Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Sefirat HaOmer and Chanukah - Days that Count

A question often posed by the keen student of Halachah when dealing with the laws of Chanukah – is whether or not it shares a similarity to the laws of Sefirat HaOmer and the Mitzvah of counting the 49 days.

During the days between Pesach and Shavuot, we have a Mitzvah to count 49 days. The Mitzvah includes making a blessing before the actual counting. There are numerous laws with what happens if a person forgets to count a day and whether or not one may continue counting with (or without) a blessing on the remainder of the days. One who does indeed forget an entire day, may continue counting, but he loses out on his opportunity to recite the blessing on the subsequent days.

Those who enter Chanukah thinking in the mode of the Sefirat HaOmer days, enter it wondering a similar idea. If one forgets to light the candles on one evening, may one light candles on the evening that one remembers?! And if so, does one need to somehow make up for having missed a light (or even two?!) And may one recite the blessings for lighting if one had forgotten to light for a night – or two?

Let's give an example: Reuven lights his candle on the first night. Comes the second night – he recites the necessary blessings and then lights two lights. On the third night – having such a great time during Chanukah – he goes out to a party (of the frum kind of course!) which begins during the daylight hours of that second day. He enjoys himself so much that he parties himself out completely, falls asleep, and awakens on the third day of Chanukah in the mid afternoon! Suddenly he realises he had forgotten to light his candles for the third night.

Wanting to make up for his mistake, Reuven considers lighting the candles (with the blessings too!) during the third day, or perhaps even lighting two Menorahs on the fourth night – one with three candles and the other with four. 

Reuven should certainly reconsider lighting the three candles during the daytime (with a blessing) – because lighting candles in broad daylight is pretty much like lighting a candle in broad daylight! It achieves very little. Once there is light all around, it doesn't do much to anyone to light candles so that others can see… As for his second option of lighting two Menorahs, his idea is indeed an "upright" one, but does the Halacha require him to do this?

Has Reuven lost out in some way or may he recite the blessings on the fourth night, light just one Menorah (with his four candles – or even one according to the requirements of the strict law) and get on with the remainder of his festival with joy?!

Does Chanukah share a similarity with the Sefiras HaOmer of losing out on the blessings (or even the lights?) on the subsequent nights?

The law is clear – Chanukah is not like Sefiras HaOmer at all – and making such a comparison is ridiculous. These are two completely separate Mitzvot having nothing to do with each other, and trying to use the logic of one towards the other has no basis at all. 

But maybe if we consider what each of these different time periods is all about, we can understand why the Halacha allows us to continue lighting even if we forget a night – and even continuing with the blessings.

The time period between Pesach and Shavuot is all about growth. The Jewish people had found themselves on the lowest level of impurity on that day that they left Egypt. In fact, their entire journey out of Egypt until they received the Torah, was one devoted to growth. Each day, they grew out of a level of impurity and entered a new level of purity until they were absolutely ready to receive the Torah.

The festival of Chanukah – Festival of Lights – does not have anything to do with growth as such – it has to do with light! Of course every day is a new day, and a day of growth, and we certainly do add an additional candle. But a candle does not have to necessarily represent growth. A candle is light. Light is goodness. And light radiates, no matter what the situation. In fact, so long as there is darkness around, light will always chase it away.

Growth, on the other hand, is a process. As the Lubavticher Rebbe teaches – "Every living thing must grow." Look around, see nature. Every day that goes by sees the plants and animals growing further. All things continue to grow. Trees continue for ever and ever growing and growing, becoming larger and larger. Though we don't always see the growth visibly, those trees are growing nevertheless. Children grow continuously although most people never actually see this happening. 

But when looking backwards in time and making comparisons, one can really see how (physically) they have grown during the year. This physical growth happens all the time (until the person is a mature adult – and even then it continues but it takes a new direction!) It must happen spiritually too – especially for a person who is composed of both a G-dly and an animal soul. Just as we would worry about a child who would stop growing, so too should every person worry about their own spiritual growth hoping never to become dwarfed and stunted. Every day – every moment – must see new growth.

When one does not grow, one can liken this to a process of death – where everything comes to an end. The Torah teaches something even worse. Not only does one who does not grow – not grow, but more than this, for those that abandon the Torah for just one day – the Torah abandons them for a day. This is not just a death, but an actual regression in one's learning. When we walk away from the Torah, she does the same to us. When we walk a mile away from, she walks a mile away from us – and we find ourselves having now moved two miles away (even though we thought we had only moved one mile!)

When it comes to growth – it must be constant. When one stops, one has lost the battle of life. When it comes to these 49 days, there must be continual growth. When a day goes by and there is forgetfulness and a disinterest in growing, then our very lives have come to an end. At this point in time, one forfeits the right to make a blessing. One has lost sight of what is important in life. One has limited one's ability to grow. One has forfeited the blessing.

Chanukah – on the other hand is not just a festival of growth (as we add one light each evening) – it a festival of light! When it comes to doing something good, it does not matter what is going on around us. We can do good any time we want! We can remove the darkness and turn everything around for the good and bring light into a situation whenever we want to! When it comes to doing good, there is never a need to knock oneself down and imagine the possibility that because we have not done something good for some time that we have lost out.

When it comes to light – to doing good, one is never a loser. One can do it any time one likes! Even if one has just come out of the lowest low in one's life – or even if one G-d forbid – feels one is still there – one can turn on the light, one can do a good deed!

Chanukah teaches us to value light, to value good things, of bringing good to oneself and to others. So even if one forgets to light the candles one night, one may continue to light on all the subsequent nights – even with a blessing. 

Sefirat HaOmer may well be about growth. Growth is something that is often not easy. But it is something that we must be involved in all the time – no matter what. When we don't – we lose out on what life is all about – and at those times, we literally pull ourselves away from what our purpose in the world is.

But Chanukah comes around to teach us that even if we get lost in our growth and feel ourselves falling – there is never a moment that we can't stop ourselves, wherever we are… and light a candle, do something good, and bring some light into the world.

Be focused on the importance of counting the days of Sefirat HaOmer always. But when in doubt, switch into Chanukah mode. Light a candle. You'll be surprised at how much darkness you can remove!

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