Sheva Shabbosos temimos tih’yenah (Vayikra 23:15)
Our verse contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer — counting the Omer. During each successive day of this 7-week period, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. There is one unique law about this mitzvah which is difficult to understand. If somebody accidentally forgets to count even one of the days during this period, he may no longer continue counting on successive days with a blessing. Because the entire count is considered to be one big mitzvah, somebody who misses even one day can no longer fulfill the mitzvah that year.
This concept seems to be unparalleled among other mitzvos. If somebody accidentally ate chametz on Pesach, forgot to light a menorah on one night of Chanukah, or ate outside the sukkah on Sukkos, nobody would suggest that he is now exempt from continuing to observe the mitzvah during the duration of the holiday. Why is counting the Omer unique in this regard?
The Midrash teaches that Rabi Akiva grew up as an uneducated and ignorant shepherd. That all changed when, at the age of 40, he noticed a rock with a hole which had been carved through it by dripping water. He reasoned that if the water could penetrate the hard rock, certainly the Torah (which is also compared to water) could penetrate the soft flesh of his heart. He was motivated to begin learning, starting from scratch, with the alphabet, until he eventually became the greatest scholar of his generation. Although this story is inspiring, what deeper message did Rabi Akiva find in the dripping water which gave him confidence in his new undertaking?
Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person wants to boil water, he puts a pot on the stove for one minute until it begins to boil. What would happen if he instead placed it on the stove for 30 seconds, removed it from the flame for five minutes, and then returned it for another 30 seconds? Even though the water would have been on the fire for a full minute, it wouldn’t boil. The obvious explanation is that it isn’t the amount of time that the water is on the flame which is crucial, but the continuity. It is the accumulated power of the heat during 60 uninterrupted seconds which allows the water to boil.
Similarly, Rabi Akiva was skeptical about his potential for beginning to study Torah at his age. If he had to start from the beginning and could cover only a little ground daily, how much could he really accomplish? However, when he saw the hole in the rock created by the water, he recognized his error. Although each individual drop of water makes no distinguishable impression on the rock, the cumulative effect of their continuous dripping is indeed great. Understanding the power latent in consistency, Rabi Akiva set off to study daily until he became the leader of the generation.
The 7-week period of the Omer is one in which we prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos. As a result, Harav Eliezer Fireman suggests that the Torah specifically requires us to count the Omer without missing a day to symbolically teach us the importance of stability in our Torah study. Rabi Akiva teaches us that the key isn’t the age at which we start, but rather the consistency and permanence of our studies. If we persevere, the “hole” will be greater than the sum of the parts.
Parashah Q & A
Q: The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisrael ask a mohel to circumcise their sons on the same day, is there a mitzvah to circumcise the son of the Kohen before the son of the Yisrael?
Q: Can a person fulfill his obligation to count the Omer (23:15–16) by writing that day’s count on paper?
A: The Keren Orah cites the Yerushalmi which rules that if a Kohen and a Yisrael both want to bring voluntary offerings, the Kohen offers his first. This teaches that he has precedence for all mitzvos, and his son is therefore circumcised first. Although some claim that the Kohen baby should not have precedence because the Magen Avraham maintains that the obligation to honor a Kohen doesn’t apply to minors, Harav Shlomo Kluger argues that the father also performs a mitzvah and makes a blessing over it and therefore goes first. However, he adds that this is only applicable if both babies are already present. If the Kohen has not yet arrived, the Yisrael baby should be circumcised without waiting for the Kohen.
A: Harav Akiva Eiger maintains that one cannot perform the mitzvah by writing the daily count on paper. The Shaarei Teshuvah concurs and explains that even according to the opinion that writing something is the equivalent of saying it for legal purposes, this is only the case when the writing can be viewed as sufficient to establish one’s thoughts or intentions. However, when the mitzvah itself is the words that one speaks, it is clear that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah through writing. However, Harav Ovadiah Yosef quotes the Shu”t Zichron Yehudah, who maintains that if a person forgot to count one day of Sefirah but did mention the day’s count in writing, he may continue to count future days with a blessing. He reasons that because there are two causes for doubt — perhaps the law is in accordance with the opinion that each day of counting is a separate mitzvah and perhaps the law is that one can fulfill his obligation in writing — the combination allows one to be lenient and continue counting with a blessing on future days. However, for all practical legal questions, a Rav should be consulted.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.