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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Pesach Sheni/Lag Ba'Omer 5772 "The Mighty Oak"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A man was helping his son through the process of admission to a well-known ivy-league university. As they waited to meet with the Dean of admissions, the man dubiously perused the catalogue of courses his son would have to take in order to graduate. He approached the Dean and asked if it was really necessary for his son to take all those courses. “Can’t he still be educated if he takes half the courses?”

The Dean replied, “Of course he can skip half the courses, but it depends what level of education you expect for your son. You see it takes over two decades to grow a mighty oak tree; it only takes two months to grow squash.”

Pesach Sheni[1] is observed[2] on the fourteenth of Iyar, the day when the Pesach was offered. This is the prevailing custom despite the fact that the offering was not eaten until the evening of the fifteenth of Iyar.

The holiday of Pesach does not begin until the night of the fifteenth of Nissan – the night when the Korbon Pesach was eaten. If so, why do we commemorate Pesach Sheni on the fourteenth of Iyar? What purpose is there in recounting the slaughtering of the offering?

The Sha’ar Yissachar[3] offered the following insight: It is curious to note that all of the holidays around this period of the year are titled - not based on the essence of the holiday itself - but upon the period/event prior to the holiday.

The holiday of our redemption from Egypt is called Pesach, which is the name of the offering brought just prior to the beginning of the holiday[4].

The forty-nine day count leading up to Shavuos is called Sefiras Ha’omer- the counting of the Omer, because the count begins on the day when the Korbon Omer was offered on the second day of Pesach. “You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbos, from the day when the Omer that was waved, seven weeks of completion it shall be.[5]

On Shavuos a special offering called the Shtei Halechem was offered. Yet the Sefirah is not called ‘Sefiras Shtei Halechem’ based on the offering brought at the conclusion of the count. Rather, its title is based on the offering brought at the beginning of the count.

Finally, Shavuos commemorates and celebrates our acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. Its name “Shavuos- weeks” is derived from on the seven-week count preceding the holiday. The name seems to have little connection with the essence of the day.

The Sha’ar Yissachar explains that the titles of these holidays symbolize a timeless idea: One is only as great, and can only accomplish, as much as he prepares himself to become/accomplish.

The Korbon Pesach symbolized the nation’s uncompromising belief in G-d. Their offering of a lamb, despite the fact that it was the god of Egypt, demonstrated their unwavering commitment to G-d, even in the face of their former captors and tormentors. The holiday is referred to as Pesach to remind us of that dedication and courage in becoming G-d’s Chosen People.

The counting of the Omer too is a process of growth that must begin immediately with the commencement of the count. If one rationalizes that there are still seven long weeks before the count ends and there will be ample time to devote to prepare for Shavuos later he is sure to become derelict and will not properly prepare himself.

This is also why the holiday of our acceptance of the Torah is called Shavuos. The significance and spiritual boost one feels on Shavuos is dependent and commensurate with the extent of his preparation during the previous seven weeks.

So too, Pesach Sheni is commemorated specifically on the day that the sacrifice was brought. When Pesach Sheni arrives, Shavuos is three weeks away. The fact that we are ‘celebrating’ the bringing of the second Pesach offering on the day when it was slaughtered reminds us that our spiritual accomplishments and growth are dependent on our efforts. It is not the consumption of the Pesach which reminds us of this lesson, but the preparation and efforts involved in preparing for this mitzvah, i.e. slaughtering the offering.

Parshas Emor contains an eclectic array of topics. The parsha begins with a discussion of various laws uniquely endemic to Kohanim. The Torah then details laws pertaining to korbanos, e.g. an animal may not be brought as an offering upon the altar until it is at least a week old, an animal may not be slaughtered simultaneously with its mother, when a thanksgiving offering is brought it must be done with proper intent, and, one must be ever vigilant that he not desecrate or profane G-d’s Holy Name by acting inappropriately. Following that, the Torah continues with a lengthy discussion of the annual holidays. What is the connecting underlying theme between these diverse laws?

The Gemarah (Berachos 62b) records that, despite a Roman edict forbidding it, the great Rabbi Akiva would teach Torah publicly. When he was apprehended by the Roman authorities they doomed him to a slow and painful death.

His students wept as they watched the executioner comb Rabbi Akiva’s flesh from his body using scalding iron combs. Rabbi Akiva however, was smiling as he recited the Shema with great fervor. His disbelieving students called out to him and asked him how he could bear it. Rabbi Akiva replied, “My entire life I have been pained by the verse “And you shall love Hashem your G-d …with all of your soul.” I wondered when I would have the opportunity to fulfill it. Now that the opportunity has presented itself, shall I not fulfill it?” He then proceeded to recite Shema with incredible fervor, and his soul departed while he was reciting the word, “Echad- (Hashem our G-d is) One.”

How was Rabbi Akiva able to bear the pain of his execution and be filled with joy while his skin was being shorn from his body? Because he had spent years preparing for this moment. He had pined for the opportunity to demonstrate his complete love to G-d and, therefore, when the opportunity presented itself, he was ready.

Yom Tov is a time for potential spiritual growth. However, one can only capture the greatness of the holiday if he has prepared himself for it. The Gemara[6] records that Moshe Rabbeinu enacted that one should begin studying the laws of each holiday a month in advance. If one has a proper understanding of the laws, depth, uniqueness, and essence of the particular holiday, he will be able to appreciate its greatness and draw from its spiritual wellspring when it arrives. If one anticipates and yearns for the holiday, the holiday will become an experience and not merely a fleeting event.

In order to create or foster holiness, one must ready and prepare himself for it. A Kohain has inherent greatness, but in order to maintain and develop that holiness he must be ever vigilant to be familiar with the laws and constantly prepare himself to perform his Service. Similarly, an animal cannot be haphazardly offered as a sacrifice to G-d on the altar; it must first meet a rigorous set of laws and directives. Among other requirements, holiness requires forethought and precise adherence to the Torah.

The Torah prefaces the festivals with the laws of Kohanim and offerings to demonstrate that - like all opportunities for holiness - holidays require preparation.

Rabbi Tzadok HaKohain writes that Lag Ba’omer, the day that celebrates the achievements and revelations of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, also celebrates the accomplishments and teachings of Rabbi Shimon’s Rebbe, Rabbi Akiva.

The final lesson Rabbi Akiva taught his students is that one must prepare himself for opportunities of spiritual growth and sanctification of G-d’s name.

If one waits until the opportunity arises, it may just be too late.

“You shall count from the day the Omer was waved”

“With all of your soul”

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[1] Those who were ritually impure and were not able to participate in the bringing of the Korbon Pesach before the Yom Tov of Pesach in Nissan, had a second chance to bring the Korbon one month later on Pesach Sheni

[2] i.e. many communities do not recite tachanun on that day, and there is a custom to eat matzah during the day

[3] Munkatcher Rebbe zt’l

[4] This is despite the fact that, logically, it would seem that “Chag Hamatzos- the holiday of matzos” would be a more fitting title, for it captures more of the essence of the holiday.

[5] Vayikra 23:15

[6] Megillah 32b

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