Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Emor) Challah!
The number ten has been universally accepted as a number of significance since time immemorial.
Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky o.b.m. points to its source: The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers relates that during the seven days of creation G-d uttered ten statements of creation. They are recorded in the Torah, and through these ten statements the world took its form and structure.
Reb Yaacov says that the number ten was imprinted into the universe at creation, and ever since, man has used it as a significant and important number in all his dealings. A similar phenomenon is pointed out by the famous philosopher Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in his monumental book called the Kuzari. He points out that every society, civilized or not, has a seven day week. This can only be attributed to the fact that G-d created the world in seven days, as the Torah relates.
Getting back to the number ten; we find that in our history and practice, the number 10 plays a significant role. Some of the more commonly known instances are the ten plagues G-d sent on Pharoh and the Egyptians, the Ten Commandments that G-d proclaimed at Mount Sinai, and the ten men that comprise a Minyan.
The number ten exists also in the realm of the esoteric. There are ten Sefiros – Spheres - the mystical revelation of G-d’s ‘character.’ The Sefiros represent our finite understanding of the infinite. There are ten Sefiros with which G-d created and interacts with the world, three of which are in the upper category and seven in the lower realm.
This time of the year, between Pesach and Shavuos, is called the Sefirah – counting period. The Torah mandates us to count from the second night of Pesach - 49 days, up to the holiday of Shavuos which is celebrated on the 50th day. Aside from counting each day leading up to Shavuos, the Torah instructs us to count the seven weeks as well. The famous Kabalist, the Arizal, connected each of the seven weeks leading up to Shavuos with one of the seven Sefiros – spheres. The Arizal’s purpose in doing this was so that we should focus on a particular Sphere and try to incorporate it into our lives thus emulating the ways of G-d during the period when we prepare ourselves for the holiday of Shavuos, when we received the Torah.
The Sefiros are: Chesed – kindness; Restraint – boundaries; Harmony – truth; Eternity – seeing the whole picture; Beauty – acknowledgment; Foundation – holiness; and Kingship – ‘I have set the Almighty before me constantly.’
This counting period is associated with the Omer. The word Omer means a certain weight. In modern day terms it is equivalent to the volume of 43.2 eggs or 73 oz. The Torah instructs that an Omer weight of freshly harvested barley be offered in the Holy Temple on the second day of Pesach. This offering permitted the consumption of the new crop of the five grains that are grown in the land of Israel. This Omer offering on Pesach is not the only offering or ritual that required or had an Omer weight.
The Torah relates that when the Jews were traveling in the desert they were fed miraculous food – Manna from Heaven. Each daily portion of Manna was an Omer size. The Torah actually refers to the size of the Manna as a tenth of an Eifah weight. Also, various meal offerings in the Temple contained a tenth of an Eifah weight as well. We thus see further examples of the number ten in the Torah.
The Omer / tenth of an Eifah weight plays a significant role in a very special law that is primarily associated with women - the Mitzvah of separating Challah. This Mitzvah has healing and other special powers. Many take advantage and recite prayers for those in need before performing this mitzvah.
A tenth of an Eifah (5 lbs) is the amount of flour that obligates one to recite a blessing when performing the mitzvah of separating the Challah when making a dough. After the blessing is recited a piece (an egg size) is removed from the batch and a pronouncement, ‘This is Challah’ is made. In the times of our Temples in Israel, this piece of ‘Challah’ was given to a Kohain – priest for his and his family’s consumption. However, today, the piece of Challah is promptly burned so that it would not be eaten.
Lag B’Omer – Sunday, May 28, 2013 The Talmud relates that during this period between the Holidays of Pesach and Shavuos, 24,000 students of the famous Rebbe Akiva died (1800 years ago) because they failed to display proper respect to each other. The massacres of the crusades against the Jews transpired between Pesach and Shavuos. Therefore, as an expression of mourning of these occurrences, were refrain from making weddings, haircutting or listening to enjoyable music during this time.
There are various customs as to which group of days these laws apply. On Lag B’Omer – the thirty-third of the Omer count, the students of Rebbe Akiva stopped dying, and it is considered a semi-holiday where haircutting, music and weddings are permitted according to most customs. When Lag B’Omer falls on a Sunday – as it does this year, Halacha – Jewish Law indicates that haircutting should be done on Friday in order to be properly groomed in honor of the Shabbat!
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks