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Rabbi Yonason Sacks
Rabbi Yonason Sacks

The Relationship Between Yetziyas Mitzrayim and Kabbalas Ha'Torah

In linking Chag ha'Pesach to Chag ha'Shavuos, the days of sefiras ha'omer underscore the fundamental relationship that exists between yetziyas Mitzrayim and kabbalas ha'Torah. Indeed, a plethora of Midrashic and Rabbinic writings seem to place particular emphasis on this critical connection. The Ran (Pesachim 28a in Rif), for example, quotes the Midrash, which traces the current practice of sefiras ha'Omer back to the original counting done by Bnei Yisroel in anticipation of kabbalas ha'Torah as they left Mitzrayim. Similarly, the Sefer ha'Chinuch (306) posits that the counting of the omer reflects our insatiable yearning for kabbalas ha'Torah, like a slave counting the days until he is freed. By counting in ascending order from day one to forty nine, we reflect that our "every longing and yearning is to arrive at this day." The Ramban (23:36) also stresses this relationship, explaining that the Torah's reference to Chag ha'Shavuos as "Atzeres" analogizes the days of sefiras ha'omer to chol ha'moed, thereby connecting yetzias mitzrayim to kabbalas ha'Torah. The Ramban adds (Introduction to sefer Shemos) that the redemption from Mitzrayim of Pesach was incomplete until Bnei Yisroel received the Torah on Shavuos, as only kabbalas ha'Torah could return Bnei Yisroel to the exalted status of their forefathers.

Furthermore, perhaps one could suggest that the connection between Pesach and Shavuos may account for the Torah's omission of any explicit mitzvah of "simcha" on Pesach itself. While the mitzvah of simcha certainly applies to Pesach halachically, the Torah does not particularly specify so. The conspicuous absence of the mitzvah of simcha may suggest that true simcha can only be experienced in the context of complete freedom, which comes from the kabbalas ha'Torah of Shavuos. As the mishnah (Avos 6:2) states, "There is no free man except one who involves himself in the study of Torah." Thus, the role of sefiras ha'omer in connecting the Yetziyas Mitzrayim of Pesach to the kabbalas ha'Torah of Shavuos cannot be overstated. 

This hashkafic role of sefiras ha'omer may bear halachic ramifications as well. Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Da'as I:24) adduces support for his opinion that one may recite a birchas shehechiyanu on new items purchased during sefirah from the Ramban's analogy of sefiras ha'omer to chol ha'moed. Rav Ovadya explains that although the three weeks between the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av mark a time of collective national tragedy accompanied by practices of mourning, the period of sefiras ha'omer is quite different. These days are not considered days of collective misfortune for the entire nation (although isolated practices of mourning are maintained in order to commemorate the tragic deaths of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva). Rather, the days of sefirah resemble a festive chol ha'moed between Pesach and Shavuos, and thus birchas shehechiyanu may certainly be recited.

The role of sefiras ha'omer as a connection between Pesach and Shavuos may also be halachically significant in explaining the status of sefirah bizman ha'zeh. Many rishonim assume that in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash, sefiras ha'omer is mandated only mid'rabanan (see Tosafos Menachos 66a s.v. "Zecher," Rosh and Ran at end of maseches Pesachim). Their rationale may be based on the Torah's apparent linkage of the korban omer to the counting of the omer within the same pasuk (Vayikra 23:15): "And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day you bring the waved omer offering, seven complete weeks…" This juxtaposition suggests a relationship between the korban and the counting, implying that if the korban omer can no longer be offered, counting the omer must also be inapplicable Mid'oraisa. The Rambam, however, maintains that sefiras ha'omer always remains a Biblical obligation, unequivocally stating that the mitzvah applies "to every man of Israel, in every place and every time" (Hilchos. Temidin U'Musafin 7:22-24). The Aruch HaShulchan (489:3) explains that the Rambam's opinion is rooted in his understanding of the hashkafic relationship between Pesach and Shavuos. Even if the korban omer is no longer brought in our times, sefiras ha'omer must still be performed Mid'oraisa in order to symbolize our ardent anticipation of kabbalas ha'Torah - a sentiment which is as relevant after the churban as it was before. The Aruch HaShulchan adds that the korban omer itself further reflects this relationship. Brought from barley, the fodder of animals, the korban omer symbolizes man's animal-like status when he is without Torah. Only upon receiving the Torah on Shavuos may the wheat flour shtei ha'lechem be brought, thereby symbolizing man's elevated status above the animal world.

The hashkafic significance of sefiras ha'omer may also account for the lack of a birchas shehechiyanu on the mitzvah of sefirah. The Ba'al HaMaor (Pesachim 28a in Rif) attributes the absence of shehechiyanu to the fact that shehechiyanu is recited only on mitzvos which produce some type of benefit or joy. Sefiras ha'omer, however, is a source of distress, calling to mind doleful memories of the destruction of the holy Mikdash. The Meiri (Pesachim 7b) adopts a different approach, explaining that the birchas shehechiyanu recited on the first night of Pesach actually covers the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer. Rabbeinu Yerucham (Nesiv 4, Chelek 5), however, suggests almost the opposite possibility: the birchas shehechiyanu of Shavuos retroactively covers the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer. Perhaps Rabbeinu Yerucham's explanation may relate to the aforementioned relationship between Pesach and Shavuos. While most mitzvos require a birchas shehechiyanu prior to the performance of the mitzvah, sefiras ha'omer is quite different. Since the purpose of sefiras ha'omer is to bring Bnei Yisroel from the incomplete redemption of Pesach to the kabbalas ha'Torah of Shavuos, sefirah does not constitute an end unto itself. Rather, it is a means towards the desired end of Shavuos. Thus the birchas shehechiyanu of Shavuos, which marks the culmination and goal of the mitzvah of sefirah, may retroactively apply to the sefirah as well, despite the general preference for reciting a shehechiyanu before the performance of a mitzvah.

One other explanation for the lack of a birchas shehechiyanu on the mitzvah of sefirah is suggested by the Levush. Like the aforementioned rishonim, the Levush (Hilchos Pesach 489) emphasizes sefirah's role as a connector between Pesach and Shavuos. The Levush explains that sefirah is counted "like a man expecting and waiting for a particular day upon which he will receive a great gift or other item which will bring joy to his heart." In expressing one's unbridled anticipation for kabbalas ha'Torah, one demonstrates that receiving the Torah is of greater value than the physical redemption from Egypt. Hence, argues the Levush, if the entire purpose of sefirah is to direct one's gaze away from the present towards the anticipated ends of kabbalas ha'Torah, how could one possibly make a blessing on the present zman? Because Bnei Yisroel hope to pass through the period of sefirah as rapidly as possible in order to reach the period of Shavuos, no birchas shehechiyanu is recited.

The physical freedom from Mitzrayim is thus incomplete without the spiritual freedom engendered by kabbalas ha'Torah. While physical redemption bears the simulacrum of freedom, true redemption can only be attained through Talmud Torah and yiras Shamayim. Ye'hi ratzon that we should merit to continue to learn and exert ourselves constantly in talmud Torah, so that we will greet Mashiach tzidkeinu bimheira b'yameinu.

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