The interval between Pesach and Atzeres is a unique time, a
time essentially different from others. Just as, during the
year, each season has its weather changes, surely this is
true about the primary part of Hashem's creation -- the
spiritual. Undoubtedly not all periods are equal; no day in
the year is the same as any other.
Chazal (Shabbos 147b, Pesochim 42b) inform us
that the period between Pesach and Atzeres is especially
beneficial for healing the body. HaKodosh Boruch Hu
set up His Creation in such a way that medicines are
unusually effective during these forty-nine days. This
period's spiritual root possesses a segulah for
curing and refining the nefesh, and the power of this
special quality descends from the lofty spiritual realms and
extends even to physical blessings such as curing the
This world's basis for existence is dependent upon
spirituality, upon elements dealing directly with the
nefesh. Spirituality is the genuine, fundamental
reality of Olam Hazeh, and periods having the
segulah of benefiting material concerns definitely
also have the power to help our souls. It is cited in the
name of the Rashash z'l that according to a person's
behavior during the sefiroh, so will he behave during
the whole year. This is because the time of sefiroh
is a unique period in our spiritual experience.
There are many distinctions between the time
about which Yeshaya (55:6) advises us, "Seek Hashem
while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near" --
which Chazal (Rosh Hashanah 18a) explicitly point out
means chiefly the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, the days
between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- and the whole rest
of the year. "The King by justice establishes the land"
(Mishlei 29:4) during this time. These distinctions
concern the din and mishpat of how HaKodosh
Boruch Hu judges us. The Aseres Yemei Teshuvah
have the special quality of bringing us closer to Hashem and
making it easier for us to be zocheh in our
Our Torah sages zt'l have revealed to us that there
are various other periods having singular qualities [and on
another occasion we discussed this at length, and it is not
the proper time to mention it now]. These days between
Pesach and Atzeres possess to some extent the aspect of
being a time "while He is near" -- a time suited to refine
and purify our souls. During the sefiroh we can
become a keli to conserve all spiritual and eternal
During yetzias Mitzrayim the Jewish Nation
experienced a tremendous Heavenly awakening, a drastic
change far above spiritual norms. "The people who walked in
darkness have seen a great light" (Yeshaya 9:1).
Bnei Yisroel, who were in a state where they "could
not delay" (Shemos 12:39), since they had sunk
through forty-nine gates of tumah, emerged to bask in
a great resplendence. This same Heavenly awakening occurs
It is well known that the root of our sacred days is not
mere history, chas vesholom. The same spiritual
brilliance that appeared for us at that time renews itself
during these days. Likewise on every Shabbos Kodesh
the same kedushah that reigned when Hashem rested
from all His work dwells anew on the world. This is true
about all the special times and Yomim Tovim.
"We ask about the halochos of Pesach thirty days
before Pesach" (Pesochim 6a). The Chesed
LeAvrohom explains the significance of this
halocho. Is it feasible for us to suddenly lift
ourselves every year from our lowliness to elevation? The
Soton that denounces us and incites against us simply will
not let us. In order for us to be zocheh to this
brilliance annually, it must appear gradually, starting
thirty days before Pesach. As a person prepares himself
more, so he receives more of the spiritual radiance being
sent to us.
After the first day of Pesach the brilliance and stature
that Klal Yisroel attained departs from them. The way
to regain this madreigah is through avodoh,
the standard way of attaining spiritual levels. Unlike
Pesach, during which there was a phenomenal spiritual
awakening, Jews must now labor hard to refine their
nefesh gradually throughout the whole sefiroh
until Shavuos, the time we received the Torah.
A special Heavenly power is prevalent in every generation
that awakens men during these times. Man's main spiritual
possessions will be according to his efforts and
preparations to receive these Heavenly gifts. Obtaining
these spiritual kinyonim is the goal of man's
avodoh. Hashem gave us the power of free will to
choose life or, chas vesholom, the opposite, but
HaKodosh Boruch Hu commands us, "You shall choose
life" (Devorim 30:19).
"For all things come from You, and from Your hand have we
given to You" (1 Divrei Hayamim 29:14). Even the
spiritual possessions to which we are zocheh through
our avodoh are actually "from You." HaKodosh
Boruch Hu gives us the strength to carry out our
avodoh with the goal of recognizing that the real
truth is that "from Your hand have we given to You."
This is true about all of man's efforts for
ruchniyus. Man starts his avodas Hashem with
an extraordinary Divine assistance. Later that brilliance
disappears and he must try to reach those levels through his
own toil. There are many reasons for this. First, with the
initial light that he saw he now knows to what brilliance he
must aspire. This can be compared to someone walking in a
forest on a dark night; then suddenly he sees a momentary
flash of lightning. Although he continues walking in
darkness afterwards, he now recognizes the way ahead of him.
Similarly, with spiritual gains, by first being
zocheh to a great brilliance of ruchniyus we
can later know for what we should strive.
There is an additional factor here. Because of the
resplendence that a person once gained, he is more prepared
for avodas Hashem and has more vitality in his
nefesh. He can use this power to reach that same
brilliance and those same levels. This is similar to what
Chazal (Niddah 30b) write, that a fetus during a
woman's pregnancy "is taught the whole Torah." The
mal'ach teaching Torah to a fetus prepares the
nefesh so that after birth it can be better equipped
to study the Torah. We ask from Hashem, "Grant us our share
in Your Torah." The Vilna Gaon explains that with the toil
we put into studying Torah, HaKodosh Boruch Hu in His
abundant mercy gives us Torah that will be called "our
Torah" (Kiddushin 32b). It will be as if Hashem
Himself is studying "Eliezer, My son, says."
During every period that possesses the
segulah of refining one's nefesh and elevating
a person, the more one prepares himself for that time, the
more he is a part of that time and the more he is
zocheh to benefit from it. According to his efforts
he will merit absorbing the brilliance and spiritual
advantages found in those days. On the other hand, if he is
indifferent to the special time he does not benefit from the
spiritual brilliance of that time. Moreover, if a person
does not awaken to elevate himself at that time he is held
even more to blame. He is accountable for not growing in
ruchniyus, and this causes, chas vesholom, not
only no increase in his spiritual level but a definite
We have no neutral periods, when if a person wants he can
receive what is being given him and if not he can forgo the
gift. This is never the case. When HaKodosh Boruch Hu
comes nearer to us for our eternal benefit and then we,
chas vesholom, do not pay attention to His approach,
it is as if we are, chas vesholom, dismissing His
help with derision and chasing away the King. It is known to
all what rabbenu the Vilna Gaon writes (in his
explanation of din vecheshbon) about what happens if
instead of doing mitzvos we do aveiros.
The Torah has no set date in the month for Chag
HaAtzeres. It simply falls fifty days after Pesach.
During these fifty days bnei Yisroel awaited, refined
their souls, and prepared themselves for receiving the
Torah, which was the goal of our exodus from Egypt -- "When
you have brought the people out of Egypt you shall serve
Elokim upon this mountain" (Shemos 3:12).
Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu first to tell Pharaoh "Let My son
go" so that he can later reach the level of "that he may
serve Me" (Shemos 4:23). The whole yetzias
Mitzrayim was a preparation for receiving the Torah, and
the kedushah of that time started dwelling upon those
who left Egypt to serve Hashem -- "When you walked after Me
in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown"
(Yirmiyahu 2:2). The Midrash tells us that
during the whole time, bnei Yisroel were counting how
many days had passed since HaKodosh Boruch Hu took
them out of Egypt. They were zocheh that this
counting, this sefiroh, would remain forever with the
This time directly affects our ruchniyus. Only with
preparation can a person receive the Heavenly abundance
being offered at this time. There are no free gifts; a
person must exert himself to be zocheh to this
abundance. To make no preparations when Hashem sends such a
brilliance is simply to reject it.
The sefiroh of the days until Shavuos
and the preparation to receive the Torah is not a regular
counting, nor is it only a counting towards a goal to which
a person aspires. It is a period of refinement and cleansing
of heart that is needed because "Hashem wants a person's
heart" (Sanhedrin 106b). "Why is there money in the
hand of a fool to purchase wisdom although he has not an
understanding heart?" (Mishlei 17:16). Our fathers
who had left Egypt counted these days, prepared themselves
and craved to receive Hashem's word and do His service. By
acting in this way they were zocheh to reach the
level where "they said, All that Hashem has said will we do
and obey" (Shemos 24:7). For us, after we have
received the Torah as an inheritance, the preparation and
purifying of the heart can be achieved only through the
Torah itself, of which it is said, "Is not My word like a
fire? says Hashem" (Yirmiyahu 23:29).
Rabbenu Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes (in his Mesillas
Yeshorim) that "the Creator Who created the yetzer
hora in a person created the Torah as a remedy for it,
as Chazal (Kiddushin 30) write, `I created the
yetzer hora and I created the Torah as a remedy for
it.' It is obvious that if the Creator created only this
medicine for this wound it is impossible that man will cure
himself in any way . . . without this medicine."
A person who is trying to prepare his heart for
ruchniyus is someone seeking to improve himself, and
he is zocheh to see the fulfillment of "Let the heart
of those who seek Hashem rejoice" (Tehillim 105:3).
Because he seeks to elevate himself he merits
"Odom" indicates man's existing natural desires. Our
heart is laden with contradictions, and the yetzer
hora directs man towards "only evil the whole day"
(Bereishis 6:5). Unless a person continuously awakens
himself, his desire and thirst will bring him, chas
vesholom, to undesirable results.
I once heard an odom godol rebuking himself on
Simchas Torah. He said that he realized that he did not feel
simchah because he was lacking in his spiritual
level, but that he was more worried about where his
simchah was actually to be found just then, chas
vesholom. This is our main avodoh: to purify the
heart and give it to Hashem -- "My son, give me your heart
and let your eyes observe my ways" (Mishlei
The Torah was given on the most sacred day of
the week, on Shabbos Kodesh. "All opinions agree that
the Torah was given to Yisroel on Shabbos" (Shabbos
86b). The Torah could only have been given to the dor
dei'ah of those who ate the man, the "bread of
the angels" (Tehillim 78:25), since providing
sustenance for the nefesh contradicts the needs of
the body. The daas of the dor dei'ah filled
their whole body, since they had gone out of the
tumah of Egypt and refined themselves towards
ruchniyus. It was a generation that had no longer any
connection with physicality. When they ate it was as if they
were bringing korbonos on the mizbeiach, as
the Mesillas Yeshorim (ch. 26) writes. Only they were
capable of receiving the Torah.
After their level of ruchniyus was implanted in
Klal Yisroel, we too can be zocheh to
spiritual heights, according to our capability and according
to the degree that we separate ourselves from
gashmiyus. (I do not mean tormenting oneself with
sigufim and the like; only that a person's life, the
depth of his understanding, and the direction of his soul
should be toward the spiritual. Desire for the physical
should not take up any place in his mind and heart.)
The rule that "all beginnings are difficult" (Zohar
2:187) refers to kabolas HaTorah. Rashi explains
(Shemos 19:5), "If you receive [the Torah] now, from
then on it will be pleasant for you, since all beginnings
are difficult." About this fundamental principle, the
essence of real life, which is the opposite of superficial
life, Chazal reveal to us that if a person does not sense
any difficulty this shows he has not yet started his
progress. After he has started he immediately comes nearer
the truth. He must awaken himself, prepare himself well, and
cling to spiritual concerns. A person must be careful not to
awaken himself in a superficial manner, since doing so will
not leave a kinyan inside him, and obtaining this
kinyan is an essential need for us.
Even in the tefilloh for good health in Shemoneh
Esrei we do not find so many expressions of
rachamim as when we pray for Torah: "With exceedingly
great mercy have You have mercy on us," "Our Father, the
merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us."
For Torah we pray and supplicate Hashem to the utmost, since
that is our destiny in the world. It is our unique
contribution and the whole reason for our existence. We must
ask Hashem for Torah, beseech Him for Torah, so that we will
not be, chas vesholom, like a person who asked a
favor from the king, and then when the king gave it to him
he did not take it right away. Not accepting the king's
present immediately is tantamount to denying its worth.
The gemora (Yevomos 62b) writes that the
talmidim of R' Akiva "all died during a single
period, because they did not honor one another . . . They
all died in the days from Pesach to Atzeres." The
Vilna Gaon explains that R' Akiva's talmidim were
lacking one of the means to make a kinyan in Torah:
sharing the other's burden.
The gemora writes that "afterwards the world was
desolate" until R' Akiva, in his years of old age, taught
Rabbenu the Gra explains that "sharing the other's burden"
is in line with the gemora's statement that "Rovo
explained according to Abayei" (Bovo Metzia 22a).
Rovo knew that "both opinions are the words of the living
Elokim" (Eruvin 13b). Rovo argued with Abayei, and
one would build Torah theories while the other would break
them down. They fought ardently against each other's
opinion, and each thought, "may Hashem save me from that
view," as we see that two other Amoraim said about each
other (Shabbos 84b). Despite all this, each "shared
the other's burden," since this is the way of the Torah.
Such behavior strengthens and intensifies the spiritual
power of man. His powers of intelligence take precedence
over his physical powers.
These two Amoraim did not contend with each other to see who
would win out, chas vesholom. The other's opinion was
as sacred to each of them as his own, just as the
talmidim of Beis Hillel would also study what the
talmidim of Beis Shamai taught.
During the special and holy days preceding our receiving the
brilliance of the Torah, the middas hadin was
kindled, Hashem yishmereinu, on the talmidim
of R' Akiva. Because of their lofty status HaKodosh
Boruch Hu was especially particular with them for not
elevating and refining themselves in the matter of "sharing
the other's burden," which primarily refers to the other's
spiritual level and portion in Torah. R' Akiva, who was a
tana, would teach, "`you shall love your neighbor
like yourself' -- this is a pivotal principle of the Torah"
(Bereishis Rabbah 24:7), since it includes the
annulling of one's own essence.
The Torah's basic principle is that one should cling to the
neshomoh's root, the root of all: to HaKodosh
Boruch Hu. By doing so a person reaches the fulfillment
of "he shall love" (Devorim 6:5), since "HaKodosh
Boruch Hu, the Torah, and Yisroel are one"
(Zohar, Acharei 73a). This is what Ben Azai
added to what R' Akiva said: "`This is the book of the
descendants of Odom: on the day that Elokim created
mankind, He made him in the likeness of Elokim'
(Bereishis 5:1) -- this is an even greater principle"
(Yerushalmi, Nedorim 9:4).
Imitating the Creator is the Torah's klal. "He made
him in the likeness of Elokim" is "the book of the
descendants of Odom." Perfecting middos is just like
all other parts of man's avodoh. By clinging to his
Creator a person becomes more refined and unsullied and
acquires all virtuous middos.
The period of the sefiroh, called the
matmonim (literally meaning hidden treasures), is a
source of spiritual wealth for the whole year. These are
days when the giving of the Torah is renewed, thanks to the
nation's ardent love of it. The pesukim "I remember
the chesed of your youth" (Yirmiyahu 2:2), and
"when Yisroel was a child I loved him" (Hoshea 11:1),
both refer to this sacred time.
Our main duty is to purify the heart, to shake ourselves
awake from our slumber, and be consciously aware of the real
goal in life. We must realize that this goal is vital for
our existence. Through the Torah and clinging to the Creator
we will be zocheh to our heart's real delight, to
tohoroh, to perfection of our soul, and to genuine
life, to the fulfillment of "you who cleave of Hashem your
Elokim are alive each one of you this day" (Devorim
HaRav Shmuel Auerbach is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas
Ma'alos HaTorah in Yerushalayim.