Volume 36, No. 31
13 Iyar 5782
May 14, 2022
The Marwick family
in memory of Bervin and Swolsky family members a”h
This coming Sunday is the 14th of Iyar, which is Pesach Sheni / the “Second Passover.” The Torah relates in Parashat Be’ha’alotecha that, a year after the Exodus, Moshe Rabbeinu told Bnei Yisrael to prepare to bring the Korban Pesach. The Torah continues (Bemidbar 9:4-5), “There were men who were Tamei / impure through a human corpse and could not make the Pesach-offering on that day; so they approached Moshe and Aharon on that day. Those men said to him [Moshe], ‘We are tamei through a human corpse; why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem’s offering in its appointed time among Bnei Yisrael?’” In response, Hashem taught the laws of Pesach Sheni, a second chance to bring the Korban Pesach.
R’ Gedaliah Schorr z”l (1910-1979; Rosh Ha’yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Voda’as in Brooklyn, N.Y.) asks: What was their complaint; do our Sages not teach, “Ones Rachamana patrei” / “The Merciful One exempts one who is unavoidably prevented from performing a Mitzvah”? He explains:
The Zohar relates that several Sages of the Mishnah were returning from performing the Mitzvah of redeeming captives when they met someone who said, “I see on your faces that you did not recite Kriat Shema today.” They answered him that they were exempt from Kriat Shema because they were engaged in another Mitzvah. Nevertheless, writes R’ Schorr, we see from here that when a person misses out on performing a Mitzvah, even justifiably, that fact makes an impression on his soul.
Similarly, continues R’ Schorr, we read at the end of Megillat Esther: “For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashveirosh; he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with most of his brethren.” Why “most” of his brethren? The Gemara (Megillah 16b) explains that many of Mordechai’s contemporaries were displeased with him because his duties in the royal court detracted from his Torah study.
But wasn’t Mordechai busy saving the Jewish People and promoting the interests of the Jewish People, and therefore exempt from Torah study? As noted, “Ones Rachamana patrei”! True, answers R’ Schorr. Indeed, Halachah requires a person to interrupt his Torah study to save lives. Nevertheless, the fact that Hashem placed Mordechai in a position to save lives instead of studying Torah indicates that Hashem did not completely value Mordechai’s Torah study.
In this light, R’ Schorr concludes, we can understand the verses regarding Pesach Sheni as follows: The individuals who were Tamei and unable to participate in the Korban Pesach were in that situation because they had performed the Mitzvah of tending to the dead. Some say they had buried Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. Still, being unfit to bring the Korban Pesach, they were missing out, as in the story quoted above from the Zohar. Therefore, they searched their souls for a reason why Hashem would not want their offerings and, only when they couldn’t find any reason, did they come to Moshe Rabbeinu and cry out: “Why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem’s offering in its appointed time?” And what was the answer? It was that because of their great yearning for Mitzvot (demonstrated by their recognition that they were, in fact, missing out), Hashem wanted them to be the vehicle to teach about a new Mitzvah–Pesach Sheni, through which Jews in all generations can have a second chance to come close to Hashem. (Ohr Gedalyahu)
“You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your Elokim.” (21:8)
The Kohanim were divided into 24 Mishmarot / “watches,” each of which served in the Bet Hamikdash for one week at a time. Each Mishmar was further divided into family groups, each of which served for one day of his Mishmar’s week. Thus, the average Kohen served in the Bet Hamikdash only twice a year, one day every 24 weeks.
R’ Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira z”l (1914-2007; Rosh Ha’yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel) asks: Because a Kohen worked two days a year, he should be shown honor and given tithes all year round?!
He answers: In order to be fit to represent the Jewish People in the Bet Hamikdash on two days of the year, the Kohen must work on himself every day of the year! (Imrei Shefer p.147)
“You shall count for yourselves–from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving–seven weeks, they shall be complete.” (23:15)
R’ Moshe Yitzchak Ashkenazi z”l (1821-1898; Trieste, Italy) asks: What is the purpose of this daily counting? Surely, we are not worried that we will forget to celebrate Shavuot!
(Of course, writes R’ Ashkenazi parenthetically, even if our Sages had commanded us to count the Omer without any reason or benefit, we would do it, for the traditions of our ancestors are worthy of deep respect, and woe to Judaism if we question those traditions! Nevertheless, it is appropriate to inquire what the purpose of a Mitzvah is.)
He continues: As difficult as our subjugation to Egypt was, living under a cruel dictatorship is preferable to living under anarchy. Therefore, our Exodus on the fifteenth of Nissan would have been a negative development were we not destined to receive the Torah fifty days later. Receiving the Torah was our true salvation, as our Sages comment: “A truly free person is one who engages in Torah.” They did not say “one who studies Torah.” “Engaging” in Torah includes studying it, fulfilling its Mitzvot, and living with the Yir’at Hashem / reverence of G-d that the Torah teaches. One who has Yir’at Hashem does not fear anything else, and the trials and tribulations of life do not faze him.
For this reason, R’ Ashkenazi writes, we are commanded to count the Omer–to connect the holiday celebrating our physical freedom with the holiday celebrating our soul’s freedom.
Why is this counting connected with the Omer / an offering of barley marking the harvest of the new crop? R’ Ashkenazi explains: The Torah envisions an agricultural society, with all other trades and crafts playing only a supporting role, for such a lifestyle leads to good Middot / character traits. [R’ Ashkenazi does not explain this statement. However, we do find that the Gemara (Shabbat 31a) associates farming with Emunah / faith. The Tosafot explain that planting one’s hard-earned seeds in the ground requires faith in the Creator.] Why a barley offering? Barley is viewed by our Sages as animal feed. Thus, bringing a barley offering on Pesach, followed by a wheat offering on Shavuot, reflects the elevation we have undergone from the time we were liberated physically until the time we received the Torah and became truly free.
R’ Ashkenazi concludes: At first glance, counting the Omer appears to be a very “light” Mitzvah. However, if we keep the above ideas in mind, it has the potential to sanctify us and elevate our thoughts Heavenward. (Simchat Ha’regel: Drush 2)
This year–a Shemittah year–we will iy”H devote this space to discussing the related subject of Bitachon / placing one’s trust in Hashem.
This week, we begin to address the question: Does having Bitachon guarantee a “good” outcome, i.e., that Hashem will do what one wants?
R’ Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz z”l (1878- 1953; Bnei Brak, Israel; the “Chazon Ish”) writes: There is an old misconception rooted in the hearts of many when it comes to the concept of Bitachon. This term, used by the righteous to name a celebrated and central character trait, has undergone a change. Bitachon has mistakenly come to describe the supposed obligation to believe, in any situation in which one finds himself, whenever one faces an uncertain future with two apparent outcomes–one good and the other not–that surely the good one will occur. If one is doubtful and fears the possibility of the opposite of good occurring, he is accused of lacking Bitachon.
The Chazon Ish continues: This understanding of Bitachon is not correct, for as long as the future has not been revealed through prophecy, it is unknowable. Who among us knows Hashem’s calculations?! Rather, Bitachon refers to the conviction that nothing happens by chance, and that everything that occurs under the sun is the result of Hashem’s decree. (Emunah U’vitachon ch.2)[The Chazon Ish’s view is consistent with the view of R’ Avraham ben Ha’Rambam z”l (son of Maimonides; Egypt; 1186-1237), presented previously on this page.]
However, writes R’ Baruch Aryeh Halevi Fischer shlita (rabbi and educator in Brooklyn, N.Y.), if the view that the Chazon Ish rejects is “an old misconception rooted in the hearts of many,” it is incumbent upon us to understand its origins and basis. (Lev Ha’ari p.46)