By Nosson Chayim Leff
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with a quote from the Zohar: "A person
should hold tight to the special tahara (purity) that descends upon him on
this night" (the night of Shavuos). For, explains the Sfas Emes, HaShem
purifies Bnei Yisroel on this night, so we can be keilim tehorim (vessels
in a state of purity), and thus fit to receive the Torah.
Continuing, the Sfas Emes quotes from Tehillim (12:7-8): "Imros HaShem
imaros tehoros ... " (ArtScroll: "The words of HaShem are pure words; like
purified silver ... refined sevenfold ("shiva'sayim"). Note this word --
"sevenfold". Later in the ma'amar, we will often encounter the number 49.
This pasuk is the source from which that number is drawn.
The pasuk continues: "May, You, HaShem, protect them ...". The Sfas Emes
explains that the "them" which the pasuk is asking HaShem to protect
refers to the words of Torah. Their purity will be preserved by their
being kept in the purity of our hearts. The Zohar (and the Sfas Emes) are
telling us is that now, at our Matan Torah, we too should prepare our
hearts to be vessels suitable for preserving the Torah in its purity.
Note the implication. If we do not make a special effort to preserve the
words in their purity, they will be lost. Apparently, there are powerful
forces in the world that erode the purity of our hearts, and thus, of
HaShem's words. Those corrosive agents go under multiple names; but they
share the same underlying identity. As Chazal phrase it (Bava Basra,
16a): "Hu hasatan, hu yetzer hara, hu malach hamaves". ["Satan, the Evil
Inclination and the Angel of Death are all one and the same."] All
of these names refer to the same basic feature of human existence: the
dark forces of self-destruction that lurk deep within all of us.
The Sfas Emes explains that we can achieve the necessary preparation for
receiving the Torah during sefiras ha'omer. Clearly, this process of
purification is not automatic. How does it work? To help us understand
what he has in mind, the Sfas Emes refers us to the Medrash Rabba on
parshas Emor. The Medrash there comments on the pesukim in Tehilim that
the Sfas Emes cited earlier in this ma'amar. The Medrash explains that
Dovid Hamelech composed that perek (chapter) (Tehilim, 12) in a very
specific historical context.
In the time of Dovid Hamelech, there were children who were extremely
accomplished. These children were so advanced in Learning that they could
discern many alternative "pahnim" (perspectives; ways of looking at a
case) on which to decide a halachic question. In fact, their intellect
took them so far that they could see 49 ways of ruling a halachic case as
being tahor (ritually pure) and -- in the very same case -- 49
perspectives to rule it tamei (ritually impure).
The Medrash is saying that working with their precocious intellect, these
young talmidei chachamim came up with utter ambiguity. Consequently, they
had no basis for knowing right from wrong. Further, ambiguity also means
uncertainty and doubt - i.e, "safeik". And, as you may recall, the
word "safeik" is exactly the same gematria (numerical value) as the name
of our -- and HaShem's -- arch-enemy Amaleik.
This was the context within which Dovid Hamelech prayed to HaShem to
protect them (the bright scholars and their Learning). The Sfas Emes
extends this line of thought by presenting his non-pshat of the Medrash.
During the 49 days of sefiras ha'omer,
we work to separate ("levarer") the 49 pahnim of tahara which are mixed
together with the 49 pahnim of tum'a. The mixture of purity with impurity
can easily put us in a state of confusion. In the 49 days of sefiras
ha'omer, we wrestle intellectually with life's ambiguities, doubts, and
moral uncertainties. Apparently, the Sfas Emes sees this phase of struggle
with doubt as a necessary part of the process of receiving the Torah.
Ulimately, we can come through this stage of 49 levels of ambiguity, and
reach the 50th gateway ("sha'ar") -- Shavu'os. There, receiving the Torah
anew, we have access to unalloyed tahara!
Finally, the Sfas Emes notes an allusion that we may have missed. To the
Sfas Emes, the word "pahnim" brings irresistibly to mind the fact
of "penimiyus" -- the inner Presence of HaShem. The Sfas Emes tells us
that the 49 pahnim of tum'a also contain HaShem at their penimiyus. Thus,
the process of sefiras ha'omer can also include extracting the tahor from
For these reasons, on Shavuos we bring the offering of the two Loaves of
Chometz. (Note: leavened bread, i.e., chometz, symbolizes the yetzer
hara.) For, with the Torah, we can (try to?) handle the yetzer hara. Also,
by bringing this offering of chometz, we express another thought. If a
person looks at the world with untutored eyes, he/she could well come to a
metaphysics of dualism. That is, he/she could perceive good and evil --
tum'a and tahara -- as independent forces. By bringing the offering of
chometz to HaShem, we make it clear (to ourselves) that at the Source, all
is unity and tahara.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.