Parashas Tazria discusses the laws of childbirth. These laws follow parashas Shmini, which discusses the laws of kashrus. The Ramban explains that this juxtaposition, (of kashrus and childbirth,) hints that good children are the result of parents and children who are careful with kashrus.
Chazal explain that if you eat non-kosher foods, you become impure. This is because forbidden foods bring impurity into a person's heart and soul, Hashem's holiness leaves him, and he becomes distant from Hashem. [These matters really occur by all sins] as it states (Yoma 39:) 'Sins shut off the heart of man.' Sins remove the clear thinking and true intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives his chassidim (righteous) as it states, 'Hashem gives wisdom…' (Mishlei 2:6) and he becomes like an animal immersed in the crassness of this world. [But] the sin of eating non-kosher foods is worse than other sins since the food enters the body, and becomes part of the flesh… If a person has intelligence, he will consider non-kosher foods like poison, or like food that has poison mixed into it. If that would happen, would one be lenient and eat it, even if there’s just a slight chance that there's poison? He certainly wouldn’t! If he would, people would consider him insane. Non-kosher food is the same, because it’s poison for the heart and soul. Therefore, if he has intelligence, how could he be lenient when there’s a possibility that it’s not kosher? About this the verse states, 'Place a knife in your throat [to prevent you from swallowing doubtful food] if you fear Heaven' " (Misheli 23:2). We now understand why non-kosher food is so harmful for children. It’s like feeding them poison, which distances them from Hashem and from having a pure and straight mind.
Non-kosher food shuts off the heart, and generates a bad nature in the child."
The Ramban explains that non-kosher foods create a nature of cruelty for the consumer and the holy Jewish nation must have the attribute of חסד ,kindness.
The Zohar (Mishpatim 125:) teaches, "How did Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya pass the test [and allow themselves be thrown into a furnace, rather than to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol]? It's because they didn’t become impure with non-kosher foods. [Furthermore] it is written, 'Daniel chose that he wouldn’t become impure with [Nebuchadnezzar’s] non-kosher food' (Daniel 1). [Nebuchadnezzar] ate cheese and meat, and other foods and these were on his table each day Daniel was careful, and therefore when he was thrown into the lions' pit… the lions were afraid of him and didn’t harm him…"
The Kedushas Levi teaches that in the future, every Yid will be a prophet, as it states, 'Your sons and your daughters will prophesize," and therefore, every Yid must be cautious from eating non-kosher foods.
The Pri Chadosh (Yorah Deiah 81:26) elaborates, "Chazal tell us that when a child eats non-kosher meat, we aren't obligated to stop him. Although this is the halachah, nevertheless, you should stop him because non-kosher food will harm him in his older years, and it will create a bad nature in him. The result will be that he will go and stray from religion. In our generation we are not careful with these matters, and that is the reason children go off and most of them are chutzpadig, and their hearts don’t fear Heaven. Even if we rebuke them, they aren't able to accept mussar… Who was greater than Elisha ben Avuyah (called Acher) who ended up sinning. The Yerushalmi (Chagigah) tells that this happened because when his mother was pregnant with him, she passed a house of idol worship and smelled what they were cooking there, and the smell entered the child's body like poison. Therefore one must be careful with these matters."
The yom tov שבעות (Shavuot), which literally means "weeks," is named for the seven weeks of the omer that precedes it.
The seven weeks of sefirah are an optimum time for attaining spiritual growth. We have the potential to rise higher and higher each day.
The Or HaChaim HaKadosh (Vayikra 18:2) writes, "I heard that Reb Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal) said that sometimes a person changes and he doesn’t know the reason. He wonders, "How did I change so much?" The Arizal taught that it happened because he ate food that had badness in it, or that carried a bad soul of a gilgul… When one eats this bad spark or this bad soul, it changes him from being good to being bad. Badness will increases in him. In contrast, when one is cautious from eating forbidden foods, he will desire things that are important for the neshamah. As it says, "I want to do you will, Hashem," and the reason is 'Your Torah is in my stomach' (Tehillim 40:9)." I am cautious to only eat kosher foods.
During sefiras ha'omer we elevate ourselves from being on the level of animals to becoming proper human beings. So great is our growth at this time of year! (see Aruch HaShulchan 489:6).
As known, the purpose of Gehinom isn’t to punish, but to purify. The suffering in Gehinom cleanses the souls to enable them to go to Gan Eden. The Chidushei HaRim teaches that just as in heaven, the purification term happens between Pesach and Shavuos, so too, we purify ourselves in these weeks between Pesach and Shavuos. And, if people take advantage of this time, between Pesach and Shavuos, to purify themselves, they won't need to come on to the purification process of this time in the next world in Gehinom.
Counting the omer is a fairly simple mitzvah. It's comprised of a blessing, a daily count, and a prayer הרחמןfor the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. Some add a few more paragraphs. Let us be aware that this “simple” mitzvah is far more potent than we might give it credit. These few words purify us and raise us from the level of an animal to the level of a human being. It polishes our souls to shine like the sapphire luchos, and it connects us to our Father in heaven. It’s therefore wise to perform this mitzvah the best way you know how. Nevertheless, we must realize that regardless of how the mitzvah is performed – even when it is performed in the most simple, basic way - it purifies us immensely.
The Ra'n (Pesachim 28.) writes, "Most commentators agree that sefiras ha'omer in our time, when we don’t sacrifice the korban omer, is a mitzvah d'Rabbanan. [The purpose for the mitzvah d’Rabbanan is] to remember the Beis HaMikdash, when this mitzvah was applicable…. The Midrash states [another reason for counting the omer]: When Moshe Rabbeinu told the Jewish nation 'You will serve Hashem on this mountain' the Jewish nation asked, 'Moshe Rabbeinu, when will we do this service?' Moshe told them, 'In fifty days.' Everyone began counting the days. Due to this count, the chachamim established that we should count sefiras ha’omer. According to this Midrash, in our generation, when we don’t bring the korban omer, we count fifty days towards the happiness of [the giving of the] Torah, to commemorate how the Jewish nation counted these days [in anticipation for matan Torah]. The primary reason for counting the omer is in commemoration of of the Beis HaMikdash [when counting was a Torah obligation]…." We’ve learned two reasons the chachamim decreed we should count the omer: (1) to remember the the Beis HaMikdash, because one must always remember the glorious era of the Beis HaMikdash, and to yearn for its rebuilding. (2) In commemoration of the Jewish nation who counted the days in anticipation of mattan Torah.
Each year on Shavuos, Hashem gives us the Torah again. Therefore, the purpose of the counting can be to express our anticipation, and joy for the day when we will receive the Torah. Accordingly, it isn't only a commemoration of the past, but an expression joy and anticipation each year, anew.
The Sefer HaChinuch (306) writes, "The essence of the Jewish people is the Torah… They were redeemed from Mitzrayim…[primarily] so that they could receive the Torah at Sinai and so they can keep the Torah… Because receiving the Torah is the utmost perfection and good, even greater than redemption from slavery… Therefore, we are commanded to count…to show our desire for this special day… We can compare this to a slave who counts the days towards his freedom. He is always counting, 'When will the time come when I will be freed?' because counting shows your desire to reach that time…"
Even when a Jew falls, he should never feel detached and lost. He can still look forward, to the receiving of the Torah, for the opportunity to yet serve Hashem correctly in the future.
Reb Yankele Galinsky zt'l tells that he was once on a very long train ride through Russia. There were three tier bunks on the train, but Reb Yankele didn’t get a bed, and he had to sleep on the floor. "One night," Reb Yankele said, "I was extremely tired. I lay down on the ground to rest, but as soon as I closed my eyes, a Russian, who was sleeping in one of the bunks, began to shout, "I'm thirsty! I want to drink! I'm so thirsty...' I couldn’t sleep because of the raucous he was making, so I got up and said, 'Give me your thermos,' and I filled it with water. I thought that I could then fall asleep, but when I returned to my place on the floor he began shouting again. This time he was saying, "Boy, was I thirsty! I was so thirsty." He carried on, disturbing Reb Yankele’s sleep. The moral of this story is that when one thinks he’s finished with a struggle, a new struggle comes along to test him. Similarly, after you’ve overcome the yetzer hara, the yetzer hara will return again, this time with a new tactic, to test you again. We just need to keep on battling the yetzer hara, time and again, until we succeed.
The Ramban (Vayikra 23:36) writes that the days of sefirah are like Chol Hamoed because they are between two holidays. Pesach is at the beginning and Shavuous is at the end, therefore the days in between are holy, just like Chol Hamoed.
Shulchan Aruch (493:1) states, "The custom is that one doesn’t marry a woman between Pesach and Shavuos … until Lag b'Omer, because at this time, the students of Reb Akiva were niftar…" The Rebbe of Ruzhin zt'l explains that the reason for not making marriages differs among people. Those who sanctify the days of the omer, and treat them as Chol Hamoed, don’t marry during sefirah because just as we don’t marry on Chol Hamoed, we shouldn’t marry in sefirah. Those who don’t treat these days with holiness also don’t marry during sefirah, but their reason is because these are days of mourning, since Reb Akiva's students were niftar at this time. So it’s up to the individual to consider these days Chol Hamo’ed or as days of mourning. Either way, the halachos and the customs will be exactly the same, but the experience will obviously be entirely different.
The Rambam writes, "Just as a person must repent for his sins, so must one seek out his bad thoughts and middos that need correction, such as anger, hatred, and the like. One must do teshuvah for all of these."
Reb Elyah Lopian told another parable to express the importance of good character traits: Two people in Russia were arrested for dealing with counterfeit money. One was caught with thousands of counterfeit bills in his possession. The other crook had the printing press, which printed counterfeit money, in his cellar. The one with the counterfeit bills was sent to jail for a year. The second criminal, who owned the press, was sent to prison for seven years. The latter didn’t think it was fair. He said, "Is this justice? That man had thousands of counterfeit bills, and he is only imprisoned for a year. But not one counterfeit bill was found in my possession! Why should I be imprisoned for seven years?" The judge explained, "The punishment for owning thousands of counterfeit bills is one year imprisonment. But you have the printing press in your home, and there is no limit to the damage you can have produced. Therefore, your crime is even worse, and you deserve seven years." Similarly, Reb Eliyah Lopian explained, when one has bad character traits, there’s no limit to the amount of bad that he may do. Consequently, bad character traits are even worse than sins itself, because there’s no limit to the corruption bad character traits can lead to.