Two individuals — a grocer and a bank teller — would count the same denominations of money daily. They counted the same bills — hundreds, fifties, twenties, tens, fives and singles — every single day. Yet at the end of the day, it made no difference to the bank teller if he counted more or less. The grocer, however, was elated if he counted more and disappointed when he counted less money. Why? Because the money he counted belonged to him.
My father, zt”l, would often apply this analogy to the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. The Torah mandates us: “U’sefartem lachem mimacharas haShabbos… sheva Shabbasos temimos tihyenah — You shall count for yourselves… seven weeks, they shall be complete” (Vayikra 23:15). The meforshim ponder the seemingly redundant word ‘lachem.’ “U’sefartem lachem — And you shall count for yourselves…” Do we really count for ourselves? During the important time period of Sefiras HaOmer, our ancestors meticulously counted their days and elevated themselves accordingly in an effort to be worthy of receiving the ultimate Divine gift — our sacred Torah. Like the grocer who counted his own money each day, the Torah’s mandate of U’sefartem lachem is to count for ourselves — not merely to count the days, but to make the days count.
Thus, even today, in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, we count the Omer in anticipation of the 50th day of the Omer, the festival of Shavuos. How do we prepare ourselves for this seminal event at which we merited the acceptance of the Torah amid a revelation replete with splendor and glory? How do we relive the incredible experience and make it relevant in our personal lives — even today?
In his classic Michtav MeEliyahu, my grandfather Harav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zt”l, explains that the observance of Jewish festivals is far more than a mere remembrance of the distant past. Rather, one returns to the sanctity of the season that influences us today as in the past. Contrary to human perception, time does not pass the individual. Rather, spiritually, the individual journeys through time. As such, each year, as the festival of Shavuos approaches, every Jew returns to the “station” of kabbalas haTorah, the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, enabling him to relive the experience once again.
With the clarion declaration of the words naaseh (we will observe the Torah) and nishma (we will listen to Hashem’s word), 600,000 malachei ha’shares, ministering angels, descended and crowned each individual Jew with two crowns — one corresponding to each commitment. The crowns represented a most worthy tribute to the Jewish people for their unwavering commitment to Hashem and to the Torah, which is our blueprint for Jewish life.
Moreover, at that particular moment, a Heavenly voice emanated and asked, “Who revealed to My children the secret of the angels?” An angel, a strictly spiritual being, heeds Hashem’s command unconditionally; and like an angel, the Jewish people accepted to perform the Divine commandments without qualification (Talmud Shabbos 88a). Thus, Klal Yisrael, the Jewish Nation, attained an unprecedented level of strength and faith. Throughout the generations, the historic statement of naaseh v’nishma has remained the enduring symbol of Jewish dedication and belief. It represents the apex of our spiritual persona and remains our abiding aspiration even today.
With the advent of the footsteps of Moshiach, it would be a mistake to celebrate Shavuos alone. Just as the Torah was accepted by a unified, collective Klal Yisrael, we might widen our umbrella and, under the banner of Torah, embrace acheinu Bnei Yisrael and lovingly guide them toward the truth, the beauty and the joy of Torah. That should be our collective mission. Nor should we forget that with a renewed commitment to Torah and mitzvos emerges a window of opportunity for each individual to create a personal mission for himself, which ultimately will give both meaning and relevance to his life. Perhaps the following vignette is worthy of consideration in this regard.
Like too many others, Harav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zt”l, Telshe Rosh Yeshivah, endured the painful loss of his family and the destruction of his yeshivah during one of the darkest periods of Jewish history, the Holocaust. He escaped from Lithuania to America, where he emerged as both a visionary and builder of Torah. He resided in Cleveland for the next 15 years until his untimely passing at a relatively young age in 1955. Many people still remember his electrifying words, spoken at a yeshivah dedication just a few years after much of his family tragically perished and he began to rebuild his life and establish a fledgling Torah community. This was his message:
When Dovid Hamelech fled from Shaul, Yonasan pledged to test Shaul’s true feelings concerning Dovid, telling his beloved friend that he would feign target practice by shooting three arrows and then send a servant to retrieve them. If the servant exclaims that the arrows are to the side, then Dovid himself may retrieve the arrows and return to Shaul, knowing that the king harbors him no ill will and that he is in no danger. If, however, the servant declares that the arrows are beyond him, then, “Lech! Ki shilachacha Hashem — Go! For this is a signal that Hashem has sent you.” (Shmuel I 20:21–22)
Though the Alm-ghty placed Dovid Hamelech in this situation of danger, his escape was termed a shelichus, a Divine mission, as reflected in Yonasan’s words, “Go! For this is a signal that Hashem has sent you.”
So, too, explained Harav Bloch, the Ribbono shel Olam facilitated his own miraculous escape from the burning flames of the Holocaust to the relative safety of America; and so, too, was his escape not merely a salvation, but a Divine mission to serve as a shlucha d’Rachmana, an emissary to build Torah in America. His was a shelichus in the spirit of “Lech ki shilachacha Hashem.”
As we approach Chag HaShavuos, the festival of Shavuos, perhaps we should be cognizant of our own shelichus, our own personal mission and our collective mission: Why have we been granted the gift of life? Why were we destined to live in this particular era, and with our unique circumstances, if not that each of us has been instructed, “Lech, ki shilachacha Hashem”?
As we accept the Torah anew on Shavuos, let us rededicate our lives, renew our commitments and reflect upon our personal mission. Each of us — endowed with individual strengths and blessed with siyatta diShmaya — is capable of fulfilling our Divine mission and commitment to Torah MiSinai. As we strive towards higher attainment of moral purity and spiritual perfection, we might achieve the goal of not merely counting our days but making each day count.
Rabbi Simcha Z. Dessler is the Menahel of Beis Chinuch Horav Dessler, Hebrew Academy of Cleveland.