Sefiras HaOmer: A Lesson in Perfection
The Sforno points out that
some of the blemishes that disqualify animals for korbonos are actually
beneficial, and are even sometimes inflicted deliberately by their owners to
increase size and strength. Since these blemishes enhance the animal’s worth,
why do they disqualify it for the altar?
The Sforno answers that the main thing in Avodas Hashem is to
become more God-like, to strive for perfection. Therefore, size makes no
difference. It’s not quantity, but quality that counts. The blemish remains a
disqualifying imperfection, despite any quantitative increase.
The halachic ramification is found in betzias ha-pas.
If you have a giant wedding challah and a little lachmania, and the big
one has a piece taken out of it, you should make the ha-motzi on the
lachmania. The small perfection of the roll is more desirable than the giant
but imperfect challah.
The whole idea of Sefiras HaOmer is aspiration, striving for
Torah. But it has to be sheva shabasos temimos, 7 complete, perfect
weeks. And it’s an individualized thing, the development of your
potential. That’s why nobody else can count for you. Because everybody has his
own personal avodah, his own shleimos. And in this world of
imperfection, the most we can reasonably hope for is perfection in intention and
effort. If you have that, then HaShem will crown your efforts with perfection;
if not in this world, perhaps in the next.
What was the chet of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva?
They didn’t deal with each other with the full measure of respect that was due
them. Why not? Because they looked at themselves in a very lowly way. And they
had a right to. Every generation represents a descent from the one before. In
their case, the inferiority of their generation was profoundly underscored by
the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and the beginning of the exile. They saw the
chasm that separated them from the previous generation as something awesome. So
they felt very lowly. This affected how they perceived each other.
The Beis Elokim (Mabit) asks: How do we have the chutzpah
to expect that the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt for us? Aren’t we aware
that the tanaim and amoraim said the same tefilah 3 times a day, and they
weren’t answered? And we think that we will be? God didn’t answer Rashi’s
prayer, but He’s going to answer mine!
He answers that that would be a question if everybody’s
tefilah were an individual entity; but the idea is that it’s an accumulation
of tefilos through the generations. The previous generations may have
done 99%, but maybe we can fill in the missing 1%. That much we can do. Like a
midget standing on a giant’s shoulders.
The mistake of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim is that they didn’t
learn from Sefiras HaOmer. The Sefirah teaches that nobody reaches perfection in
a vacuum. Just as we count the accumulation of days leading to Shavuos, to Matan
Torah, so too my reaching for perfection is built on the accumulation of Klal
Yisrael’s reaching for perfection down through the generations. They didn’t
understand that, so they failed in treating each other with the due respect.
HaShem showed that, on the contrary, He considered them far
more important than they considered themselves, and He showed it by killing
them. Because it’s only the greatest people that HaShem treats that way, judging
them k’chut hasearah, to a hair’s breadth. The fact that they were judged
so harshly for their chet proves that they must have actually been on a
very high level, and were in fact deserving of much greater mutual respect.
Successive generations have to learn from this; that in spite of our present
lowliness, we represent something much greater than ourselves.
One additional point: Shleimos is not just about
perfecting myself. If I focus exclusively on my own perfection without
concerning myself about other people, I have missed the whole point. You can’t
be perfect unless you perfect others, too. There’s a Midrash Cheifetz that says
v’ahavta l’reacha k’mocha—the way to love your neighbor as yourself is by
making the other person like you, similar to you. That is, if you really love
the other person, then k’mocha, make him like you. If you reach a certain level
of spirituality, then try to help him to reach that level, too.
By Avraham Avinu it says that he brought others under the
kanfei hashechina: “hanefesh asher asu bacharon.” Not nefashos,
plural; but hanefesh, singular. It was his, Avraham’s nefesh! He
perfected himself by perfecting others.