Timely Gedank for the week of Parshas Bamidbar 5771
Perceptions By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Copied from: http://www.torah.org/
G-d told Moshe in the desert of Sinai, in the Appointed Tent, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after leaving Egypt … (Bamidbar 1:1)
There are many ways to look at life in This World, but, they all come down to variations of two extremes, and all the gray areas in-between. For the sake of these week’s parshah, we will call these two extremes ‘exile’ and ‘redemption.’
Now, when one thinks of the life-supporting system of a city versus the dry and deadly desert, one usually relates redemption to the former and not the latter. Yet, there are times when one might find a journey in the desert to be a ‘liberating’ experience after spending time in an ‘oppressive’ city.
Thus, it is not necessarily an issue of where you are that determines one’s status as an exile, but, under what circumstances one finds himself there, or, at least, what transpires while one is there. For, sometimes we are compelled to be places at which we do not wish to be, only to find them good places to be, in the end.
Then, of course, there is the concept of a ‘self-imposed’ exile, exiles undertaken by individuals as a corrective device in terms of personality and spiritual rectification. If it is taken on by choice, then, can it truly be called ‘exile’?
The Torah definition of exile is any ‘experience’ — short or long term — that lessens one’s ability to focus on and serve G-d. That was Adam HaRishon’s curse of work. G-d wasn’t saying to Adam that he’d never find a job that he could enjoy; He was telling him that his new life outside of Paradise would involve responsibilities, such as earning a living, that would lessen his ability to directly serve G-d.
Thus, by contrast, ‘redemption’ is any process that makes the direct service of G-d easier. While serving Egypt, the Jewish could not serve G-d well. That was exile. Being released from Egypt was only redemption if it led to improved service of G-d; otherwise, it was just a release from one form of exile into another.
Without this definition, one is lost in life. For, not all exiles make themselves well-known to the people they entrap. Some can be so subtle that they can even give the people they oppress — either physically, emotionally, or spiritually — the impression that they are, in fact, redeemed … liberated … free of all oppression.
That is the worst kind of exile of all, because, the person can not sense the need to seek redemption. They are living in an illusion and think that it is reality. They dream during waking hours, and feel no need to wake up.
Sefer Bamidbar is about this. It is about the Jewish people’s struggle to come to terms with the definition of ‘exile’ and ‘redemption,’ of ‘golus’ and ‘geulah.’ They left Mt. Sinai in a hurry, we are told, like children who flee school — like children who view their ticket to maturity, and therefore, freedom, as a portal to exile instead.
Then, shortly after, they will avoid entering Eretz Yisroel like people who are forced into exile, like they were forced to LEAVE Eretz Yisroel 889 years later into Babylonian exile. All their troubles in the desert, and ours throughout the generations, were always, and have always been because we view aspects of life as redemptions when G-d sees them as exiles, or, as exiles when G-d sees them as redemptions.
When we line up with G-d, then we truly experience redemption. When we don’t, then we truly experience exile. It’s as if G-d says, “You call THAT exile? Here, try THIS ONE and see what you think. Now THAT’S exile!” Teshuvah, especially on a national level, is none other than our buying into G-d’s version of exile and redemption — avoiding the former and pursuing the latter.
That’s one of the reasons why the parshah begins with a reference to ‘Midbar Sinai’ (Sinai Desert) in the opening verse, as we prepare to move on to Eretz Yisroel. It teaches that ‘exile’ is not just a question of where you are, but, a matter of when you are and with whom you are. If you are some place for the sake of a mitzvah — even in the driest desert of the world — to come closer to G-d then you are, by definition, in the process of redemption, on a course to fulfill the purpose of creation.
In exactly 2 weeks, b”H, will be the holiday of Shavuos, and thus, the counting of the Omer will once again have come to an end, and a process of redemption that began with the night of the Seder and continued for the next fifty days.
One of the issues that comes up with regard to the Omer-Count is what happens if you miss a day: is it business as usual the next day, or, has something be irretrievably lost? In other words, is one still allowed to make the blessing before counting the omer the rest of the days, or, has that part of the mitzvah been lost for that year?
At the root of this discussion is one’s understanding of the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer: is it one long, continuous mitzvah with fifty parts, or, does each day’s counting stand as a separate mitzvah? If the former, then the blessing has been lost because the mitzvah is no longer complete (though you still count each subsequent day without its blessing); if the latter, then, what was, was, but, what is coming up is what counts now and therefore, say the blessing.
When it comes to Tefillin, a mitzvah that is also performed most days, missing one day does not change tomorrow’s obligation in any way. What was missed is lost, but, every new day is a new chance to do the same mitzvah, and therefore all blessings must be said. How many single mitzvos are there that are performed over such a long period of time?
Halachically, we have decided to treat Sefiras HaOmer, which lasts over FORTY-NINE days, like a single mitzvah, which means miss a day, lose the blessing for the rest of the counting. It’s a phenomenal concept which certainly puts pressure on males to make sure that, for forty-nine days, they do not forget to count the omer — which some do, for one reason or another!
However, one can understand why when comparing the mitzvah of Tefillin, for example, and, the mitzvah to count the omer. Tefillin is the same mitzvah each and every day, though, one should be using that ‘same mitzvah’ to grow spiritually so that, the next time Tefillin are worn, it is a different, spiritually more elevated act than all other times before. However, the actual performance of the mitzvah remains the same.
Not so with Sefiras HaOmer, for, though each day the counting-process is the same, the wording is different for each count, revealing an obvious build-up toward the holiday of Shavuos. The Omer-Count is a spiritual construction process, whereby the end result justifies all the ‘work’ and ‘expenditure’ until that end-result is realized.
This is because on Shavuos night, a Heavenly light, an exceedingly sublime, yet powerful godly light will be commanded to leave its Upper World in order to descend and elevate all those whom can ‘hold’ it. Like rain that falls from the sky above, this light descends to fill all the containers below that can hold it.
As Rashi points out on the fourth posuk of Parashas Bereishis, this a light that cannot be held and used by evil people, and, the extent to which one can use this light will depend upon how righteous he has become. If a person brings a cup riddled with holes large and small to ‘catch’ rain, what will he retain in the end? If a person brings an ‘unholy’ vessel to receive the light of Torah on Shavuos, how much of the light will he receive, and how much will he retain?
During Sefiras HaOmer, we are spiritual glass-blowers. We are molding ourselves into vessels capable of receiving and retaining the light of Torah. Counting the omer each day, and then using the day to perfect the ‘middas-hayom,’ is the way we ‘plug’ whatever holes remain in our spiritual self, to perfect our personal ‘k’li,’ our personal ‘vessel.’ Miss a day and you miss a ‘hole,” and the entire k’li suffers as a result.
However, that does not mean that we cannot still work on the remaining holes of our vessel, which we must do, to limit the amount of light that can slip right through us. And thus, though we count without a blessing the rest of the days, still, we count each subsequent day, nevertheless.
Have a great Shabbos!