Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
What happened to our observance?
Years back there was no mistaking Pesach for any other holiday. Pesach entailed a steady diet of matzo, eggs and potatoes. In fact, everything the Oisvorfer’s mother served was a potato. It may have looked like something else, been disguised as something else, ober, in the end, after one bite, it was soon discovered that it was taka a potato. Ober bazman hazeh, in our generation, when nebech, niskatnu-hadoirois (the generations have gotten weaker in their observance), Pesach observance, at least for those that spend it away from home, is about everything but matzo and potatoes.
Though Pesach was over two weeks ago, the Oisvorfer continues to savor the taste of the new macholim (foods) that caterers have concocted for Pesach and for the first time in his life, this year, he and many more, enjoyed Pesach pizza and Pesach grilled cheese sandwiches. Raboyseyee, we’re not talking about matzo pizza, still a favorite for many, we’re talking pizza mamish! Is this what the RBSO had in mind when He redeemed us from slavery and instructed us to eat matzo in order to commemorate and remember that we were once enslaved in Mitzrayim and that there was no time for the dough to rise on the way out? Ver veyst ober one thing is zicher: the pizza was gantz gishmak; in fact it was outright delicious. And taka over in Ft. Myers where Legendary Destinations (http://www.legendarydestinations.com/), a newcomer to the Pesach program gisheft that somehow, in its rookie year, pulled off an excellent program, not just was pizza on the menu and in abundance, it came directly -hundreds and hundreds of pies- out of a real pizza oven. Is this what the RBSO had in mind? Ver veyst ober if it was kosher enough for the mashgiach, the kashrus organization and also for the very talented and mild mannered Rabbi in residence -Rabbi Noam Weinberg, he the Hebrew principal of North Shore Hebrew Academy- it was zicher good enough for the Oisvorfer. Nu, efsher because he was, the very next day flying to New York and then directly to Poland where he was leading a group of his students for Yom Hashoah observance and where kosher food was not to be in abundance, he was loading up on carbs over Pesach, ver veyst. And did you ever imagine eating grilled cheese sandwiches on what looked like kosher le’pesach bread? Is it time to reexamine the Hagodah and efsher update it? Might we be looking at and eating kosher le’pesach challah in the not too distant future? Ver veyst?
Ober, why are we taka discussing Pesach again? Because its observance is mentioned in this week’s parsha of Emor which is mamish chock full of mitzvois including, once again, the observance of the heylige shabbis, kimat all of our Jewish Holidays and myriad more mitzvois in every variety. Purim, the greatest holiday of all and the only one, according to some, that we will observe after the Moshiach arrives, were added later. Yet another shabbis shout-out? Indeed! Seemingly, the RBSO is very serious about shabbis; its strict observance gets numerous Toirah shout-outs beginning with parshas Bereishis, again as one of the Aseres Hadibrois (Ten Commandments) and at least five other mentions, all before we get to our parsha.
Ober Emor is more than about shabbis and Yom tov. In fact, it contains a boatload of mitzvois -63 of them- including a nice variety of ah-says and loi-sah-says. Sadly, we cannot cover these in a few pages. Moreover, this is our fourth go around of this parsha; by now you should know it cold. Feel free to check out the archives for some mamish gishmake stories about rape, blasphemy, Moishe’s first arrest and detention of a suspect until sentencing and even more. These stories and many more can be found at www.oisvorfer.com
Nu, the Oisvorfer was klerring that even though we’re no longer observing Pesach the way our parents did, efsher we’re still good Jews because we continue to observe sefiras ho-oimer (counting of the Omer) the old fashioned way. We don’t shave, listen to live music, make or attend weddings, engagement parties, sheva brochois and are otherwise in some state of semi-mourning. Ober a nechtiger tug: fugetaboutit. Sefira observance is dead and kaput, maybe deader that the 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva who, some say, because of petty jealousies, idle gossip, and a lack of respect for one another, perished during this 49 day period. Ver veyst. Did we forget about the heylige Rebbe Akiva who mamish just last week, on the special mitzvah of vi’ohavto lerayacho komoicho- was telling us what an important mitzvah it was? Seemingly we have! And today, in our times, most of the 49 days of sefira, look no different than other days of the year. Is it the Oisvorfer’s imagination or has sefira observance been chopped down to a more tolerable 18 days? And taka earlier this week, the Oisvorfer attended a givaldige wedding over in Williamsburg where business seemingly overrides all previously established minhogim. Oy vey! Seemingly, many if not most customs have been updated for modern times.
Nu, efsher we can kler (posit) that it would be a givaldige hefsid-miruba (big money loss) for the caterers, the valet parkers, the photographers, the flower people and the many others were they to be shut down for 7 weeks. And of course you all know that the RBSO put so much thought into each of His 613 mitzvois. Each was mamish designed so that yiddishe entrepreneurs could make a living. Be they positive or negative commandments, unzerer Yiddin have it all figured out: somewhere in each, lies a givaldige business opportunity and sefira observance should not get in the way. Shoin! The RBSO is great.
On the other hand, the Oisvorfer has found one minhag, maybe one of the last, which has somehow survived modern inventions, the Internet and today’s times. Seemingly the ubiquitous holtzene-lefel (wooden spoon) that appears like clockwork once yearly in our mailboxes from some yeshiva seeking a donation, continues to thrive. This spoon is always a key component of the Bidikas Chometz kit which also contains a feather, a candle, an instruction card and of course a self-addressed and stamped envelope for one to send back with a check. Grada, one year, hoping they would get the message, the Oisvorfer sent back the envelope with his chometz: it didn’t work! The kits keep coming and the kit components haven’t changed in at least 70 years. They remain impervious to technology. It appears that despite the major advances we have made in our Pesach preparations, including having a shiksa clean the house, the Bidikas Chometz kit remains untouched and efsher proving once again that it’s always good to have wood, if you chap. So happens that the Oisvorfer’s mother never felt compelled to burn the lefel with the chometz; she and many mothers used it from time to time, to remind us who the boss was, if you chap. Also so happens that a few rebbes the Oisvorfer had back in elementary school also used it; they enjoyed flashing the wood from time to time, if you chap. Nu…
Is the wooden spoon taka a required component of any Bidika kit or is it only used for fund raising? What happens if it’s not used? Are we in violation of our Pesach observance? Nu, some say we use the wooden spoon because that’s what the Yiddin used over in Europe. Why this particular minhag survived, ver veyst? Some say that we use wood and the spoon because we need to burn the Chometz the next day and that wood and the paper it comes in, are flammable materials. Wood can taka cause a fire and other burning sensations, from time to time, especially if used to do bidika at the address and time, if you chap. Ober why does the kit include a candle and a feather? Have we not discovered the flashlight and may we use it instead? And taka says one source (Aish) that one is not required to use a candle: a flashlight is acceptable. Shoin! And since it makes no mention of a spoon at all, one may infer that a spoon is not required either – and certainly not a wooden spoon. Ober does everyone agree? Seemingly not! Other sources (a bunch) insist that a candle must be used. Seemingly, the feather is optional, ver veyst.
And taka says the Shulchan Aruch haRav (OC 445:7) azoy: If one didn’t find any chometz (leaven) in his search, it is appropriate to burn the vessel –in this case, the spoon- which he searched with, in order that the process of burning [on Erev Pesach morning], not be forgotten in future years. In other words: using a wooden spoon is but ceremonial. Let’s review: if you found chometz during your search, you burn it in the morning. If not, you burn the spoon. Of course, you can keep the feather if that makes you happy, if you chap.
Nu, it also so happens that the mitzvah of counting the Omer is also found in this week’s parsha and given that all you know or care about sefira, is when it’s over, the Oisvorfer, as a public service to his hundreds of thousands of readers, has decided to give you a shtikel education; it won’t kill you to learn something new. We will taka spend the last page or two teaching many of you giferliche bums a shtikel something about the Omer; halt kup (pay attention).
Nu, believe it or not, counting of the Omer derives from historical events that occurred in different time periods in Jewish history. The real counting, the one the RBSO commanded, is described in our parsha (Vayikro 23:10-11); the Yiddin were commanded to bring, at harvest-time, an omer of the first-fruits to the koihen (priest) as a wave-offering. What the hec is an Omer? An omer is a Hebrew unit of measure; seemingly its one-tenth of an eiphah. Now you know? Veyter! The purpose of the omer-offering was to thank the RBSO for the harvest and to thank Him for giving the Yiddin Mun (Manna) in the Midbar (wilderness) after the Yiddin were redeemed from slavery in Mitzrayim. Every Yid was to collect the measure of an omer.
Originally, the Counting of the Omer period was a time of great joy since it was the time when the Yiddin were counting down the days before they received the heylige Toirah from the RBSO. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 23:15-16) azoy: And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbis, from the day that you bring the omer (offering) that is raised, seven complete weeks there shall be until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days. Nu, today we only count forty-nine days! Why? Because our wise Sages decided that the heylige Toirah’s use of the word fifty, really only meant until the fiftieth day. Nu, go argue! These 49 days, beginning from the second evening of Pesach and up to and including the evening before Shavuois are known as the “Days of the Omer”. They are also known as the sefira period.
Ober what has all this to do with our semi-mourning, the minhag of no; haircuts, shaving and other festive occasions and why are we in mourning if the Omer count was to commemorate happy events? Nu, it so happens that many years later, something quite geferlich mamish took place during that very time period; the same seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuois. Seemingly this event has overtaken the festive Omer count that we celebrated years back. Says the heylige Gemora (Yevomois 62b) azoy: it was seemingly during these weeks that Rebbe Akiva’s students “12,000 pairs” of them, died. They all died a terrible death. Said Rebbe Nachman, they died from “As’kerah” (death by suffocation). Seemingly, only five survived; that for another day.
Did 24,000 really die during this period? Nu, that depends on who’s counting. A version of the story as found in the Medrish (Medrish Rabba, Bereishis 61:50) suggests they there were but 12,000 in total. On the other hand, the heylige Gemora (Nedarim 50a) tells us the number was 24,000. Which was it, ver veyst? They were paired up? What’s pshat? Did they die from suffocation because they were paired up? Ver veyst.
And says the Gemora, citing a source from the Tanna’im, that the students all perished during the sefira period. And of course the heylige Gemora also tells us that they died from an illness ober says another Gemora (Yerushalmi) that it appears that they died in the Bar-Kochba revolt. When they died, if they died during this time period, ver veyst and zicher the Oisvorfer is not equipped to opine. One thing is zicher: there is no unanimity as to the events and maybe then it’s not so giferlich if the rabbis in our times have allowed the sefira days to shrink down from 49 days to under three weeks in total.
Seemingly, the minhag of semi-mourning during the Omer period is accepted by all. Ober, everything else, including; how we mourn, how long, when it starts, when it ends and whether or not, events that we believe happened on Lag B’oimer, did or not happen, is not so clear. Different rabbinical opinions have been put forth over the centuries, due to the fact that no single rabbinical decree applicable to all the Yiddin was ever established concerning when to mourn during the Counting of the Omer period. In other words: one seems to be on some footing if one follows at least one of the customs or traditions.
And despite the fact that not all agree that his students died during this time period or because they could not get along, today, that event, has overshadowed and overtaken the happiness we once felt and is moreover, the primary reason for the counting of the Omer. Interestingly, although the heylige Gemora alludes to the tragic events that befell Rebbe Akiva’s students, it does not mention anything about performing any type of commemorative mourning activity for him or his students. In addition, there is no mention of the semi-holiday of Lag B’oimer, a holiday we will discuss in the coming two weeks. This implies that the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students took place during the entire Counting of the Omer period.
A gitten shabbis-