Sefirah Thoughts


rav-moshe-meir-weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

As we engage in the seasonal mitzvah of counting the sefira and observe the national period of mourning for the tragic deaths of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva, we should take the time to reflect upon what these experiences are supposed to teach us.

Firstly, the Gemara informs us that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died from the horrible disease of Askara, a type of Diphtheria or lethal croup. The Maharsha informs us that this is a punishment for the sin of “loshon hora”- evil gossip. This should jolt us with the realization that even rarified “bnay yeshiva” can succumb to this deadly sin if caught unaware! Thus, at this time of the year we should be stimulated by our abstention from music etc. to pick up the Chofetz Chaim’s laws on loshon hora and become more aware of the many intricacies of the directive to guard our tongues!  Without the proper perusal of these laws it is all too possible that we engage in this ugly sin without realizing our transgressions. Take for example the Chofetz Chaim’s comments in Klal Yud #12, where he informs us the following: If someone fails to do you a favor (he didn’t do anything bad) ; and you reveal this to others, it is considered absolute loshon hora! Furthermore, if you went to a town and you weren’t greeted warmly, you subsequently relate this to your townspeople you are guilty of defaming a whole town (e.g. “The people in that shul aren’t friendly!”).

In Klal 9 #5, the Chofetz Chaim charges us to warn even our younger children if we hear them talking badly about people. He elaborates that the neglect of this sort of chinuch is a primary reason for the proliferation of this sin in adults. For if children grow up saying whatever they want even though later on they realize they are engaging in the heinous crime of loshon hora, it is very hard for them to change. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us as parents to breed in them a natural inhibition to speak badly about others just like we succeeded in conditioning them, from a very young age, to watch that they don’t put any forbidden food into their mouths! As to the Mitzva of sefiras haomer, the Chinuch explains that we are making a statement that on a national level the one commodity that every good Jew counts towards (as one counts excitedly to a vacation or wedding day) is the day of Mattan Torah(Shavuos). This is a public declaration that our number one national treasure and identity is the Torah! However as in all areas Hashem doesn’t want mere lip service from us! Thus the true spirit of Sefira is to examine our daily schedules and see if we give enough time to our Torah studies.

The Gemara informs us, “Tchilas dino shel adam ayno ela b’divray Torah”-Man’s final judgment will begin with none other than a grilling about his time spent on Torah study. In Masechtas Shabbos (31a) the Gemara elaborates that we will be asked by the heavenly tribunal, “kavata ittim laTorah?”-did you fix times for Torah study! The Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 155:1) defines ones responsibility as putting aside a specific time of the day for learning that you will not violate even if it means losing substantial profit. The Mishna Brura(ibid) informs us that in Yoreh Daiah(246:1) we are further instructed that one should have such a fixed period both in the daytime and in the nighttime. He suggests, therefore, having a study period right after the morning prayers and again in the gap between mincha and maariv. Of course, this prescription will not befit everyone; for some people must rush out immediately after shachris to catch a bus (perhaps they might want to take their set time before shachris) while other people daven maariv right after mincha (they might want to make their time right after maariv).

Whatever our lifestyle, we should carve out of our daily lives two fixed times for Torah study (even if initially only five minutes each) so that we can be certain to answer in the affirmative the first question that will be put to us to determine our eternal fate! As to what we should learn, the Mishna Brura offers us the following guidance. He explains that one who has a limited amount of time for Torah study should learn practical halachos in order to know how to live like a proper Jew. Furthermore, we are guaranteed that one who studies halachos (cf. Shaaray T’shuva Ibid who states a minimum of two halachos) every day can be assured of a place in the afterlife! One should also include in his budgeted time the review of the weekly Torah portion which not only promotes one’s Emuna (Chofetz Chaim in his letters) but also increase one’s longevity  (Mesechtos Brochos 8a). The inclusion of a seder in Mishnayos is helpful in protecting one from the fires of Gehinnom (preface to Medrash Talpios) and finally one should include a regimen of Mussar ,firstly to acquire the fear of Heaven; our primary purpose in life, secondly as the Baalai Mussar tell us if we include mussar it will make sure that we will find more time to learn!!

I would recommend when planning this all important scheduling to sit down with one’s wife and have her input in the chosen times. This will give her a great chailek in the mitzvah and will insure that you don’t fix a time that you’ll have to habitually break (e.g. before candlelighting on Shabbos or carpool time).

Finally, the Mishna Brura cautions  us that we should not think that our “fixed” times is the only times we have to study Torah. A Jew has to study Torah at all available times! Rather, these fixed times are the ones that are not to be trespassed upon except in cases of urgency.

In the merit of our renewed efforts at regulat Torah study, may Hashem shower us with good health long life and everything wonderful !

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.

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