Friday, April 30, 2010

Sefira and the Holiness of the Kohanim - Reb Itchie Mayer Morgenstern on Emor

Here is Reb Itchie Mayer Morgenstern's Torah on Parshas Emor, with English excerpt and full text in Hebrew in pdf form from Reb Itchie Mayer's Torah given in 5766. You can send an e-mail to this address to subscribe to receive Rav Morgenstern's Torah in your e-mail box every week.

“And Hashem said to Moshe: Speak to the kohanim the sons of Aharon and say to them: None shall defile himself for the dead among his people except for his kin that is near to him; for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother; and for his unmarried sister that is near to him that has had no husband, for her may he defile himself. He shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.”[1]

The Holiness of the Kohanim

Hashem sanctified the kohanim with an added measure of holiness, beyond that of the rest of the Jewish people, and also provided them with additional restrictions to safeguard their sanctity. It is impossible to advance and rise in one’s Divine service without developing extra precautions to guarantee the holiness and purity of one’s mind and actions. One must seek to add more kedushah and Divine awareness every single day, more careful avoidance of negative behavior—“to steer from evil”—and to enhance holiness—“and do good.”

This is the purpose of the Sefirah period, when we count the days after leaving Egypt, so that we can advance and rise and become fitting vessels to receive the Torah. And we accomplish this mainly by adding more and more safeguards to ensure our purity and holiness.

The Torah says, “And you shall count for yourselves”—we must do it for ourselves because each and every person has his own unique avodah to do during Sefirah, his own way in which he needs to enhance the safeguards of his kedushah. In this, each person is unique and has to develop his own unique method. Just as we find in Rebbe Nachman’s story, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton.” The simpleton always says, “This is my story, and that is his story”—every person has to think about his own story and how to safeguard his own kedushah.[2]

The Fiftieth Gate

The overall purpose of Sefirah is to tread the path that leads to the fiftieth day so that we can receive the holiness of the fiftieth gate. This gate is different from the other forty-nine; instead of it being an aspect of “mitzvah,” the fiftieth is an aspect of “metzaveh”—“the One who commands.” While there is level after level of holiness to which one can aspire and endless avodos, the overarching level that transcends and includes them all is that of faith itself. When a person experiences a single moment of emunah, it encompasses everything in the world. That is the fiftieth gate; when a person knows that there is a Creator. This knowledge rectifies all flaws and includes all of the Torah.

This higher level is embodied in the twelve showbreads that were laid on the holy table and which remained hot and fresh the whole week long.[3] They were like the holiness of Shabbos itself, which is imbued with constantly fresh faith in the existence of the Creator. It is from this wellspring of faith that the soul is revived every single week; this point of faith is the pinnacle of holiness. It has to be kept warm and fresh, “Because it is not befitting the King’s honor to eat stale bread.” This is why the Shabbos avodah in the Beis Hamikdash involved the showbread specifically, because the “bread” of holy emunah has to be as warm and fresh as if it just came from the oven when it is replaced, “from Shabbos to Shabbos.” The twelve breads represent the twelve Partzufim of the world of Atzilus, the experience of absolute closeness to Hashem that is never static or stale.

Faith cannot be considered pure and true if it is stale and lifeless, if a person feels as though he has heard it all before and he know whatever there is to know about emunah. He needs to feel, instead, the heat of fresh enthusiasm filling him constantly, “Because it is not befitting the King’s honor to eat stale bread.” This renewal is the light of the fiftieth gate that shines on Shabbos, and it is the pinnacle of yichud that is the source of all forms of sanctity. And this is why the tzaddikim always sought out the light of the yichud of faith itself, because it rectifies everything and encompasses all of the Torah and all that is holy.

[1] Vayikra 21:1-4
[2] Reb Nosson of Breslov explains in Hilchos Pesach 4:22: “This is the meaning of the commandment, ‘Count for yourselves’—each person must count Sefiras Ha’omer for himself, meaning he must encourage himself in the state that he is at that time and must not allow himself to be discouraged by imagining that his contemporaries are so much better than him. Even though humility is a positive quality and it is good to consider others as being better than oneself, nevertheless if such thoughts make a person feel discouraged, G-d forbid, this is not true humility at all. It is an inverse form of pride, because he really feels that it isn’t betting for him to serve Hashem in some [small] way when he is so far from Him and his friends have achieved so much. One cannot second-guess Hashem; who knows what his spiritual source really is and from what places he has been drawn down due to his own unique deeds? For no two people are the same. When a person wants to leave his impure state, this is the aspect of counting Sefirah for it is, ‘that they should be purified.’ And one must count the days for himself, and not allow considerations of [the level of] his friend discourage him... As we find in the story of “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton.” The simpleton was a cobbler, but he was unable to master his craft completely and all of his shoes came out triangular in shape. Even so, he would praise the finished products very highly and say, ‘How lovely this shoe is...’ When his wife would retort, ‘If so, then why do other craftsmen receive three rubles for a pair of shoes, but you only earn one and a half rubles per pair?’ he would answer, ‘What has this to do with me? That is his story, and this is my story! And what’s more, why should we speak of others? Let us first consider just how much profit I make on this shoe in ready money. The leather costs so and so much...’ We must understand this very well, because everyone learns profound lessons that touch upon their Divine service from this story. One must act with simplicity and always be happy, even when poverty prevails and one’s prayer and Divine service is incomplete. One must be happy with his lot in any case and not pay any attention to others whose livelihoods are so much more secure... They may have much in a worldly sense and still suffer constant worry over what they lack. And even when others far surpass a person in their Divine service, in their Torah study and prayer, nevertheless one must not be discouraged at all but must instead rejoice in his lot. One must be just like the Simpleton who could taste the flavor of every food in his simple bread... That shoe that he slaved over and which turned out so imperfect and barely brought him a profit was nevertheless precious to him, and he praised it highly and paid no attention to others at all... Rebbe Nachman himself hinted that the metaphor of cobbling represents prayer and avodas Hashem, as he explained obliquely at the end of the story. ‘Even if prayer is imperfect, it is like a triangular shoe...’ We must act with utter simplicity, just like the Simpleton, and learn deep lessons from every single word and act of his in the story so that we can follow his path and rejoice every single good point that he ‘profits’ in his prayer and Divine service, however he is.”
[3] Shmuel I:21:7; Yerushalmi, Shekalim 6:3

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