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Parshas Emor - Don't let our Differences Divide us, let them Unite us!            17 Iyar 5781

04/29/2021 10:10:11 AM


This Dvar Torah is in honor of Shmuel Yaakov Eden on his Bar Mitzva Parshas Emor!

A few weeks ago, while attending a wedding, I struck up a conversation with another guest whom I did not know. He shared a question with me and proceeded to propose an answer.  The question: Which is the correct version of counting the omer – "yamim la’omer" or "yamim ba’omer? Is there a content difference or only a grammatical one between them? I think we can all agree there is no shortage of opinions and answers when discussing Jewish practice and halacha. Halacha itself has a wide range of biblical and rabbinical commandments, complimented by decrees, enactments, and the accompanying variety of customs – some of which are pretty funky. There are some customs where Jews will accuse each other of being a heretic for not practicing specific halachas as they do, while there are others who throw their hands up in the air and say to each other, ”Who cares! Does it really make a difference?” I will illustrate this with two customs that occur relatively at the same time - only one day apart. On Pesach, some eat gebrokts (soaked matzah), whiles others do not eat gebrokts. Some go to the extreme of not even placing matzah on the table for fear it might get wet and become chometz. Others label this concern insignificant. This relates back to the question posed by my new acquaintance -  pronunciation when counting the Omer: is it Ba’Omer or La’Omer? Before we delve into that battle, let us understand the essence of the Mitzva of the Omer.

In this week’s parshas Emor the Torah states in Vayikra 23:15 "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר התנופה, שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה"  “You shall count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering”.  Omer is the measurement of barley brought as a korban on the second day of Pesach; it is the accepted rabbinic parlance when referring to the korban. The measure of the Omer was 1/10 of an Ephah. A Biblical Ephah is approximately ninety-three cups of dry US flour. The Omer, therefore, came out to be 9.3 cups of dry flour. The ‘counting’ of the omer, is just that. A mitzva to count 49 days starts on the day the korban ha’omer is offered. Somewhat separate from the Korban Omer (offered specifically one time on the 16th of Nissan) and the subsequent counting of 49 days towards Shavuos, is the mourning period for the death of Rebbi Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students. There is a machlokes (a debate) whether in our times, when there is no korban ha’omer, the mitzva of sefiras (the counting of) ha’omer is Torah law or Rabbinic (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 489).

Getting back to the original question of la’omer or ba’omer, as I mentioned earlier, the risk factor of saying the wrong thing is exceptionally low. The Mishna Brura O.C. 489:8 explains that even if one leaves out the word entirely, the counting is valid, and it seems that even if the word were needed, both versions are similar enough to be valid. There are many authorities, both the rishonim (literally ‘the first ones’ - the leading rabbis and poskim who lived from the 11th to the 15th centuries)and the acharonim (the "last ones" – the leading rabbis and poskim living since the writing of the Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law – in 1563 to today, who fall on both sides of the coin. So… what more can we learn from this mitzva of Omer? Every Mitzva has the directions or the ‘how to’ perform the mitzva. Furthermore, I believe every Mitzva contains a message of a different dimension. In this case, my new friend suggested that the Omer is viewed as one long - or one whole mitzva - while others view each day independent of the other. Ba’Omer means "in or within the period of the omer, reflecting on just that one day". La’omer can mean "from the time of the offering of the korban omer or to the end of the counting. The former is more current on the day while the latter speaks more in terms of the totality of days. My new friend brought an interesting proof regarding his opinion that BaOmer is more correct. When it comes to the thirty-third day (this Friday), we do not say Lag La’Omer, rather Lag Ba’Omer. The fact we say Ba’Omer is because it specifically is referencing that one day of Lag, meaning thirty-three. In truth, we could say both forms are valid depending upon our intentions: are we speaking about a specific day or are we referring to the entire Omer period in general. The specific day is seen as the ‘prat’-  the individual, while the La’Omer is the Klal, or the general.

The ‘prat’, or individual day, is represented by the individual Jew, while the Klal, or general, represents the whole of the Jewish people, hence the wording ‘Klal Yisrael is not just a group; it is the totality of the Jewish people. Klal Yisrael is the sum of all the parts. Without the parts there is no whole, and without the whole we are just parts.

The Jewish people have both dimensions: we are individuals, and as individuals we each join to make up the Klal. The magnitude of this viewpoint is the subtleness of when we do this counting… the days of mourning for Rebbi Akiva’s students. The Gemorah in Yevamos 62b brings down this story. It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples. All of them died during the same time period because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua;  it was these Rabbeim who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: "All of them (the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva) died between Passover and Shavuot". Rabbi Chama ben Abba or, it might be said, Rabbi Chiya ben Avin said: "All of them died a cruel death." What was it? Rabbi Nachman replied: "Croup." The Talmud speaks of 12,000 "pairs" of students and not of 24,000, ostensibly to stress the lack of unity of which they were guilty.  

The lesson to remember every day we count the Omer is the importance of every individual and the Klal - the entire group. It is no coincidence the death of the students who did not show proper respect to his individual study partner died during the days of the omer. Interpreted to represent both the individual and the Klal. The counting of the omer gives us an opportunity to work on our middos and character, of Bein Adam LaChaveiro. As the Omer is described in the parsha amongst the festivals of the year, it will be that when we act appropriately, when we practice Bein Adam LaChaveiro, the Yomim Tovim and festival cycle and observance will once again take place in the Beis HaMikdash. Then, the Omer offering will be brought, and the counting of the Omer will once again be biblical according to all opinions. On the question of La’Omer or Ba’ Omer, we still may have a difference of opinion, but we all respect that difference.  

Have a Spiritual Lag Ba'Omer & Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Sun, September 25 2022 29 Elul 5782