Rabbi Norman Schloss
This week's Torah portion provides a description of all of the Jewish festivals that occur during the year. The Torah starts with an overview of Shabbat, followed by Passover, then a very detailed account of the mitzvah of the omer period (in which we presently find ourselves) that leads up to the festival of Shavuot.
This week's Torah portion provides a description of all of the Jewish festivals that occur during the year. The Torah starts with an overview of Shabbat, followed by Passover, then a very detailed account of the mitzvah of the omer period (in which we presently find ourselves) that leads up to the festival of Shavuot. Finally, the Torah concludes with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. In truth, this passage is a microcosm of the laws of all the Jewish festivals in the Torah.
During this past week we also celebrated Lag B'Omer, a day of respite from the mourning observed during the omer period. Our tradition tells us that, in Mishnaic times, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died during this time period. The Talmud relates that these students died because they were lacking in their personal regard for one another.
The Chiddushei HaRim, a great Chassidic leader and Torah scholar in the 19th century, had an interesting insight that pieces together all of these parts. He made the following observation: We know that both the Shabbat before Sukkot and the Shabbat before Passover have special names. In most years, the Shabbat before Sukkot is called Shabbat Shuvah (the Shabbat of Repentance) and the Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat). Does the Shabbat before Shavuot also have a special significance and title?
Throughout the Talmud we are taught about the importance of derech eretz (proper social conduct). In Ethics of Our Fathers, the sages make many references to derech eretz. The Midrash, in order to stress the importance of proper conduct, tells us that Hashem used derech eretz as His guide in creating the world. Hence, the phrase: "Derech eretz kadmah laTorah - proper social conduct preceded the Torah itself." Therefore, said the Chiddushei HaRim, the name of the Shabbat before Shavuot (the day on which we received the Torah) should be called Shabbat Derech Eretz - the Shabbat of Proper Conduct.
We just had a reminder on Lag B'Omer of the reason for this period of mourning. How fitting that on this Shabbat, when we read about the festivals, that we remember what each one stands for. As we approach the festival of Shavuot, let us remember the significance of Shabbat Derech Eretz, and by putting into practice this very important trait, may we bring about the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah) speedily and in our time.
Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.
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