death of loved ones. As the laws of nature require every living thing to eventually die, why is human nature to mourn the death of a loved one, sad as it may be, with such intensity when we mentally recognize that it is inevitable?

The Ramban, in his work Toras HaAdam on the laws and customs of death and mourning, offers a fascinating explanation for this phenomenon. When Hashem originally created the first man, Adam, He intended him to be immortal and created him with a nature reflecting this reality. When Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit, he brought death to mankind and to the entire world.

Nevertheless, this new development, although it would completely change the nature of our life on earth until the Messianic era, had no effect on man’s internal makeup, which was designed to reflect the reality that man was intended to live forever. Therefore, although our minds recognize that people ultimately must die and we see and hear about death on a daily basis, our internal makeup remains as it was originally designed, one which expects our loved ones to live forever as they were originally intended to do, and which is therefore plunged into intense mourning when confronted with the reality that this is no longer the case.

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה – 23:15

Our verse contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer – counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. There is one unique law about this mitzvah which is difficult to understand. If somebody accidentally forgets to count even one of the days during this period, he may no longer continue counting on successive days with a blessing. Because the entire count is considered to be one big mitzvah, somebody who misses even one day can no longer fulfill the mitzvah that year.

This concept seems to be unparalleled among other mitzvos. If somebody accidentally ate chometz on Pesach, forgot to light a menorah on one night of Chanuka, or ate outside of the Sukkah on Sukkos, nobody would suggest that he is now exempt from continuing to observe the mitzvah during the duration of the holiday. Why is counting the Omer unique in this regard?

The Medrash teaches that Rebbi Akiva grew up as an uneducated and ignorant shepherd. That all changed when at the age of 40, he noticed a rock with a hole which had been born through it by dripping water. He reasoned that if the water could penetrate the hard rock, certainly the Torah (which is also compared to water) could penetrate the soft flesh of his heart. He was motivated to begin learning, starting from scratch with the alphabet until he eventually became the greatest scholar of his generation. Although this story is inspiring, what deeper message did Rebbi Akiva find in the dripping water which gave him confidence in his new undertaking?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person wants to boil water, he puts a pot on the stove for one minute until it begins to boil. What would happen if he instead placed it on the stove for 30 seconds, removed it from the flame for five minutes, and then returned it for another 30 seconds? Even though the water would have been on the fire for a full minute, it wouldn’t boil. The obvious explanation is that it isn’t the amount of time that the water is on the flame which is crucial, but the continuity. It is the accumulated power of the heat during 60 uninterrupted seconds which allows the water to boil.

Similarly, Rebbi Akiva was skeptical about his potential for beginning to study Torah at his age. If he had to start from the beginning and could cover only a little ground daily, how much could he really accomplish? However, when he saw the hole in the rock created by the water, he recognized his error.

Although each individual drop of water makes no distinguishable impression on the rock, the cumulative effect of their continuous dripping is indeed great. Understanding the power latent in consistency, Rebbi Akiva set off to study daily until he became the leader of the generation.

The 7-week period of the Omer is one in which we prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos. As a result, Rav Eliezer Fireman suggests that the Torah specifically requires us to count the Omer without missing a day to symbolically teach us the importance of stability in our Torah study. Rebbi Akiva teaches us that the key isn’t the age at which we start, but rather the consistency and permanence of our studies. If we persevere, the “hole” will be greater than the sum of the parts.

דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש  – 23:24

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In order to avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: shevarim, teruah and shevarim-teruah.

The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruahs, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen to symbolize the concept of  teshuvah. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29) האלקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבנות רבים – Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations.

We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes, it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights. It is this realization that jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah, just as he was created.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisroel have the same level of obligation to pray as Shaliach Tzibbur, is there a mitzvah to give precedence to the Kohen? (Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 53:14, Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:49)
Why is a widow forbidden to marry the Kohen Gadol (21:14) when she is permitted to marry a regular Kohen? (Moshav Z’keinim, Aleinu L’shabeiach)
The Torah lists (21:16-24) the blemishes which disqualify a Kohen to serve in the Temple. Is a left-handed Kohen disqualified from serving in the Temple, and if so, does it make a difference if he trains himself to write or perform other activities with his right hand? (Ayeles HaShachar)
What should a person do if he crosses the International Date Line during the period of time known as Sefiras HaOmer (23:15-16), either in a manner which causes him to completely “miss” one of the days of the Omer or in a manner which causes him to “repeat” one of the days of the Omer? (Shu”t B’tzeil HaChochmah 5:96-98, Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 10:121, Shu”t Kinyan Torah 5:46, Ta’arich Yisroel, Piskei Teshuvos 489:6)
If a person is forced to spend Sukkos either in a community which has the four species (23:40) but no sukkah or in a place which has a sukkah (23:42) but not the four species, which one should he choose? (Mateh Ephraim 625:22, Elef HaMagen 625:22)

Answers to Points to Ponder:

1) The Pri Megadim rules that a Kohen has precedence to serve as Shaliach Tzibbur over a Levi and a Levi over a Yisroel, although a Torah scholar has precedence over all other categories. However, the Chelkas Yaakov disagrees and argues that all of those obligated to lead the prayers or say Kaddish are legally considered partners in the mitzvah, and the Magen Avrohom writes that there is no obligation for partners to give precedence to a partner who is a Kohen.

2) The Moshav Z’keinim explains that there is a concern that the Kohen Gadol may see a beautiful married woman and desire her. In order to render her permissible, he may be tempted to have in mind at the time that he utters Hashem’s Ineffable Name on Yom Kippur that her husband should be killed, which would enable him to marry her. To thwart this scenario, the Torah forbids the Kohen Gadol to marry a widow so that even if her husband dies, he still may not marry her. Since a regular Kohen does not utter Hashem’s name and lacks this ability to kill her husband, he may marry a widow. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein points out how astounding it is that the Torah was concerned that at the holiest time of the year in the holiest place on Earth, the Kohen Gadol may be tempted to use his utterance of Hashem’s Ineffable Name for the dastardly purpose of killing a man whose wife he covets for himself. This teaches us how potent the yetzer hara can be, and it should strengthen us in our constant struggles to overcome it.

3) The Gemora in Bechoros (45b) rules that being left-handed is considered a blemish, and a left-handed Kohen may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman writes that even if he trains himself to write with his right hand, this would not make a difference due to the fact that by nature he is left-handed. He adds that a Kohen once asked the Steipler if he should train his left-handed son to use his right hand for this reason, and the Steipler replied that there is no need to do so, as Chazal teach (Sanhedrin 91b) that when Moshiach comes, all illnesses will be cured, and the son will be right-handed and fit to serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

4) The B’tzeil HaChochmah maintains that in the case where one will miss a day, he should continue his count based on the location to which he traveled, but he may not recite a blessing because he has missed a day. In the case where he will repeat a day, he should also count according to the new location, which means that on the first day, he repeats the count that he already counted the day before without saying a blessing since he has already counted that day, and he continues on the following day to count with a blessing according to the local count. In the first case, the Mishneh Halachos disagrees and argues that after crossing the date line, one may count the day that he is skipping without a blessing and then resume counting with a blessing in his new location based on their count. There is a minority opinion which rules that one should continue to count with a blessing from where he left off, even though it differs from the count of his new location. This would have the unusual result of celebrating Shavuos on a different day than the local community. Several sources add that because this subject is so complex, one should avoid crossing the date line during Sefirah if possible. For practical questions, a Rav should be consulted.

5) The Mateh Ephraim writes that in such a situation, the person may go to whichever location he prefers, and there is no legal preference to perform one mitzvah over the other. However, the Elef HaMagen cites several sources who rule that the person should go to the town which has the sukkah for three reasons. First, the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah is Biblically applicable all 7 days of Sukkos, whereas the mitzvah of taking the 4 species applies Biblically only on the first day. Second, the mitzvah of dwelling the sukkah can be fulfilled constantly throughout the day, while the mitzvah of taking the 4 species can only be performed once a day. Finally, the fact that the Torah refers to the festival using the name “Sukkos” is an indication that this mitzvah is considered the primary essence of the Yom Tov.

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(YWN Desk – NYC)