Insights and Inspiration
From theHoly Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 10th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 27 -18th of Iyar 5772
33rd Day of Omer
Parshat Behar/ Lag Ba'Omer
Dancing with Hashem
I could swear his feet were not touching the ground as he circled around and around. His eyes were closed heavenward, his curly side-locks (payot) and glistening white beard swaying in the air with his hands stretched out as if they were holding the hands of his Creator. Grabbing anyone to join him in the middle of the circle, Sefardi, Teimani, Chasid, Black hatter, soldier, secular and anglo rabbis from Karmiel :).
"Anachanu Ma'aminim Bnai Ma'aminim-We are believers the children of believers" they all sang with him together. Welcome to Meron. Lag Ba'Omer 5772.
Only Jews could make a holiday on the day that one of our greatest sages Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the 1st century Mishanic leader) passed way. For many other nations this might be a day of sadness and mourning. In traditional Judaism the period of Omer (the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot) is our period of mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva- the teacher of Rabbi Shimon- who passed. Yet, on the day of Rabbi Shimon -Lag- the 33rd day- the mourning comes to an end (or is interrupted) as we celebrate the tremendous legacy Rabbi Shimon left us on the day of his passing- the fire and the secrets of the hidden and mystical aspects of the Torah and universe that are found in the teachings of Kabbalah.
As I walked through the jam packed streets of Meron (over a half a million people come over the course of the day) I watch Hashem's children who have picked themselves up from their mourning as they dance and celebrate like crazy. Circles after circles around bonfires. There are 10's of Kiosks and tents that are set up offering free food (kugel, cake, chulent, sandwiches) drinks, wine donated from people and organizations around the world. The rich, the poor there is no difference when it comes to that small mountain top we are all one joined in dance, song, prayer and Torah. The way it should be...it used to be... it will be.
This week we read Parshat Behar. It is named that after the first verse in the Parsha
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe- Be'Har- on the mountain- of Sinai" The Parsha then goes on to detail the laws of the Sabbatical Year and the 50 year Jubilee year and the incredible laws that take place during these years. All land that was sold is returned to their owners in the 50th year, The land cannot be worked, slaves are freed, debts are declared exempt and most importantly the obligation to assist those that are struggling. The Medrash asks the question as to why these laws are particularly singled out as being taught at Sinai? My father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Sorotzkin in his monumental work Meged Yosef, explains the Medrash's response that there have been many attempts throughout history to create societies in which all were equal, where one is not treated any less because of their financial hardships, their social status, where those more fortunate were obligated to care for the more needy. Yet, they have failed. Judaism is different. We are a nation that has its eyes and its memory firmly planted on that mountain where we were born as a nation. The Torah can mandate that I forgive the debts that are owed to me, I do not charge interest on loans I lend, I leave my land- the source of my income barren-giving it a Shabbos, I free my slaves because we remember where we came from. We remember that what made us a nation is how we all stood as one after having left the slave pits of Egypt. We swore we would never forget that unity, that responsibility, that heavenly mandate. We remember the mountain.
Other nations do not have that mountain to look back to. Ideals of equality, sharing of wealth and renunciation of our hard earned possessions and acquisitions fall to the wayside without a recognition of our Divine Benefactor who wishes all His Children to appreciate the goodness, freedom and blessing of having and being sufficient enough to serve Him. We understand with those miztvot that were given to us on the mountain that no matter how desperate and tragic our situation, there will come a time of Jubilee when we return to our ancestral heritage, when our debts are finally forgiven. When we will experience the final Shabbos together with Him. It is with that knowledge that we can pick ourselves from our mourning and dance, we can celebrate the greatest light that explodes from the darkness and we can float and sing and stretch out our hands to heaven to dance with us.
I went inside to pray by the grave of the great Rabbi Shimon and I came out about an hour later and the old Rabbi was still dancing in the middle. I asked someone who he was. He did not know his name as well, but told me that he had been there all night dancing, floating, singing. It seemed from what I gathered that the Rabbi had lost his children and family in a tragedy. Lag Ba'Omer, had become his day. The day when he felt he could dance and pick himself up again. The flames of the bonfire around which he danced were a testament to the flame and spirit of the eternal souls that we have. Just as all our souls are united and forged as one and a spirit of Hashem. So too in drawing every type of Jew together closer to that warm flame in joy he was creating that eternal connection we all shared to dance with Hashem.
From Mt. Sinai to Mt. Miron, may Hashem bring us all together one again on his eternal Temple mount in Jerusalem once again rebuilt.
"Lag" Samayach and have a spectacular Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ LAG BA'OMER YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
This years lighting- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnqNoUMhooA
And feel for the atmosphere of holiness and joy- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4ddawKlzQo
RABBI SCHWARTZ FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the vote decide everything- Jospeh Stalin (Y"M"SH-of cursed memory)."
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai- The second largest internal tourist site in Israe,( after the Kotel) due to its over ½ million that make the annual Lag Ba'omer pilgrimage besides the thousands that come year round, the grave site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Miron is always a cool and incredible place. Although there are testaments of sages from the 11th and 12th century that would visit Miron and go to the graves of the great Hillel and Shammai, the tradition of Rabbi Shimons grave site only goes back as early as the times of the great Kabbalist the Arizal in the 1600's. The more modern pilgrimages though only date back to the 1830's when the Abo family, Algerian Olim, who lived and served as chief Rabbi of Tzefat purchased the grave sites from the local arabs which was until then being used as sheep and cattle-herd shepherding area. It was he who built the traditional building that we have to do (although it has been fixed up since then). In appreciation of that until this day the traditional Lag Ba'Omer festivities begin each year with the arrival of the sefer torah scroll from the Abo home in Tzefat. Not long after the Rozhiner Rebbe purchased the right to light the bonfire each year, although he never made it to Israel however until today his descendants the Rebbe of Boyan is the first to light the annual bonfire.
Today the annual pilgrimage brings many who come to pray for children, Jews throughout the world donate money for "Chai Rotel" 18- is the amount donated (a sign of life) to provide three liters or so of wine to be shared at the grave site, they come and light bonfires and dance and most fun is watching many young jewish boys get their first haircut at age 3 fulfilling the custom that states that the 'fruits of your tree" should be let to grow wild and not be cut the first three years.
All year around Miron is a cool place on Lag Ba'Omer it is the coolest!