Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Nissan 5761 - April 18, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Between Pesach and Atzeres

by HaRav Shmuel Auerbach

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 body.

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 din.

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 kinyonim.

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 each year.

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 decrease too.

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 Jewish Nation.

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 simchah.

"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 23:26).

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 other talmidim.

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 4:4).

HaRav Shmuel Auerbach is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ma'alos HaTorah in Yerushalayim.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.