Monday, 12 May 2008

Sefiras HaOmer - Counting 49 days of the Omer - BY LEARNING!


"When putting on the Tallit Gadol - the large Tallit worn by men when praying - one does not need to cover one's head up until the mouth - this is as it is written in the laws of Tzizit in the Siddur. But we are accustomed to cover the eyes with the upper part of the Tallit Gadol.

"We are accustomed to study Tractate Sotah during the days of the Counting of the Omer - in addition to the regular fixed lessons (i.e. Chitas - Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya) - one page per day."


During the days of the Counting of the Omer we are required to work on our Middot (our emotional attributes) even more than usual.

As an aside to the Avodah (the service) of working on oneself, it is brought in today's HaYom Yom that one should also learn something additional. This of course, in addition to the regular order of ChiTaT (Chitas) - Chumash, Tehilim and Tanya portions for each day.

Ordinarily we learn the portion of the Chumash which is set for that particular day. There are a total of 7 Aliyot on Shabbos for each Torah portion. Since there are 7 days of the week, we learn the portion for each Aliyah on each day of the week corresponding to that Aliyah.

In addition we say the Tehillim that are set up as divided in accordance with the days of the month, thereby finishing the entire book of Tehillim each month.

In addition to this we say the portion of Tanya as set out and divided in any Tanya that can be purchased today. In this way, we complete all 5 sections of the Tanya each year, thus renewing and gaining even further knowledge as we repeat the learning the next year.

As the posting on Rambam indicates we should also spend some time each day learning Rambam - and if possible, by learning 3 chapters a day we complete the entire Rambam over the period of one year.

For the days between Pesach and Shavuos, however, one should add even further to ones learning. This can be done by learning through the tractate Sotah. The tractate deals with the laws of the woman suspected of having committed adultery by her jealous husband. She is to be taken to the Temple where she will be "forced" to drink from water(s) which had been mixed with the name of G-d which was written on parchment and then erased inside the waters. If she was found guilty, a variety of punishments would be inflicted upon the woman due to her having sinned, in addition to which she allowed the Name of G-d to be erased (something which is forbidden.) On the other hand, if she was innocent, she would be blessed with an abundance of good for having suffered the trauma and embarrassment of having been suspected of this act. If she had only given birth to female children, she would now give birth to male, and if they were of dark skin, they would now be of light skin. (There is much more to be said, but this is sufficient for blog purposes!)

One of the reasons we learn this particular tracate, is because it contains 49 pages! Exactly the same amount of days in the counting of the Omer! We thereby learn one page a day and complete the entire tractate over this important period.

Some may argue and say that in fact there are only 48 pages in the Gemorah, since in fact every tractate begins on page Beit (2)! Nevertheless the fact that a person begins on the first day by simply preparing himself for the learning which begins on the second day of the Omer is in itself considered as if one has already involved oneself in this learning. This in accordance with the concept brought down in the Sefer Yetzira (the Kabbalistic "Book of Formation" - attributed to Avraham our forefather and which contains some of the deepest secrets of creation. See the translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan for more information on this.) The Sefer Yetzira speaks of the "end being wedged in the beginning".

Indeed while we perceive life as being one long process, the truth is that the final moments of a person's life - and all his activities, are actually already embedded and wedged into the beginning of his life. Much like an architect prepares in his mind's eye the structure of a building, and through much work, the final structure comes into being built - so too in retrospect we can see from the latter what must have been within the former.

So too, when it comes to learning - while it may seem that the thoughts attributed to making a start have little to do with actual learning, in fact it is these thoughts that are the absolute roots for making the learning happen. In retrospect we can see how after our completion of learning, everything had begun with those "simple" thoughts!

What with learning Chumash (and Rashi), Tehillim, Tanya and Rambam, and now adding tractate Sotah to the schedule, we certainly have enough to keep us busy along the path of working on our emotional attributes - our Middot - and preparing ourselves and the world for the final redemption - may it be immediate!

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