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Parashat Emor: Preparing for Matan Torah

One of the topics discussed in Parashat Emor is the Misva which we observe each night during this period between Pesach and Shabuot – the Misva of Sefirat Ha’omer, to count the forty-nine days from the 16th of Nissan until Shabuot.

The meaning of this Misva can be understood by considering the name of the Yom Tob it leads to – "Shabuot." Rather than refer to this Yom Tob as "Zeman Matan Toratenu" ("the time of the giving of the Torah"), as we refer to Shabuot in our prayers, the Torah instead refers to this holiday as "the holiday of weeks." Why?

The answer is that we need to prepare for this Yom Tob during the weeks leading to the event of Matan Torah.

The Jewish holidays do not merely commemorate historical events. Their role is not simply to help us remember what happened. Rather, the spiritual forces that were at play at the time these events transpired resurface each year at the time we commemorate those events. This means that on Shabuot, we not only recall the event of Matan Torah, but we experience it anew. Each year, it as though we return to Sinai and once again accept upon ourselves the Torah.

And this is why the weeks leading up to Shabuot are so crucial. If the celebration was only commemorative, there wouldn’t be much to prepare for. But since Shabuot is about reexperiencing the event of Matan Torah, we need to prepare for it. Just as our ancestors needed to undergo a growth process after leaving Egypt to prepare for Matan Torah, we must likewise prepare ourselves during these weeks after Pesach so we will be ready to properly accept the Torah anew on Shabuot.

The Mishna in Pirkeh Abot (6:6) teaches that "the Torah is acquired through forty-eight things." There are forty-eight indispensable attributes that we must master in order to properly "acquire" the Torah, and the Mishna proceeds to list all forty-eight. It has been suggested that the forty-eight days of the Omer correspond to these forty-eight attributes, as on each day of the Omer we should try to focus on one attribute so we can properly prepare for Matan Torah. The forty-ninth and final day of the Omer, the day before Shabuot, is when we are to try to review all that we’ve learned and gained the previous forty-eight days, so we enter Shabuot fully prepared to accept the Torah.

We obviously cannot go through all forty-eight in this context, so we will simply point out two: "Ema" and "Yir’a" – reverence and fear.

Torah, unlike all other disciplines, must be studied with a certain aura of reverence. When it comes to all other fields, it makes no difference what one wears while he studies, in what kind of environment he studies, and what his mood is as he studies. Torah, however, must be learned with a degree of fear, with a feeling of reverence.

The reason can be understood from the Talmud’s statement that since the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash, G-d is present wherever Torah is studied. The Shechina (divine presence) used to rest in the Bet Ha’mikdash, and now rests wherever a Jew studies Torah. If we approach Torah learning with this awareness, we will naturally study with "Ema" and "Yir’a." When the Kohen Gadol completed the special Yom Kippur service, during which he entered the holiest chamber of the Bet Ha’mikdash, he would make a special feast, celebrating his having survived this experience. This is the level of fear evoked by being in Hashem’s presence in the Bet Ha’mikdash – and this is how we should approach Torah learning, as well. We need to realize that as we study Torah, we are like Kohanim serving G-d in the Bet Ha’mikdash.

How fortunate we are to have received such a precious gift – the Torah, through which we are able to live in G-d’s presence. May we always cherish this great privilege and commit ourselves to take full advantage the opportunity we have to draw close to the Creator through the study of His Torah.

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