Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Sefiras Haomer II

2) “If one forgot to count the entire night, he can count during the day without a brochah and the rest of the nights he may count with a brochah. If he did not count during the day either, he may not make a brochah on subsequent nights.

Rav Nosson, zt”l, writes that counting the Omer represents our yearning to receive the Torah on the 49th day. This represents our time of waiting to become purified. We all have things that we wish to improve. Most of us have very long lists indeed! Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, taught that it is common for a person who is coming closer to Hashem to actually feel that he is getting worse. Because he has started to pay more attention, he begins to see the negative within. Everyone else, however, notices that the person is really getting better and easier to live with. Rav Nosson writes that one must yearn and yearn until he is enabled to change his bad behavior a little at a time. While we are yearning we must do what we can and keep on yearning. Matan Torah represents when we move up a level and finally improve ourselves with help from above. We are helped only if we yearn as much as we can to change. If we conveniently turn a blind eye to our faults and ignore them, we will never change, G-d forbid. This has nothing to do with how religious we are. One can be very religious and, yet, still be completely oblivious to his glaring faults.

Rav Wolbe, zt”l, recounted that when he was in Mir he stayed at the home of a certain baal habayis. When Elul came this man checked all of his mezuzos and tefilin to ensure that they were kosher. When the young gadol saw this he was jealous at how careful this man was in his mitzvah observance. When the lady of the house came home, she confessed that she had paid extra for vegetables in the market. The man became livid and launched into a tirade that lasted an hour. His badgered wife then complained of a headache and went to lie down. A short time later she died! Hashem Yishmor!

Rav Wolbe commented, “For an extra twenty grush spent on tomatoes, this man indulged his terrible temper and paid a terrible price! The fact that it was Elul didn’t mitigate his bad middos in any way!

The first step is seeing our faults and yearning to change them. If we keep yearning, we will see that one day when we do a self-examination we will find that we have overcome our fault to a certain extent and now have a different area to work on. What used to be a challenging situation for us will no longer appear to be a challenge at all. However, we must be “counting the days” until we are rid of our defect. If we forget even for one night, then we are really in trouble.

The night represents spiritual darkness and challenges. Although it is hardest to stay focused during the more trying times, if we do, we see a tremendous brochah afterward. If we will only have the presence of mind to cry out to Hashem when it’s hard we can overcome our troubles much more easily. It is only our arrogance that prevents us from asking Hashem to help us face whatever challenges might lie ahead before they come upon us. This is why the brochah is said specifically at night. If we succeed in connecting to Hashem through our test, we will truly see a blessing in our efforts to improve. If we only remember to count during the following day, this indicates that although we are yearning we are not really thinking about the inevitability of nisyonos. One who merely recalls to count the Omer during the following day has slipped and must know that he has lost out on the brochah that he might have gained. However, he may still count since he hasn’t completely lost sight of his spiritual goals. If one misses a full day, however, he has completely lost track of his mission. Such a person must start again from scratch (obviously not with counting, but in the spiritual sense), a task that is much harder to accomplish.

Dovid Hamelech concludes Tehillim 119 with the moving words: “Seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your mitzvos.” Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains that a sheep that strays from the flock recalls the shepherd’s call for a while, but if it strays for too long it will not even respond to the shepherd’s call. It has already forgotten what the call signifies. So too, Dovid Hamelech beseeches Hashem to call him back while he still remembers the mitzvos and has not strayed for too long. One who didn’t even remember to count the following day represents one who has strayed so far that he can longer continue the process without doing a great teshuvah.

The Gemara in Menachos explains that this world was created with the letter hei to teach that although it is easy to “fall” through its open bottom, nevertheless the “foot” offers an opportunity to climb up and re-enter through the smaller opening up above. Although teshuvah is possible, it is a difficult path because the temptation to fall again is very difficult to resist. One needs to achieve a much higher level than one needed to merely resist the original sin. In short, the rest of this same counting and yearning which ended so abysmally will usually yield much more brochah than it potentially could have.

Even though it is possible to do teshuvah and change the bad trait to good, it is human nature not bother exerting effort for merely forgetting or refraining from doing good. For this reason, most people start to work on changing only to fall away. This is because they do not engage in the required toil of teshuvah and self-introspection that would have allowed them to claw their way back to transforming their blunder into something positive. This is one way to understand why the person who forgets the entire day doesn’t make a brochah for the rest of his counting that year.

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