Friday, April 9, 2010

Shemini: The Never Ending Omer

In continuing the theme of the last post, one may discern a series of loosely analogous patterns between the order of parshiyot and the sequence of events as described in the Torah as they relate to Pesach and its aftermath.

One should note for starters that the first Omer was itself a bumpy ride.

Irrespective of the notion that the 49 days were supposed to be a series of gradual incremental steps in kedusha from 0 to 49, a quick look at what actually transpired between midnight of the 15th of Nissan and the morning of the 6th of Sivan may indicate otherwise:

Day 7—The first complaint, at the Red Sea Shore: “What were you thinking taking us outta Egypt to die in the desert?” [Additionally, we may even be able to include the element of mini-“Avelus” in shmayaim for the drowned Egyptians, pace the midrash where G-d prevents the angels—thought not Bnei Yisrael—from singing shira.]

Day 10—Marah: Where’s the water? Of course, this turned out to be the first educational experience indicated as such in the text [“sham sam lo chok u’mishpat”]…Interestingly, the Seder HaDoros quotes a Bachya on Beshalach that Marah was where the actual entrance of Bnei Yisrael to the Midbar commenced, or more specifically in Bachya’s words: “…the sar of the desert—and this is the Satan—began to prosecute them and lead them to sin….”

Day 16—The Seder HaDoros, quoting Yalkut Shimoni on Shelach [#749]: this was where the mekoshesh etzim was apprehended, preceding even those who went out to look for the manna [Shemos 17:27, 28] [The manna began to fall on Day 31, according to BT Kiddushin 38a and Shabbos 87b; until that point, Bnei Yisrael had eaten 61 meals of matza which themselves had been imbued with the taste of the manna, even before the manna began to fall [with the Slav!!!] on the 16th of Iyar.]

Sometime between Day 38, which was the first Shabbos of the falling of the manna and the aforementioned attempt at its illicit collection, and Day 43, or Rosh Chodesh Sivan, when Bnei Yisrael arrive at Midbar Sin[ai]—the engagement with Amalek occurred at Refidim.

Day 50, as we all know was Matan Torah…and Day 90 was the egel. But even before we get to that, we have to remember the Rashi on Shemos 24:10, when Nadav Avihu and the Zekeinim were nitchayev misa for “beholding the sight of the G-d of Israel” but had the sentence suspended so as not to mar matan torah. [As we will see, in this weeks parsha, no such considerations were forthcoming at the hakamas hamishkan.]

Additionally, once we’ve established that the events of the Hashkamas HaMishkan in Shemini are the seame as those in Beha’alosecha [identified as having occurred on Rosh Chodesh Nissan of the seond year of the Exodus], we can link the tragedies of Nadav and Avihu and those of the Zekeinm [according the shitta that they met their demise in the fire at Kivros ha-Ta’avah]. This would even further backdate the series of misphaps previously detailed and enumerated as having occurred on the first Omer: we now have an aura of tragedy even surrounding both the establishment of our first national shrine, which coincides with what the first Rashi in the Torah refers to as our first mitzvah: “Ha-Choseh hazeh lachem…”

As if that wasn’t enough, one should only look at the second Rashi in Pekudei, which intimates that the double lashon on mishkan hints at the double tragedy of the two churbanos.

One would be forced to conclude that there is DNA of tragedy built directly into those moments that are supposed to be our most triumphant. If we ever had a hava amina that contradicted the notion that Love Hurts…

One can only conclude this, with some diffidence: the mitzvah of Omer—both its duration and the fact that we count it one day, one number, at a time, allows us to maintain two illusions, as it were.

One illusion we might be allowed to operate under is that spiritual progress is always incremental. We know better, and we always should, but if we had to actually operate without any allowance for cushioning the blow of reality, setting and reaching goals mght be made invariably more difficult. To draw what might be a loose educational parallel: the mikra is not always [if ever] directly bound to its direct p’shat. Yet it’s the linchpin of our educational system, at least as its starting point [though one must insist that it never be the endpoint]. You have to be able to start somewhere, even if its beis and not aleph.

The other illusion we might be allowed to—if we’re not exhorted to—maintain is that there actually is an end to our troubles, that they follow a linear progression with an A and B. All the events detailed above indicate precisely the opposite: they are cyclical and unpredictable. We need to be able to forge ahead in the face of that. An omer allows for that. Lo nitna Torah le'malachei ha-shares: we get to sing even when the Angels aren't allowed to.

So, in deference to that notion, for 33 days I won’t be getting married or getting a haircut.

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