Shemini 5777


The Gemara (Menachos 66a) notes that there are two separate Mitzvos of Sefiras Haomer, namely, counting the days and counting the weeks. The Rishonim comment that the additional Mitzvah to count the weeks is technically only relevant at the end of each week. However, the prevalent Minhag is to also tally the weeks together with each interim day. Hence the traditional verbiage of, “Today is… days which are… weeks and… days in the Omer. But why? There does not appear to be any additional Mitzvah in counting half weeks. What quality do we seek to add through this nightly addendum to our counting?
Answering this question requires a deeper understanding of one of the underlying themes of the Mitzvos that apply during this time of the year. Let us approach this through the Mitzvah of Bikurim.
Bikurim appears to surface repeatedly in some form throughout this Mitzvah season. Most blatantly, of course, is the name that the Torah in Parshas Mishpatim calls Shavuos, Yom HaBikurim. This name is taken quite literally in Halacha, as the Mishna (Bikurim 1:3) says that, “One may not bring Bikurim before Shavuos.” Pesach, too, has the Mitzvah of Bikurim interwoven within it. When one brings Bikurim to the Beis Hamikdash, he must read the Pesukim prescribed in Parshas Ki Savo (Devarim 26:5-8). These Pesukim talk first about Lavan and then about Bnei Yisrael’s enslavement in and ultimate redemption from Mitzrayim. These Pesukim and the Midrash for them also make up the bulk of Maggid at the Pesach Seder.
What is the Mitzvah of Bikurim? The Mishnayos in Bikurim explain in detail how this Mitzvah is performed. It begins when one is walking in his orchard and he comes upon a fig that is budding. The very first of the season! He ties a ribbon around it and exclaims, “This shall be Bikurim!” Later, when the fruit is ripe, it will be brought to the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash among much pomp and festivity.
The most obvious reason for marking the fruit would be to know which fruit it was once the rest of the field buds and ripens. From the way the Mishna details its illustration of the story, there seems to be another underlying reason for this procedure. Not being of the agricultural brand, it can be hard for us to imagine the suspense and anticipation during the winter months waiting for the fruition of the fall sowing. The relief and appreciation that the farmer feels at the sight of that first budding fruit must be tremendous. But as we know from our own lives’ triumphs, the feeling is often short lived. As the field fills with juicy, ripe fruit, the farmer begins to take his bounty for granted. Of course he has acres and acres of beautiful fruit. Isn’t that what happens every year on his farm? To properly thank Hashem, it is not sufficient to bring the first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash at Shavuos time. He must bring along with them those original glowing feelings of gratitude. It is those feelings that he must try to carefully preserve as he wraps that first fruit in a ribbon and exclaims, “This is Bikurim!”
It is during this emotional exercise that it is appropriate to thank Hashem for all that he has done until then to install this farmer on this farm. Nothing could or should be left out – from Yaakov’s miraculous escape from Lavan to the Exodus from Mizrayim to the establishment of Klal Yisrael on the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael.
Pesach is the Festival of Ripening, Chag HaAviv. From then until Shavuos, the Festival of Harvest, Chag HaKatzir, is the slow, multi-step development from bare existence to full produce. Spiritually, too, it is the journey from conception to receiving the Torah. The Malbim (Vayikra 23:43) says that the three Regalim can be defined by the general concepts of Chomer (raw material), Tzurah (shape), and Tachlis (purpose). We became the raw material of the Jewish people on Pesach. We received our true form on Shavuos. Sukkos, which is symbolic of Olam Habah, is our final Tachlis.
As we mark our ascension toward Har Sinai, it is not enough to count a day as, say, thirty-two days in the Omer. We must remember every miniscule yet all-important step achieved along the journey. This is why we break down the tally every day in the details of “is… days which are… weeks and… days in the Omer,” until we finally reach the Chag HaShavuos, the Festival of Weeks.


וישובו ויחנו … לפני בעל צפון (שמות יד:ב)

Return and camp in front ofבעל צפון (Shemos 14:2)

After Bnei Yisrael had departed Egypt, Hashem told Moshe to give them this instruction. The Daas Zekeinim MiBaalei Tosefos are troubled by Hashem’s using the name of an idol, בעל צפון, as a landmark. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63b) says that the verse ושם אלהים אחרים לא תזכירו (שמות כג:יג), “Do not mention the names of the gods of others” (Shemos 23:13), prohibits one from using the name of an idol as a meeting place. Why would Hashem direct the Jews to camp near the Egyptians’ god?
The Daas Zekeinim’s question is puzzling, however, since the Gemara (ibid) clearly states that the prohibition does not include any gods mentioned in the Torah. It seems that the Torah allows all names that are included in it. Since the command to camp near בעל צפון is part of the Torah, it may be mentioned. What, then, is the Daas Zekeinim’s difficulty? Perhaps one is allowed to mention names from the Torah because of the rule that “כיון שהותרה הותרה” (שאילתות יתרו נב), once the name was permitted for use in the Torah, it becomes permitted absolutely. Then why, ask the Daas Zekeinim, was it used in the first place?
The Daas Zekeinim offer two possible answers. They suggest that Hashem will mention names of idols even though he forbids us to do so. Just as Hashem judges the world on Shabbos and Yom Tov, times we may not judge, Hashem will make use of the names of idols.
It is not clear what the Baalei Tosefos mean by their answer. Their question seemed to be based on the assumption that Hashem does not contravene His Torah. Are they suggesting that their presumption is mistaken, or is there perhaps a common denominator between the two cases?
The second explanation is that since the Torah was not yet given, there was no concern.
To properly understand the prohibition we must delve into its core. Rambam (Avoda Zara 5:11) writes that one may not make a meeting place out of the idol.
The Shulchan Aruch (147) disagrees and says that one may not mention the name of an idol in any case, whether he is using it or not. The HaAmek She’aila explains that according to the Shulchan Aruch, the prohibition is the mentioning of an idol by name. Idols must not be acknowledged. Consequently, one is permitted to mention the idol if he uses a derogatory name.
Rambam, however, understands that one may not use the idol for any purpose. Idols must be destroyed, and utilizing them is advancing their existence. One is permitted to mention the idol’s name in vain. Based on this idea, Rambam does not offer an exemption of “using” a disgraceful name.
What was the significance of בעל צפון? What was the purpose of camping near it? Rashi explains that it was done to trick the Egyptians into chasing after the Bnei Yisrael. בעל צפון was being used to bring about its people’s downfall!
Furthermore, Rav Menashe Reisman explains that this demonstrated a potent lesson. The Egyptians saw that their god had the Jews trapped. Bnei Yisrael, on the other side of the drama, saw that it was all a ruse. This clearly exposed the fabrication of all idols.
בעל צפוןwas not used to promote the idol. It was used for disgrace, to bring shame upon itself. Thus, the question of the Baalei Tosefos is answered (דברי יואל, יתרו).
The Chavos Da’as (1:12) rules that when necessary, one may use the name of an idol. The prohibition only applies in a situation where a different landmark could be used. According to the Chavos Da’as, the problem is showing importance to the idol. One who particularly mentions its name appears to authenticate it. When there are no other options, there is no issue. By this logic, the problem is resolved.