Tazria – Metzora 5778

RABBI YONAH DICK

“אין בטובה למעלה מענג ואין ברעה למטה מנגע”

“There is nothing in Good higher than ‘Oneg’, and there is nothing in Evil lower than ‘Nega’.”

This enigmatic statement is made by the Sefer Yetzirah (an esoteric Tannaic work describing the creation of the world by G-d through the use of the Aleph Beis). Sefer Yetzirah is comparing two words that have similar letters but are in different arrangements. Both words,ענג and נגע, are comprised of the letters ,נ’ ,ג’ and ע’. Both words have the נ’ג’ together. The difference between them is the placement of the ע’. In the word ענג, the ע’ begins the word; in the word נגע, the ע’ completes the word. The change of placement of the ע’ changes the entire implication of the word. In one, there is nothing higher; in the other, there is nothing lower. What is it about the ע’ that changes the entire nature of the word?
The very statement of the Sefer Yetzirah itself requires explanation. Sefer Yetzirah refers to the concept of ורעה טוב, good and evil, to which נגע and ענג are the limits. This is perplexing. If one would inquire as to what is the greatest good, the answer would be, “The World to Come”. If one would then ask what is the greatest evil, the response would be “Purgatory”. How then, do ענג and נגע form the boundaries of Good and Evil?
To understand this, the meaning of the wordsענג and נגע and what they refer to must first be explained.
A “Nega” means an affliction. The Torah uses the word נגע regarding צרעת. Regarding Shabbos, the Navi (Yeshai 58:13) states, וקראת לשבת עונג, “You shall call Shabbos a delight.” “Oneg” means delight. The concept of Oneg refers to Shabbos Kodesh. Accordingly, the commentators explain that these are the concepts of discussion and boundaries set forth by Sefer Yetzirah – ענגrefers to Shabbos, נגע refers to Tzaraas. It is as if the statement of Sefer Yetzirah reads, “There is nothing higher than Shabbos and nothing lower than Tzaraas.”
To elaborate: The word “Oneg” refers to the experience of something on a very deep level, connecting to the very essence of the person. One does not just acknowledge it. He must “feel” it. This is the experience of Shabbos. The day of Shabbos is a day set aside for a person to connect to the spiritual component of Creation. For that purpose, a person is granted a Neshama Y’seirah, a sensitized soul, enabling the person to come to this consciousness. That is what the Navi is teaching. Shabbos must be a day of “Oneg.” On Shabbos, the Bnei Yisrael are instructed to imbibe Kedusha, to leave a physical world and enter into a world of sanctity. One must not simply “observe” the Shabbos; rather, he must “enter into the realm” of the Shabbos, וקראת לשבת עונג.
The Torah says, “נגע צרעת כי יהיה באדם”, “When a Nega Tzaraas occurs on a person” (Vayikra 13:9). What is a Nega Tzaraas? Tzaraas is an affliction of dead skin developing upon an otherwise healthy person. The afflicted area is akin to a dead person and the Tumah, the level of impurity, of the leper is in many ways similar to that of a dead body. Nega Tzaraas is analogous with death. The Metzora is a person who is “living with death upon him.” This malady is a result of the Metzora choosing sin. By sinning, he has brought death upon himself. Not death that removes him from this world, but a death that visits him within this present world!
These become two extremes. Sefer Yetzirah is not teaching the heights and depths of absolute good and evil; indeed, those belong to the world beyond the present. The Sefer Yetzirah is describing the highs and lows belonging to the next world that one can achieve within the present. On Shabbos one can attain the highest levels of “otherworldliness.” One can experience “Kedusha” in the physical current state – “Oneg.” A Nega Tzaraas brings one in contact with the other extreme – death within this world. Hence,”אין בטובה למעלה מענג ואין ברעה למטה מנגע” .
Man has the ability to bring “the next world” into the present one. Which of those “next worlds” is the choice of every individual.
The letter ע’ refers to the eye, עין. Towards which world does one look? When the ע’ is at the front of the word, it reflects a look upward, higher; when the ע’ is positioned at the end of the word, it reflects a look downward, lower. The עין, one’s perspective, makes all the difference.


RABBI SHMUEL ROTENBERG

Practical Issues in Hilchos Sefiras HaOmer
The Rambam in Hilchos Tamidim and Musafim discusses the Halachos of Sefiras HaOmer. Among these Halachos he states that:
• One must make a Bracha each night before the counting of Sefiras HaOmer;
• If one counted without a Bracha, he has nevertheless fulfilled the Mitzvah of that night’s counting;
• However, if one counted without a Bracha, he may no longer make a Bracha on that night’s counting.
The Kesef Mishna points out that the first two Halachos should be obvious. Just as Chazal instituted Birchas HaMitzvos for Mitzvos such as Tefillin, Tzitzis and Ner Chanuka, they established Birchas HaMitzvos in the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. It is also obvious that one has fulfilled the Mitzvah if he counted without a Bracha, for it is common knowledge that Birchas HaMitzvos are only an institution of Chazal but not actually part of the Mitzvah itself. There is no reason for a lack of the Bracha to infringe on fulfillment of a Mitzvah.
When the Rambam details the Halachos of Shofar, Sukkah, Lulav and Achilas Matzo, he merely mentions that as part of the Mitzvah one makes a Bracha. Regarding Sefiras HaOmer, however, the Rambam emphasizes, “One must make a Bracha.” Nor does that Rambam point out that with the other Mitzvos, one has fulfilled his obligation if he forgot the Bracha, or that one may no longer make a Bracha if he has already performed the Mitzvah without a Bracha. This raises several questions.
• Why does the Rambam stress that Sefiras HaOmer requires a Bracha?
The Rambam may be emphasizing making a Bracha on the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer, since one could say that it is different from most Mitzvos. The Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is a verbal counting of the days and the weeks of the Omer. Generally, a Mitzvah is an action, like wearing a Tallis or Tefillin, eating Matzo, or sitting in a Sukkah. Chazal instituted Birchas HaMitzvos to demonstrate that our actions of Mitzvos are actually Mitzvos. Counting Sefiras HaOmer is less of an action than most other Mitzvos; therefore, one might otherwise conclude that Chazal did not institute Birchas HaMitzvos on such a Mitzvah.
• Why does the Rambam have to validate the counting of Sefiras HaOmer if one forgets to make a Bracha?
Since Sefiras HaOmer is not a Mitzvah of a positive action but merely the stating of the day and week of the Sefira, there is reason to believe that if a person were to count the Omer without a Bracha he did not have the intention of fulfill the Mitzvah, for he was only saying words. Thus, the Rambam is telling us that even without saying a Bracha, a person who says the proper Sefira of the day and week is understood to have intended to fulfill the Mitzvah of counting.
• Why does the Rambam have to tell us that if one forgot to count with a Bracha, he may no longer make a Bracha?
If a person has counted the proper day and week without a Bracha, there is logic to justify making a Bracha afterwards anyway. Since the counting is of the days and the weeks, it could be argued that as long as a person is still within that specific day or week, he is within the frame of his Mitzvah. For example, when a person counts the fifth day of the Sefira, he remains on the fifth day for nearly 24 hours after his counting. It could be argued that he is still in the frame of the Mitzvah of counting the fifth day for that entire day. Therefore, the Rambam had to teach this Halacha explicitly.