Wholeness as the Means to Priesthood: Thoughts on Counting the Omer
The period of Sefirat haOmer is characterized by one middah in particular, temimut. Defined as wholeness, completeness, perfection, the term appears in Parshat Emor in connection with the mitzvah of Omer:
Usfartem lachem mimochorat haShabat miyom havi’achem et-omer hatnufah sheva Shabatot tmimot tihyeynah. You shall then count seven complete weeks after the day following the [Passover] holiday when you brought the omer as a wave offering.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 28:3) famously declares we’ll know that when the days of the omer are complete and perfect, we will have fulfilled G-d’s will. When we do ratzono shel Makom, we will have shabotot temimot, complete weeks. The Torah commands us to count complete weeks, and the Behag comments that the law of “temimut” – completeness – implies that there is one mitzvah to count a complete succession of days. Therefore, if one day was not counted, the mitzvah can no longer be fulfilled. In deference to this concern for temimut, the Shulchan Aruch (OH 489:8) paskens that if a person misses a day of counting the omer, he continues to count, albeit without a beracha.
The parsha opens with the following injunction to kohanim, that they are obligated to avoid defilement by coming into contact with the dead:
Vayomer Adonai el-Moshe emor el-hakohanim bnei Aharon ve’amarta alehem lenefesh lo-yitama be’amav. God told Moses to declare the following to Aaron’s descendants, the priests: Let no [priest] defile himself [by contact with] the dead among his people.
Elsewhere, in Parshat Shoftim, the Torah tells us, “”tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha,” be complete with Hashem your G-d. Rashi comments here, kol mah sheyavo alecha, kabel bitmimus.” If a person accepts with “temimus” everything that comes to him and accepts his lot, i.e. lives up to “tamim tihe”, then “az tihye imo ulechelko”, i.e. then one will be “im Hashem Elokecha”. Do simply what God wants us to do and don’t try to outsmart the Divine blueprint for life itself. A lack of temimus leads us to do things we think are better and against the Torah; we believe the Torah has our best in mind.
Commenting on the verse from our parsha on the kohanim avoiding defiling themselves through death, the Shem MiShmuel, explains that a lack of temimut is what lead to death in the first place. Death entered the human realm with the first sin, in the Garden of Eden. This occurred because both Adam and Eve had a lack of temimut – completeness and faithfulness in God. Prior to Adam’s sin, man was supposed to be eternal, however, this sin introduced the concept of death into the world, because it involved a lack of temimut. Adam and Eve made their own rationalizations to try to determine whether God’s command really applied to them. They wanted knowledge, and defied God because they didn’t trust that God’s commands had their best interest in mind. If Chava were a tamim, her response to the snake’s claims that eating the fruit would give her knowledge and make her like God should have been that if God really wanted that for her and Adam, He wouldn’t have prohibited them from eating the fruit. By not responding this way and following God, and instead trying to “outsmart the Torah” because of their temptations for the fruit and their desire to gain G-d-like wisdom, Adam and Eve brought death to the world.
A tamim accepts that certain things are best left unknown to humans, because God knows what’s best and our future and destinies lie in his domain. Immediately preceding the verse for kohanim to not defile themselves, in the previous parsha, Kedoshim, is a commandment to not engage in sorcery and fortune telling. Any man or woman who is involved in the practices of mediums or oracles (ov v’ yidoni) shall be put to death … (Leviticus 20:27). Like Adam and Eve wanting to eat of the tree of knowledge, human desires to know the future, communicate with departed loved ones, and know matters which belong purely within the G-d realm indicate a lack of temimus and a desire to be like G-d. (The concept of tamim tihyeh is used by many to explain a prohibition on consulting astrologers and witches: Tosfos, Shabbos 156, DH Kaldai, explains that tamim tihyeh forbids consulting an astrologer or conducting a lottery. The Terumas haDeshen explains that asking witches falls under the prohibitions of tamim tihyeh, and the Rema, YD 179:1, rules practically that consulting astrologers, witches, diviners, magicians, etc. are all forbidden on the grounds of Tamim Tihyeh.) Being perfect and whole before God, tamim, requires us to accept the limitations on what we should know and have. And a tamim rests with God, and God’s Presence rests with them.
Quoting the Arizal, the Shem MiShmuel explains that death is the opposite of temimus. Prior to death, a person is overcome by kochos hatumah (impure forces): “The holy neshama which resides within a person can’t bear to be connected with these evil forces and the soul departs from the body to alleviate its discomfort. This is the moment of death.” If a person clings to God and has temimus, he lives eternally and these forces don’t overpower him. He’s dovuk to the Shechina, because he’s tamim, and had our common ancestors realized this from the start and hadn’t questioned God, these kochos hatumah would have never entered. He explains that Yaakov Avinu, was an ish tam, a simple man, who embodied temimus. We say that because Jacob had temimus, he lives forever, as death, meis, is the inverse of tam, Yaakov Avinu lo meis. The Shem MiShmuel says that Yaakov was satisfied with his lot in life; he did not wonder why he wasn’t supposed to receive blessings that the Torah attributes to Esau. Yaakov is described as “chalak,” smooth; he clung to God, believed that God would give him what he deserved, and he didn’t try to outsmart the system through any matters of magic or trickery. He was satisfied with his chelek, his share, and he embodied temimus because he didn’t try to scheme to get the blessings. Eternal life and overcoming death comes simply from having this wholesome faith in God.
Yaakov is associated with traits such as eternal life, temimus, and simcha, joy, being happy with one’s lot. These are traits associated with the kohanim (indeed, Yaakov and Avraham are even described as prototypes of the kohanim, priests in the line of Malkitzedek, because they were tamim. Yaakov is called a Kohen by the midrash Yalkut Shimoni; God tells the angel, “you’ve made my Kohen a ba’al mum.” The mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim is also connected with the three avos, according to Bereshis Rabbah 43:11, which says that we were rewarded with birkat kohanim in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Baal HaTurim to Parshas Lech Lecha (Ch. 12, verse 3 s.v. v’avorchah), attributes birkas kohanim to the avos, highlighting the fact that the avos were prototypical kohanim, in a sense.
Aharon, Moshe’s brother, was the first Kohen, and we learn that he was chosen for this position because he exhibited traits like Yaakov. By Aharon, temimus is equated with kehuna. When God got angry at Moshe and Aharon after Mei M’rivah, the waters of Meribah, because of the incident with the hitting of the rock, He then informed them that they would not enter into Eretz Yisroel because of this sin. The Yalkut Shimoni points out that Aharon could have complained about this decree. He was not involved in the sin, and thus seemingly had a right to take issue with Hashem’s decree. However, he did not do so, because he was a tamim person, who accepted whatever was granted to him by Hashem.
It is for this reason, states the Yalkut Shimoni, that Aharon was appointed the Kohen Gadol. Someone who is appointed to be a source of bracha for the entire Bnei Yisroel must be equipped with this trait of accepting whatever Hashem gives him, temimus. Likewise, Aaron, like Yaakov, shows he’s pleased with his lot in life when the Torah describes him as graciously receiving his brother Moshe, who was higher in rank than he was: Shemos 4:14 says, “Vayichar-af Adonay beMoshe vayomer halo Aharon achicha haLevi yadati ki-daber yedaber hu vegam hineh-hu yotse likratecha vera’acha vesamach belibo.” – God displayed anger toward Moses. ‘Is not Aaron the Levite your brother?’ He said. ‘I know that he knows how to speak! He is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, his heart will be glad. Aaron sees Moshe come above him, but Aaron was nonetheless happy in his heart for the blessings of others and didn’t complain about his own lot because he knew God had the best in mind for him.
(Parenthetically, the Chasam Sofer, who was voted Chief Rabbi of Pressburg in the 1850s, wrote that when he was being installed as such, he encountered three types of people, corresponding to meeting him, seeing him, and having a glad heart. He noted that at this time of success in his life, there were those who boycotted, those who showed up but were angry at didn’t look at him in the face, and those who showed up and pretended to be happy for him, but who really weren’t. Aaron, he says, exhibited none of this jealousy and bitterness. He showed up for Moses and greeted him with a glad heart because he knew that this was what God wanted for Moses, and not for him, and he didn’t question or challenge it. He accepted God’s will with a glad heart. Jealousy, says the Chida, can be explained as KINAH, Kayin Nachash Ofeh Haman. Jealousy is exhibited with evil beings; Kayin, Cain, was kealous of Abel, and killed him. The nachash, the snake, convinced Adam and Eve to be jealous of God’s knowledge that they thought they could get for themselves by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The ofeh, the baker, was jealous of the sar hamashkim, and Haman was jealous of Mordechai. Jealousy, the opposite of temimus, is therefore associated with evil).
In order to be a conduit between the heavens and earth, a Kohen must himself exhibit the traits associated with life, temimus, a clinging to the Shechina. This is why a Kohen cannot come into contact with the dead. There’s a fundamental contradiction between the forces of death and the forces of temimus that a Kohen must embody. A Kohen cannot be involved in blessing the people and serving God on their behalf in the various sacrifices if he lacks the quality of simple faith and clinging to God, as death is defined by the fundamental lack of temimus.
With temimus comes simcha, joy and happiness; the Kohen believes all he has is from God. Rav Soloveitchik quoted the gemara, Moed Katan 14b, in connection with this concept: the gemara there discusses the laws of mourning on a holiday. Mourning is not observed during a holiday, because the general requirement of joyfulness overrides the individual’s requirement of mourning. For a Kohen gadol, high priest, “kol ha’shana k’regel…,” “the whole year is like a regel for the kohen gadol. That is the language of the Gemara. So the language of “k’regel” sounds like there is some idea of simcha all year round. What is the p’shat of the Kohen Gadol being b’simcha all year round? The Rav said that the p’shat of the simcha of the kohen gadol is that the kohen gadol was always “lifnei Hashem.” He quotes the Rambam in Hilchos K’lei Hamikdash 5:7. The Rambam says, “u’bayis yi’hi’yeh muchan b’mikdash,” “he had a home in the beis hamikdash,” “v’tifarto k’vodo she’yoshev b’mikdash kol ha’yom,” the kohen gadol would sit in the beis hamikdash the whole day, he would always be there. “V’lo yei’tzei e’lah l’veiso ba’lai’lah,” “he would not leave except for when he went home at night,” “v’yi’hi’yeh bei’so b’Yerushalayim v’ei’no zaz mi’sham,” his bayis had to be in Yerushalayim. That could be the explanation here. The kohen gadol was always “lifnei Hashem;” he was either in the beis hamikdash or in Yerushalayim- b’davka in Yerushalayim. The kohen gadol was not allowed to leave Yerushalayim. Why? He has an obligation to always be “lifnei Hashem;” and that is the simcha of the kohen gadol all year round.
To be tamim means to have simcha, and when we understand that this is the joy and wholeness that leads to life in its fullest, we can see how it is that temimus and misa, death, are contradictory. We can appreciate this call to be priestly, to have temimus, in the period of Sefiras haOmer. The omer is a time to develop our temimus, according to Rav Baruch Simon. We have shabosos temimos when we do the will of God, the retzono shel makom, and we prepare ourselves through counting the omer for Shavuos, zman matan toraseinu, when our people were immune from the kochot hatumah, and accepted the entire torah without philosophizing or questioning, naaseh vanishma. May we develop that temimus, that wholeness, in our lives, and in realizing that our strength only lies in God’s will for us, which will defeat the forces of death, and elevate us to the priestly purity God desires for all who cling to him in the simplicity of truth.