When the Bnei Yisroel were in Sinai after having crossed through the Yam Suf, Hakadosh Boruch Hu commanded them to count down the days until Shavuos, at which time the Torah would be given to them and shtei halachem would be brought (Vayikra 23:15-16).
It is commonly understood al pi drush that the reason for the count was to signify their anticipation to receive the Torah. The purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was not simply to free the Jewish people from slavery, but to bring them to Har Sinai for them to receive the Torah and become obligated to studying it and observing its many commandments.
There was a great deal of excitement inherent in that period of time. Thus, they counted day by day until the time they would finally be given the gift that would change and charge them for eternity.
However, once the Torah was given to the former slaves and they became the Jewish people on Shavuos, why was there an obligation to count in future years? There is neither excitement nor anticipation, as the Torah has already been received.
Additionally, why do we still count Sefirah in our day, when there is no korban ha’omer and no Bikkurim.
Perhaps we can explain with the teaching of the Ramchal that the force that was empowered when the miracle occurred that gave birth to the annual commemoration is evident every year on that day.
This means that every year, on the Yom Tov of Shavuos, the energy that delivered us the Torah is once again present in the world and we are able to re-accept the Torah.
In order to accept the Torah, we have to be prepared and purified. Just as the first time the Torah was given, the Jews had to raise themselves from the lowest level of tumah where they stood at Yetzias Mitzrayim, so too, in our day, those who wish for a reenergized Kabbolas HaTorah must prepare themselves for it.
Thus, we count 49 days to symbolize the 49 steps of kedusha that must be climbed between Pesach and Shavuos, so that we are worthy of receiving the Torah once again on Shavuos.
We are reminded that Torah is not acquired without ascending the 50 levels of holiness and acquiring the 48 ethical steps involving middos tovos delineated in Pirkei Avos. The harder we work at studying Torah and at the requirements necessary for the Torah to become part of us, the more we will rise and the greater we will become.
In last week’s parsha, we studied the classic words of Rashi: “Im bechukosai teileichu, if you wish to be considered a follower of Hashem and reap His rewards, shetihiyu ameilim baTorah, you must toil in Torah.”
Every commentator set forward a different understanding of Rashi’s lesson to the future generations of Am Yisroel. My father, may he be well, offered in his sefer Ikvei Binyomin that a person who has a life’s goal and mission works towards achieving it with all of his abilities. He doesn’t just read a guide book and move on. He studies that book until he knows everything about the piece of equipment he is dealing with.
To merit the brachos of Hashem, Torah must be our life. It is not sufficient to simply learn Torah superficially. We must delve into it, work as hard as we can to comprehend what we learn, and remember it.
We are all familiar with the Gemara in Pesochim (68b) that states that Rav Yosef would ask for especially delectable meat and would be overjoyed every Shavuos. He would say, “Ih lav hai yoma deka goram, kama Yosef ika beshuka – If not for this day upon which the Torah was given, there would be no difference between me and all the Joes in the marketplace.”
We can say that Rav Yosef, who spent his life studying Torah as a true omeil, was celebrating that the Torah, which was given on this day, caused his rise to greatness. He said that there are many people out there in the marketplace, many of them no different than him, yet they are market-goers, because they are not omeil baTorah. Torah is not their life. Torah is not what they pursue. They learn and they study, but Torah is not their mission. Their job is.
The Torah directs my life 24/7. I am not only a different Yosef, connected to Hashem for a couple of hours, but rather, I am dedicated to Torah through everything I do all day.
The other Yosefs may be connected when they study, but the rest of the day they are engaging – and being omeil – in material pursuits.
Rav Yosef celebrated his ameilus, which led to his greatness and all the other Divine blessings.
There is a new word coined by a Harvard University trained positive psychology expert to describe a very old phenomenon.
People think that if they will achieve a certain goal, they will attain eternal happiness. If they could only earn another $50,000 a year they would be happy, with enough money to buy everything they need and want. If they finish law school, work hard, achieve their dream of making partner at a white-shoe firm, they will happy for the rest of their lives.
However, studies have proven that this is not so. Attaining goals, earning more money, getting a better position with a better title and a larger office, do not bring happiness. Dr. Tal Ben-Shachar gave this a name: Arrival fantasy. Says the expert, “Arrival fantasy is the illusion that once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”
People who learn Torah simply to attain a goal are rewarded for their study, but the satisfaction they have after their goal is attained dissipates if they do not continue to learn and be omeil batorah. There is no end to the depth of Torah and completing a goal in Torah in essence represents the achievement of a primary step, thus a person who is an omeil, as was Rav Yosef, is constantly growing in Torah, moving up and gaining greater understanding and increased knowledge. Therefore, he is constantly happy and Shavuos represents to him a special day.
However, the other Yosefs, who study Torah without the same depth of commitment as Rav Yosef, may achieve goals they set for themselves, but the satisfaction of attaining those goals is fleeting and the joy doesn’t remain the way it does for the ameilim, whose lives are built around Torah.
Many of us learn, but not enough of us see Torah as the entirety of our lives. Now is a perfect time to prepare ourselves to accept the Torah as ameilim, so that it takes over our life and controls all we do. That way, we will be greater, happier, and more blessed.
As I write this, a friend sent me pictures of Rav Yeruchem Olshin studying Torah at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Sitting at a small table, with his hat removed, he is enveloped in his sefer, with a small smile on his lips. He is oblivious to all else, for wherever he is, he is an omeil baTorah, setting example for us all.
An omeil is, by definition, humble, proper and correct.
When we look into the shuka, we see Yosefs who are just the opposite.
Take the ongoing scandal of the prosecutor brought on to investigate Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election. A man who was marketed as the paragon of virtue showed himself to be just the opposite. For two years, he and opposition prosecutors looked for crimes committed by the president. They found nothing. With obnoxious haughtiness, special counsel Robert Mueller held a press conference to twist laws and facts to charge Congress with the obligation to finish the job he started and get rid of Donald Trump.
On his way out, after concluding that there was no obstruction and that he hadn’t found a crime, he said that Congress has to impeach Trump. For what? He didn’t say. He doesn’t know. Mueller maliciously wants Trump charged for obstructing an investigation into a crime that wasn’t. Just keep those subpoenas coming, he says, as he admonishes the small people that he will not be answering any of their questions.
As the press lauds his efforts to unseat a properly elected president and our elected representatives applaud, we sit by silently, not recognizing that the more justice becomes perverted and corrupt, the more dangerous it becomes for us to live here.
As the left gains more power in this country and others, accompanied by an increase in anti-Semitism, we need to be aware of the larger picture of what is taking place. If the Justice Department of the country can dedicate itself for years to destroying the president and the people who work for him, think of what they can do to simple citizens who cannot afford teams of lawyers to defend themselves.
The media has become twisted and not driven by the truth. Imagine the economy tanking and the Jews being blamed. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner will quickly be scapegoated by the left, while the right will blame those nasty New York Jews, Nadler and Schumer, and plenty more like them, for unraveling the administration and not allowing it to govern.
Where will we hide then? What will our defense be?
In times like these, it behooves us to become ameilei Torah so that we will earn Hashem’s blessings and protection. In times like these, we should be out of the papers, away from attention, and not engaging in behavior that our enemies can easily term as anti-social. It is not enough to be patriotic. We have to show it. It is not enough to follow the norms and requirements of society. When people view us publicly, they should see us as being free of threats of any kind.
Our existence in this golus may well depend on it.
And it is not only in America and Europe that we face increased threats. The new elections in Israel present a very dangerous period for people like us. A stubborn, evil minister refused to compromise on an issue of vital importance to the chareidi community, throwing the country into elections.
The chareidi community never does well when they are the issue, as they are this time. Secular parties are well aware that an easy way to gain adherents and votes is by bashing the ultra-Orthodox community. Many have previously ridden that horse to victory. This time, there will be several parties fighting for the right to carry the anti-chareidi banner.
It is incumbent upon our people to come together, presenting the good face of ameilei Torah, and putting an end to pettiness and insolence. Last time around, the chareidi parties miraculously scored higher and were set to play a leading role in a Netanyahu government. Mr. Netanyahu is not running for a rabbonus position, and under his recent administration, the religious community was accommodated as never before. It is in the interest of our community that he be reelected with enough mandates to form a coalition with the religious parties. That way, they will be able to coalesce as a right-wing government that will find favor in the eyes of man and hopefully Hashem, and they will be granted prosperity, security and the ability to enact laws that will benefit ameilei Torah and the fine citizens of the country.
Let us not even consider what the country would be like if the left were in the coalition. We remember what happened the last time that was the case.
But we have the antidote.
We hold the secret.
We are in possession of the key to success.
When we are fully engaged in the study and practice of Torah, we earn special Heavenly protection.
But we must not just study Torah. We must live it. We must make it primary in our lives and the lives of our families.
Shavuos is a time to re-commit to limud haTorah, doing more than we have in the past, filling our finite time in this world with substance. In the zechus of doing so, may Hashem bless us with prosperity, individually and communally, and may He watch over us, providing us with security and serenity until the day we pray for constantly with the arrival of the geulah sheleimah.