After seven weeks of intense preparation, Bnei Yisroel were zoche to be given the Torah on Har Sinai. On the sixth of Sivan, (some say the seventh), amidst thunder and lightning, the people heard the voice of Hashem as He began the Aseres Hadibros. The very first words, as we know, were אנכי ה’ אלוקיך. “I am the L-rd, your G-d.” Many mefarshim note the use of the singular “אלוקיך” rather than the plural אלוקיכם”” even though Hashem was talking to the whole people. Why was the singular form used? If we can answer this question, perhaps we will have a new dimension of kabolas hatorah which will invigorate our celebration of Shevuos next week.
During these weeks of preparation we have been counting the Omer. From the sixteenth of Nissan when the korban omer was brought until erev Shevuos which is day forty- nine, we have had this mitzvah of counting every day. According to the Sefer Hachinuch the purpose of counting the Omer is to demonstrate our excitement and our anticipation of the great unique event – the Giving of the Torah by Hashem to the Jewish People. The question which is raised is what is the connection with the korban omer that we call the counting, sefiras ho’omer? The count could have been called Sefiras Hatorah. Why Sefiras Ho’Omer? We may also ask why does everyone have to count the Omer individually. Why is it not good enough for the Beis Din to count on everybody’s behalf, just like the years of the Yovel cycle? And we are not even allowed to listen to our friend counting and fulfil the mitzvah on the basis of shomea k’oneh (listening is like saying) which we may do in connection with certain other mitzvos.. Why this emphasis on each person counting for himself? Other questions we must answer are what lessons do we learn from the parshios of Behar, Bechukosai and Bamidbar which are always read before Shevuos and how do they prepare us to accept the Torah?
The central mitzvah of Parshas Behar is Shemitta which prohibits working the land of Eretz Yisroel every seventh year. This mitzvah was and is very difficult to fulfil. Shabbos, one day a week, is one thing but not to work for a whole year is almost economic suicide. If the Jews took turns, and everybody had a different “shmittah year,” we could help each other to cope, but if no-one can work the whole year, how can we possible survive? It is worth mentioning that when Stalin insisted, when he was in charge of the Soviet Union, that all the food grown in Ukraine should be given to the government in Moscow, millions of people died of starvation. Without food, people cannot live. Moshe Rabbeinu promised that Hashem would miraculously produce enough food in the sixth year for three years – this was their only hope. Put simply, everyone had to rely on Hashem. And Hashem promised to perform that miracle so that the people could live. This resulted in a strengthening of their emuna. Even if they hadn’t realised it before, bnei Yisroel all realised now that they are totally dependent on Hashem. Their ploughing, sowing, reaping etc was just the hishtadlus they had to do but they survived only through the kindness of Hashem. This is an important realization which we need to absorb before Hashem asks us if we will accept His commandments.
Parshas Bechukosai gives us further incentive to accept the Torah. Hashem promises us that if we learn His Torah and keep His commandments, we will benefit greatly – abundant crops, victory over our enemies and peace in the land etc. Even so, just in case our yetzer horah tries to lead us astray, the Torah warns us, “If we reject His Torah…..the consequences will be very bitter.”
Parshas Bamidbar which relates how the Bnei Yisroel entered a barren wilderness with no natural way to survive, only through Hashem, again reminds us that we are dependent on Hashem even if we live in urban centres. We may think we have ample funds in our bank account – suddenly the pound goes down, inflation grows, interest rates increase etc. We assume the police will ensure “law and order” until somebody enters a Jewish shop brandishing a knife in London or a suicide bomber kills himself and others in the middle of a concert in Manchester. We feel as healthy as can be until a neighbor who also thought that he was healthy suffers a sudden heart attack. We are forced to remember that we survive only because Hashem deems our lives worth sustaining. And for this we need merits. It’s obviously imperative for us accept the Torah wholeheartedly whenever we have the opportunity. .
The Be’er Yosef (Rav Yosef Salant) points out that while we are counting for seven weeks, we remember the korban omer and by association the mon which we received an omer measure of (Shemos 16:16) and which stopped falling on the sixteenth of Nissan, the day the korban omer was brought. (Yehoshua 5:12). Yuma (76a) says the purpose of the mon was to make us realise our total dependence on Hashem. That’s why the exact amount fell every day and why none could be stored. Every night when we retired, we had nothing for the next day. The more we ponder the miracle of the mon and our dependence on Hashem, the more we will be determined to be worthy of the Torah and to accept it. These seven weeks are called Sefiras Ho’omer because the lesson of the omer is the starting point.
Our relationship to Hashem, at this point, is based on realising that we can’t manage without Him and fear of what would happen if we did not accept the Torah. But there is no closeness between us and Hashem in such a relationship. And that is not a good enough basis for our forthcoming “marriage”, as Matan Torah is described in Ta’anis (26b). We have to develop a personal connection with Hashem. The Chovos Halevovos tells us that if we think of the many chassodim which Hashem has done for us personally we will develop a closer relationship. He constantly gives to every human being. He gives even more to the Jewish People. He performs certain personal miracles for some people whilst doing other miracles for other people. And some miracles He has done just for us. We should all think at this point about all these miracles – from the general to the unique – and build a personal connection to Hashem. In the weeks and days before Matan Torah we should be thinking more and more about our unique closeness to Hashem – during Shemoneh Esre, when we count the Omer and at every opportunity. No-one else can count for us because his or her connection to Hashem is not the same as ours. Although we are told to feel part of our community and our people, to daven for others, to help others etc, Chazal have also told us, in a certain context, to put others to the back of our minds. We must think, “The world was created for me.” (Sanhedrin 37a). There is only Hashem and me in a private loving relationship. “He invites me into His private chambers.” (Shir Hashirim 1:3) “His left hand is under my head, He hugs me with His right hand.” (ibid 2:6). As we approach Shevuos, our devotion to Hashem, our special connection to Him should be becoming more and more real. He loves me and I love Him. During the sheloshes yemei habolo this feeling should continue to intensify until the time of Matan Torah arrives and we can experience the exhilaration of Hashem speaking to us personally, “Onochi Hashem Elokecho” – in the singular because although He is addressing all of us, He is speaking to each one of us privately, seeking a loving relationship with each one of His precious children.
Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and the soon to be published The Hidden Light in the Holocaust and in our Daily Lives.