Yearning to Breathe Free

RABBI WAGENSBERG
ON PARSHAS EMOR
“Yearning to Breathe Free”

One of the topics in this week’s parsha is the mitzva of Sefiras Ha’Omer (counting the Omer; Parshas Empr, 23:15-16). In Sefer HaChinuch (mitzva 306; a 13th cent. sage who wrote this sefer as a gift to his son on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzva) it says that the reasoning behind this mitzva is to demonstrate our hishtokekus (longing and yearning) for the Torah that we are going to reaccept upon ourselves on the holiday of Shavuos. This is because when a person counts towards something it shows that he is anxiously waiting for that thing to happen.

Through this yearning for Kabbalas HaTorah on Shavuos, Hashem will gift that person with his yearly chiddushei Torah (Torah novella) for the upcoming year. We are going to see a source which supports this idea right now.

In Shemos Rabba (Parshas Yisro, 28:6; Rebbi Yitzchak) it says that all Neviim (prophets) received their prophecy from Har Sinai. The Sfas Emes (Shavuos; Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, second Gerrer Rebbe, 1847-1905, Poland) adds that just as the Neviim received their prophecy from Har Sinai, so does every single Jew receive his or her chidddushei Torah from Mount Sinai.

This means to say that every Jew receives a Divine gift from Hashem on Shavuos. That gift is a package of the person’s chiddushei Torah for the upcoming year. However, a person’s chiddushei Torah are dependent on the person’s pining for Torah during Sefiras Ha’Omer. The more a person yearns for Torah, the more chiddushim the person gets.

The Sfas Emes goes on to explain the following Mishna in a deeper way based on this idea.

In Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, Mishna 2, pg. 16a) it says that Hashem judges the world four times a year. One of those times is on Atzeres (another name for Shavuos). On Atzeres, Hashem judges us on “Peiros Ha-ilan” (fruits of the tree; meaning, how many fruits [such as apples, oranges, etc.] we are going to have that year).

The Sfas Emes says that this Mishna can also be understood on a deeper level. The “tree” can also refer to the “Torah” because the Torah is called an Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life), as it says, “Eitz Chaim Hi Lamachazikim Bah (it [the Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp it; Mishlei, 3:18).

Since the Torah is likened to a tree, we can make the following comparison between them. Just as a tree produces new fruits every year, so does Torah produce new fruits every year. The new fruit that the Torah produces every year are chiddushei Torah. Therefore, when the Mishna says that on Shavuos we are judged with respect to the fruits of the tree, it means that we are judged concerning how many chiddushim we are going to be able to pluck from the Torah Tree.

The upcoming years chiddushei Torah are given to us on Shavuos. After all, Shavuos is called Zman Matan Toraseinu (the time of the giving of our Torah). This means that on Shavuos Hashem gives us new Torah which are this year’s chiddushim. This means that on Shavuos each person receives his or her personal portion of Torah.

Once we receive our package of chiddushei Torah on Shavuos, we are supposed to access those chiddushim throughout the year, bring them to fruition, and share them with others. But once again, one’s chiddushei Torah gift package on Shavuos is dependent on his yearning for them during Sefiras Ha’Omer.

The Shela HaKadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas) on Meseches Shavuos (#9) quotes the Tola’as Ya’akov (Rabbi Meir Gabbai, 1480-1540, Spain) who adds that there is another judgement that takes place on Shavuos.

When the Mishna spoke of being judged on Peiros Ha-ilan (fruits of the tree) on Shavuos, it does not only refer to apples and oranges, and it does not only refer to chiddushei Torah. Other fruits are also judged on Shavuos. Those fruits are the Jewish people themselves. Every Jewish neshama (soul) is considered to be a fruit because it (the neshama) came from the “Tree of Souls”, which is Hashem, so to speak.

Therefore, when the Mishna said that “Fruits of the tree” are judged on Shavuos, it means that the “Jewish people” are judged on Shavuos. Just as we are judged on Rosh Hashana, so are we judged on Shavuos. On Shavuos, Hashem judges us to see how much time we wasted that could have been used to study Torah.

One who wasted a lot of time during the year, receives less chiddushim on Shavuos, and one who wasted little time during the year receives more chiddushim on Shavuos.

It turns out that we can combine the Shelah Hakadosh together with the Sfas Emes. When the Mishna said that on Shavuos we are judged concerning “Peiros Ha-ilan,” it means that the Jewish people are judged (like the Shelah Hakadosh said) concerning how many chiddushei Torah (like the Sfas Emes said) they are going to receive for this upcoming year.

Reb Baruch of Medzibuz (1753-1811, Ukraine; a grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov) used to say that he was more concerned about the judgement of Shavuos than he was about the judgement of Rosh Hashana. This is because Rosh Hashana is a Day of Judgement on physicality. For example, on Rosh Hashana we are judged if we will live or die, if we will be healthy or sick, and if we will be wealthy or poor.

However, Shavuos is also a Day of Judgement, but we are judged on spirituality. For example, on Shavuos we are judged about how much time we wasted. Based on that Hashem judges how many Torah chiddushim we will receive for the next year.

To Reb Baruch of Medzibuz, the spiritual judgement meant more than the physical one. If he was nervous on Rosh Hashana, he was most certainly anxious on Shavuos.

But again, it all depends on hishtokekus. One who yearns for Torah and does not waste his time will receive more chiddushim on Shavuos. This is what we are attempting to achieve during Sefiras Ha’Omer. We are trying to instill a greater measure of hishtokekus for Torah by counting towards it.

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yoseph Dovid Azulai, 1724 Jerusalem-1806 Italy) in Sefer Chasdei Avos (on Pirkei Avos, 3:4) says that each Jew has his personal portion in Torah. We know this from the Yehi Ratzon prayer found at the end of Shmoneh Esrei which says, “V’sein Chelkeinu Bisorasecha” (give us our portion in Your Torah). This means that each person has his unique cheilek (portion) in Torah.

Every Jew has the responsibility to share those chiddushim with everybody else, and no one else can bring those chiddushim into the world. This is why if someone had a chiddush, he should write it down or record it, because if he forgets it, it is lost forever. About such a person the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:8 or 10) says, “Anyone who forgets {even} one aspect of his learning, the Torah considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul.” The emphasis is on the words, “His learning,” which refers to his own chiddushei Torah. If he forgets them, nobody else can bring them back and they are lost forever. This is why it is considered to be such a crime.

The Chida in Dvash Lefi (8:3) cites his grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570 Morocco- 1643 Chevron) who says that this explains how Acharonim (latter day sages) can come up with chiddushim that even the Rishonim (earlier day Sages) did not come up with. It is not because the Acharon is greater than the Rishon. Rather, it is because the time for that chiddush to be revealed had not come until that time.

We believe that Hashem gave Moshe every aspect of Torah at Har Sinai. Yet, not every bit of Torah was taught right away. This is because the time had not yet come for that chiddush to be revealed to the world. There is a certain time for each chiddush, there is a certain place for each chiddush, and there is a particular person who must be the one to bring that chiddush into the world.

Therefore, even though the Rishonim were like Malachim (angels); nevertheless, it is within the realm of possibility for an Acharon to come up with a Torah idea that the Rishonim did not come up with.
But again, in order to bring these chiddushim into the world, it is imperative that we are driven with a deep desire to learn more Torah.

A verse in Mishlei (2:4-5) describes what that motivation should look like. It says, “If you seek it [the Torah] as if it were silver, if you search for it [the Torah] as if it were hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem and discover the knowledge of God.”

This means that our thirst for Torah should be like our hunger for money. We know just how motivated we are to make money. Well, that is how we should go about chasing after Torah.

The Rokeach (Rabbi Elazar Rokeach, 1176-1238, Germany; Hilchos Haomer) writes that the word for “hidden treasures” in the above verse is, “Vichamatmonim.” When this word is split into two, it spells, “U-ki-mem-tes Monim” (and like forty-nine we count [during Sefiras Ha’Omer]). It is not arbitrary that the words “U-ki-mem-tes Monim” is found within the word, “Vichamatmonim” because this teaches us that when we count the Omer, it is supposed to be with the same drive that we would have when looking for a lost treasure.

If we would count the forty-nine days of the Omer with that type of longing, we would become privy of the forty-nine levels of Torah understanding that Moshe merited to taste (Rosh Hashana, chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 21b, Rav or Shmuel, based on Tehillim, 8:6).

With this type of yearning for receiving Torah anew on Shavuos – the fiftieth day - we hope to one day become knowledgeable even in the fiftieth level of Torah understanding.

We should all try to increase our longing for Torah. The question is, “How?” There are two practical applications for achieving this goal.

First of all, we should daven for it. Maybe after counting the Omer, we could add a small prayer that goes something like this: “Dear God, I have hereby counted another day toward the holiday of Shavuos. I want to feel a longing and pining for Your holy Torah. Please dear God, fill me with that passionate wanting.”

A second idea would be to learn a Torah topic that we love, as that will generate a longing to learn the next exciting Torah topic.

So, may we all be blessed to increase our hishtokekus for Torah during these forty-nine days of the Omer in order that we emerge victorious from the Judgement Day of Shavuos – the fiftieth day – whereby we will be the beneficiaries of our very own chiddushei Torah treasures.