Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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5 Iyar 5760 - May 10, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"And You Shall Count For Yourselves . . . "

by L. Jungerman

The portion in the Torah dealing with the counting of the Omer is read on Shabbos (parshas Emor) in the very midst of the period of counting, a topical issue, and all the more reason for us to delve into its significance and to derive lessons from the Master Design in this exalted command. As the Sefer Hachinuch notes, the essence of the counting process expresses an avid anticipation, a self- triggering, a count-up towards the hoped for climax of the giving of the Torah.

This yearning, which took place at a historic point in time, did not reflect upon that occasion alone, but on all time, and upon the general aspect of this anticipation for all of us.

If we examine the routine of our daily lives, we will realize that most periods and events are governed by prior expectation and anticipation towards a particular future occasion. We fail to focus on the present with the proper appreciation, with the spectrum of pleasures inherent in it. Rather, we use the present as a springboard to leap to the next stage in life for which we are waiting.

During the years of education, we strain to prepare a proper foundation for our future success, step by step, but always look forward to the succeeding stage. Our adolescent youth is geared to preparation for marriage, while marriage and establishing the long-awaited home of our own, is again fraught with plans for what-will-be, construction, promotion, progress, in short, laying the groundwork for the next step in our lives.

On the spiritual plane, however, we see no feverish activity of this kind at all. Our spirituality is stagnant, routine, complacent, dormant, and rarely do we strive very actively to construct, improve, or grow on a steady basis according to a definite progressive plan.

These very days should provide that very opportunity for positive fermentation on the spiritual level. Indeed, the very fact that we are given an allotted time span of forty- nine days of waiting and preparation, anticipation and expectation, should promote this very sense, this awareness, in our being, and transform it into a permanent acquisition and trait.

Dovid Hamelech felt an actual physical thirst and lacuna for spirituality. "My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You." Where? In the beis midrash after all of his affairs were taken care of and he could turn his attention to the spiritual side of life? Not at all. "In desolate land, weary, without water."

This is a concrete example of the life of the soul which perfectly parallels everything that is familiar to us from our material, corporal lives. Whoever studies the chapters in the book of Shmuel becomes deeply aware of the conditions under which Dovid suffered while hiding out in the Judean desert, a location denoted in Tanach as an "earthenware wilderness" since it was as bone-dry, as bare as a baked shard of pottery.

A hot, dry, barren land was where Dovid Hamelech lived, with nothing in his possession to mitigate the harsh conditions and make them livable. Despite this stark lack of all living amenities, what does he long for? His soul pines for spirituality. He thirsted -- but for spiritual things, and this thirst overshadowed his basic physical need for water, shelter and other physical necessities.

HaGaon R' Aharon Kotler zt'l dwells on this point (Mishnas R' Aharon, Part I, p. 160) and says:

"The soul with the body, joined together as they are, interact in tandem and affect one another accordingly. When a person pursues the good path and conducts himself according to the Torah in all areas of reshus, where he is given free leeway, where he is, nevertheless, required to carry out the comprehensive commandment of "kedoshim tihiyu -- you shall be holy," then all of his powers are sublimated to the good, to a striving for greatness in spiritual matters. This idea is stated in many verses, like "My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You." Thirst is a term denoting a physical need, to illustrate the fact that the physical drives of the good person are harnessed to the spiritual and become mobilized for a spiritual goal.

Love for Torah follows the same idea. "How I love Your Torah; all the day it is my discourse." Joy and jubilation are also transformed to express spiritual love, like "I rejoice over Your teachings."

In his love for Torah, the dedicated person finds the selfsame pleasures which the man-of-the-street pursues throughout his life, be it the actual physical worldly pleasures or the imagined pleasures attained through the acquisition of money, power and honor in this world. As Dovid Hamelech said, "They are more pleasant than gold and much purified gold."

Let us focus upon a phrase which R' Aharon slips in through the context of his words: "And we have actually witnessed boundless adherence and love for Torah. Truly and wholly with all one's spiritual powers, even in these latter years."

To whom is he referring, "We have witnessed"? We can only guess. But we, ourselves, can state that whoever saw R' Aharon, did, in fact, perceive this in the flesh, in our very own generation!


The counting of the Omer constitutes action in the direction of developing this physical pining, anticipation, for spiritual things. We are poised, alert, coiled in expectation for the occasion of receiving the Torah, which looms up before us. The tension is spiritual in nature, and extended as it is over a period of forty-nine days, has the capacity to deeply instill in us a strong bond to spirituality in general, to become part of our makeup.

R' Aharon concludes and explains how one can acquire this precious spiritual acquisition: "Through the study of Torah and the studied direction of each and every deed to the service of Hashem, one can attain a portion in [can get a handle on] love for Hashem and love for Torah to the point that Torah actually becomes his prime goal, the object of his primal desires."

Conversely, one who allows himself to be led by material drives, even in the realm of the permissible, becomes, by necessity, more material in nature, and his capacity for spiritual striving lessens accordingly. Chovos Halevovos states that just like water and fire cannot coexist, so is it impossible for a human heart to encompass both love for Hashem and love for mundane things at one and the same time and place!

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