Rav Wozner, Rav Kook and the Omer

The Jewish people as a synergetic entity.

Tags: Omer
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism ספירת העומר
ספירת העומר

”It is a positive commandment (מצוות עשה) of the Torah to tell of the miracles and wonders that  were done for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as the Torah says:

‘Remember this day on which you left Egypt (Exodus 13;3). This is similar to ‘Remember the Sabbath’ (Exodus 20; 8)"(Rambam, Yad Hachazakah, Hilchot Pesach, Chap.7;1).

The juxtaposition of Pesach Seder and Sabbath (Shabbos) means that the Jew's awareness of both, and their contribution to a Jew's identity, must be articulated (in the one instance as the Haggadah, and in the other as Kiddush; Rav Matis Weinberg). I would like to go further, and show how the laws of Shabbos shed light on one detail of this holiday, the Omer, especially as seen in the thoughts of the Rav Avraham Y. Kook, and of the Shevet Halevi, Rav Shmuel Wozner, who passed away and was buried this week:

The Talmud (Menachot 65) describes how the Sadducees in the period of the Second Temple attacked the Oral Torah (Torah she'baal Peh), denying its Divine origin. The Sadducees attacked mainly two  laws: the date of the Omer sacrifice, and thus the date of the Shavuos holiday, which is fifty days later; and the daily Tamid sacrifice.

Of the Omer, the Torah says: “You shall count (fifty days)from the day following the Sabbath “(Vayikra 23; 15). The Rabbis explained that in this verse, “Sabbath” refers to the first day of the Pesach holiday; thus, we are to start counting the fifty days until Shavuos, starting 24 hours after the beginning of the Seder night.

The Sadducees argued that Sabbath means just that: the seventh day of the week, i.e. our weekly Jewish Day of Rest. On the other hand, the Rabbis said that according to the Oral Tradition, going back to Moses from Sinai, "Sabbath" here refers to the Yom Tov, the first day of Pesach.

Rav Kook explains that the Torah is justified in using the word “Sabbath” to refer to Yom Tov because all Yom Tov days derive their holiness from the Sabbath, just as all our Oral Torah derives its holiness from the Written Torah. The Sadduccees, however, denied all such parallels: Sabbath-Yom Tov, Written Torah-Oral Torah.

Moreover, Rav Kook argues, the holiness and very existence of Written Torah and Sabbath belong in the realm of individual Jew (prat). Yom Tov and Oral Torah, however, belong to an entirely different dimension: that of Klal, of the All, of the united Nation of Israel. Thus, only a united Israel has Sanhedrin that can declare a day "holy", i.e. holiday/Yom Tov. On Yom Tov, during the times  that the Temple stood, all of Israel gathered in Jerusalem, united as they never were all year long ; even many distinctions based on the Tumah(ritual purity) were waived, to allow more mingling and unity.

Rav Kook adds that this Unity is למעלה מגדרי חלוקה- it is indivisible. In more modern terms, the entity Klal Yisrael, United Israel, is an emergent phenomenon (Rav Matis Weinberg). The Nation of Israel is NOT simply an aggregate of many individuals (prat-im), as are the nations of the world. Ideal IsraeI (not the Israel we have now), being a Klal, is an entity totally separate from the parts that comprise it: just as one cannot find a personality, or a soul, by cutting up a human brain, so one cannot find the Malchut (literally, Kingship; this is a level attained by Israel every Shavuos, after fifty Omer days of purification and unification; it is represented by King David's relationship to the holiday Shavuos, and parallels Israel's acceptance of the King of Kings, as Israel's Heavenly King, at Sinai) in the individual citizens (prat-im) of Israel. Malchut is present only in the self-organized aggregate ( Rav M. Weinberg).

As far as Oral Torah: it too belongs to the realm of the Klal. It has been produced by the entire Nation, acting throughout the Nation's history, producing a product that only the myriad, uncountable connections of Israel's students of Torah could create over millennia.

This is what the Sadducees would not accept. They denied the existence of the emergent phenomena of Oral Torah, of Yom Tov , of Davidic King- and of communal sacrifices. The latter argument, over the Tamid sacrifice, was this: Sadduccees claimed that any individual Jew could pay for the communal Tamid sacrifice. The Rabbis, backed by Oral Tradition/Law, decreed that the communal sacrifice, coming from that different, Klal dimension of emergent phenomena, could be brought only from the Temple's national treasury. The individual Jew belongs to a different realm(prat), not to that higher level of Klal/community; thus the individual cannot pay for the communal Tamid sacrifice.

This is the background to Rav Wozner’ s contribution to the Omer. Omer, עומר, literally means sheaves; and Imur is the gathering of stalks together to form sheaves, an activity prohibited on the Sabbath. This is where the Rambam's connection of Pesach to Shabbos, with which we started this dvar Torah, enters the picture:

The Rambam holds that one is only liable for violating Imur, עימור, on Shabbos if he ties together the sheaves he gathers. This obviously fits entirely with the Klal picture of Omer which Rav Kook painted, based on the Gemara. The only problem is, that Halakhah (the Shulchan Aruch) makes no mention of this requirement (tying the bundled sheaves) for liability; the Shulchan Aruch mentions only a different requirement, mentioned in the Tur, that one is liable only if one gathers together produce in the place where it grows in nature (thus excluding liability for gathering together scattered fruit in one's house).

Along came the Shevet Halevi, the late Rav Wozner zt'l, one of the greatest poskim of our times, and brought THE UNIFIED THEORY OF OMER/IMUR, to borrow a phrase from physics: when one gathers produce from where it grows, there is no need for tying the bundles, as the Shulchan Aruch states. However, when one gathers produce scattered about in a place where it does not grow, to be liable one has to tie it, as the Rambam says; this is like (דומה) lmur/m'amer, and one has Torah liability for a derivative (תולדה) of the melechet lmur/m'amer.

In explaining why this is not true lmur/m'amer, Rav Wozner says that "the action is not considered the melacha of Imur/m'amer if one merely gathers together scattered particles (prat-im) without uniting them in one body". Again, this echoes Rav Kook’s prat-Klal contrast.

Thus, Rav Wozner brings us full circle, determining Shabbat Halakha in a way that follows Rav Kook's philosophy of Omer/Pesach. Of course, it would be nice to think that every individual living in the Land of Israel feels part of a united Klal, merely because he lives on the Land (i.e., because this is where he ”grows"). Unfortunately, this is not true, at least in the physical sense: simply living here is not enough to create unity as a nation. We still lack the added Klal dimension that takes on the emergent character of Malchut.

As a nation, our education lacks elements to generate such cohesion among all individual Israelis; the “tying” element is thus necessary, but it is not to be found (except during times of war). We can only pray this Pesach, the 49 days of the Omer holds in store for the Nation of lsrael a maturation to the heights of what we can truly be: a Klal Yisrael united in brotherhood, in the Kingdom of Moshiach and the Lord Almighty.