Sunday, April 15, 2007
MUSIC, SEFIRAS HaOMER and JEWISH UNITY
First, let’s take another look at the Pesach Haggada, if you will, for a moment. In the fifteen "Dayeinus" that we recite about midway through the Seder, there’s a curious stanza: "If He [G-d] had only brought us close to Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, dayeinu – it would have been enough." Oh, really? What is the significance of coming to Mount Sinai if not to receive the Torah???
The Imrei Aish of Modzitz gives a beautiful answer to this question. On the verse, "Vayichan sham Yisrael neged haHar – the Jewish People encamped there [at Sinai], opposite the mountain" [Shemos, 19:2], Rashi explains that the People are referred to in the singular [vayichan, not vayachanu] because they encamped "like one person, with one heart" – they were fully united. That is, as soon as they approached Mount Sinai, even before the Torah was given, the Jewish People achieved a tremendous accomplishment – complete Jewish unity. Therefore, we say to this, "Dayeinu," it would have been enough for us. For this accomplishment alone, of Jewish unity that we attained upon approaching Mount Sinai, we should graciously thank Hashem – for loving our fellow Jew is indeed "a great general principle [Klal Gadol] of the Torah."
With this in mind, I’d like to present HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu Shlita’s response to the question, "Why do we not listen to music during the Sefiras HaOmer period?" This is my free translation of an article which appeared in the weekly Mayanei HaYeshua for Parshas Shmini [this past Shabbos].
(Other bloggers who have dealt with this question include our good friend, A Simple Jew, whose post is here; and of course, Chaim of Life-of-Rubin has had many posts on it, including this one from last year, which he has reaffirmed this year. Chaim also links to “Has Sefira Music Gone too Far?”, which is quite interesting, too.)
However, I think Rav Eliyahu’s response is very much in keeping with Jewish Unity, so without further ado, here’s what he writes:
HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu Shlita
The days of Sefiras HaOmer are the days which link the Exodus from Egypt, the freedom from physical enslavement, to the spiritual Redemption – our drawing close to G-d. Only after the tenth plague did Pharaoh understand what Moshe Rabbeinu was trying to explain to him previously and gently. Moshe was saying [to him], you should know that it is impossible to serve G-d in Egypt. We need a spiritual Redemption before the physical one. In the end, Pharaoh sent out the Jewish People and they received the Torah. Sefiras HaOmer also teaches us the opposite – that the Exodus from the physical exile is not a Geula, a Redemption, without the Torah.
Sefiras HaOmer turns these two holidays [and holy days] into one unit. And this is as true today as it was then, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Perhaps it was for this reason that it is written in the holy Zohar [Emor, 97b]: "Any one who does not perform this counting [of the Omer] is not considered pure, and it is not fitting that he should have a portion in Torah."
The Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim ztvk"l, writes concerning Sefiras HaOmer: "One should be extra cautious in refraining from anger, quarrels and disputes, at home and outside, and he should show signs of love and friendship, to both his family members and others." The reason for this is to teach that the spiritual connection to Torah is related to the connection that is necessary between every one of the Jewish People. As we know, the giving of the Torah began when the Jewish People at Mount Sinai were "like one person, with one heart." So, too, in our time, the preparation for the receiving of the Torah depends on the middos [character traits] of bein adam l'chaveiro, between man and his fellow man, which are learned in Pirkei Avos [Ethics of the Fathers, which are studied between Pesach and Shavuos].
We know that the Torah scholarship of the 24,000 pupils of Rabbi Akiva did not hold [i.e., they were punished - all of them died during the Sefira period - despite their scholarship], because they did not respect each other enough. It should be noted that they did not despise or insult one another, but just did not have the proper respect – and Hashem is stringent with his chassidim [pious ones] even to a hair's breadth.
We also know that this defect is not only an historical one. It was a major cause of the destruction of the Second Temple, part of that baseless hatred which destroyed the House [of G-d] which has not yet been rebuilt [meaning, that its cause still exists]. It is for this reason that we have some customs of mourning during this period. Every time we are distressed over not listening to music, we should remind ourselves to increase "signs of love and friendship, to both family members and others." [my emphasis]
And it is for this reason that we rejoice on Lag B'Omer, the day that Rabbi Akiva began to teach his five talmidim [disciples]: Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNeis, Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Nechemia. These five talmidim repaired what the previous 24,000 had ruined. As they grew in Torah learning, they grew in their love for each other [and every Jew] and in displaying cordiality. From this great light and cordiality the Zohar eventually emerged from them.
Finally, in the Ben Ish Chai’s (Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s) Haggada, Orach Chaim, the Rei’ach Tov writes: "A Jewish person must have love for his fellow man and strive for unity at all times. But during these days [of Sefira] one should be extra cautious to distance himself from any form of quarrel or dispute. For you already know what happened to the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva during these days. Hashem in His infinite mercy should help us, for the sake of the honor of His Name."
UPDATE! Chaim has a wonderful roundup of "Sefira music" acapella style, including a link to this post! Thanks, Chaim!