Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 16th 2014 -Volume 4, Issue 30-16th of Iyar 5774
(31st day of the Omer-four weeks and three days!)
Parshat Bechukotai/ Lag Ba'Omer
Rabbi Shimon and UsWhat would Rav Shimon say? Five hundred thousand people converging on a small mountain top in honor of his "Hilula". The most common reason for this huge gathering which seems to have started with the great Kabbalists in the 16th century and the great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria known as the "AR'I", is that it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai the great 2nd century Mishnaic sage passed away. The annual pilgrimage to his gravesite seems to have taken on a life of its own over the past few decades though making it the 2nd most visited site in Israel for internal tourism only surpassed by the Kotel/Western Wall. For us in the north of Israel, Rav Shimon's grave is kind of like our Kotel up here. It's where people got to pray in times of need. A place where special occasions take place, three year old haircuts, Bar Mitzvot and even before people's weddings this mountain top is where they seem to flock. The truth is for centuries and almost two thousand years that we did not have real access to Jerusalem and the our holy sites there, the Jews in the North sought alternate places where they could connect to that special feeling of closeness to Hashem and where they could pour out there hearts. The tradition of coming to Meron even precedes Rabbi Shimon and Lag Ba"Omer as sources as far back as the 1000 years talk about pilgrimages to the grave site of Hillel also found on Meron on Pesach Sheni (the make-up Pesach) which is also around this time of year. So I got to wondering what would Reb Shimon have to say about all of this? What would he think of the bonfires, the Barbeques, the haircuts, the singing, dancing, rejoicing and celebrating? Do you think he would've come to this party?
It's interesting in Judaism we do not really have any holidays that revolve around an individual. St. Patrick, Valentine, Hallows and other "martyred" people is pretty much the other teams way of celebrating and selling greeting cards. Not that we have any shortage of martyrs, though. We've got the world's record on that-as much as the world would like to not record it. No, our holidays are about connecting with Hashem, tapping into some spiritual force through the celebration of that season. So to have a day about Rabbi Shimon, the only man in the history of the Jewish people to have a day celebrated so widely in his honor there must be something special that he did. Something special that we are meant to tap into from this celebration. It would be ironic though if he wouldn't come to this party.
This year in particular I wondered what he would have to say as like all Jewish things in this country-there's a big ideological debate about when to do the Hilula celebration. Although seemingly being that it is accepted by most as the day that he died (although others say it is the day that he came out of 12 years of hiding in cave from the Romans, and others as the day that he was buried, or that the secrets of the Kabbala were revealed by him to the world- but regardless it is the 33rd of of the Omer) that it would not be able to be postponed. However the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as well as other Rabbis have said that the celebration should take place on Sunday evening and Monday instead in order to avoid much of the desecration of Shabbos that the preparations of an event of this size would entail coming if it would to be celebrated on Lag Ba'Omer which is Saturday night. For hundreds of thousands of Israelis though that are ardent traditionalists and don't take their guidance from the Chief Rabbinate-perhaps even feeling that it is a mitzvah of sorts to do the opposite of what they say- we always have Jews that are like that, the party must go on when it is meant to. You can't change Lag any more than you can change Pesach, Shavuot, or my wifes chulent recipe. Not being one to take sides, I try to party and Barbeque on both. Hey, who am I to say no to an extra steak. What day would Rabbi Shimon want it to be celebrated-if at all…
I'm not sure what Rabbi Shimon would say. When he and his son came out of hiding from the cave the first time our sages tell us that he couldn't fathom a world where people were occupied with anything but Torah. A holy zealous fire came anywhere they placed their eyes-think Superman laser vision style- and the world began to burn. This was until Hashem "walked in" and sent everyone back to their room for another 12 month time-out. This Rebbi Shimon I don't think would be too much into the BBQ's and running up to Meron, certainly not for yeshiva students. After 12 months though Rebbe Shimon it seemed learned his lesson. He healed anything his son, who was a little slower on the pickup, was still burning. When they saw a man carrying myrtle branches for Shabbat, rather than fry the guy for wasting time he told his son "look how dear the mitzvoth are to the children of Israel," . This Rebbe Shimon who is also quoted as saying that "All of Israel are children of a King", and who then began fixing up the roads to the city of Tiberias so that simple Jews and Kohanim/Priest could travel there without having to traverse by graves in order to give back to his holy brothers and to Hashem. This Rebbe Shimon might enjoy seeing Jews singing and dancing songs to Hashem around a bonfire. We definitely could use him to fix the roads and travel conditions over there.
I'm not sure what Rebbe Shimon would say. But this week's Torah portion certainly has something to say about the significance of our responsibility for one another. Parshat Bechukotai, the last portion in the book of Vayikra primarily occupies itself with telling us the various blessings and curses that would fall upon the Jewish people upon their entry to the land of Israel, depending upon their behavior. If we follow the mitzvoth we are promised rain, great crops and lots of fruits. Hooray! The verse than tells us the ultimate blessing. "And I shall give to the peace in the land". Rashi notes that this is the greatest blessing of all. The only problem though is that right after that it continues with the blessings describing battles in which are enemies will run from us; five chasing hundred and a hundred chasing ten thousand. Ten thousand people, even though they are on the run, doesn’t necessarily sound like peace in the land even though this is the Middle East. The Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides take a different approach though. "And I shall give peace in the land… between yourselves"-says the Ibn Ezra. "So that there shall be peace between and one brother shall not wage war with another" says the Ramban. Hashem's promise is that there shall be peace amongst us first only then will we be able to do battle and chase away our enemies in such a miraculous way.
In a much stronger way as well the Torah in the portion of the curses for not following the mitzvoth tells us- "And they will stumble, each man over his brother as if from before a sword, but there is no pursuer". There it is Rashi that brings a Medrash, that this verse is not merely talking about confusion in battle. Rather the verse is telling us "that each man will stumble over the sins of another, because all of Israel are guarantors for one another." Each Jew is responsible for our fellow Jew. His sins, his mistakes are not things that should divide us and tear us apart. Fire shooting eyes at those that are not there yet, will just get us sent back to the caves of persecution. We can't ignore them and live and let live either. We must find a way to reach out and get close and come together. We must appreciate that each Jew has that spark that feels the mitzvoth are dear to him or her. If we are together and we are at peace with one another, and even more than that, we appreciate the fact that we are truly responsible for one another, than we can merit the land. Without it, we will never make it…we are sent to exile.
One of the other reasons and perhaps the most ancient source for the celebration of Lag Ba'Omer we are told is that during the period of Omer the students of Rabbi Akiva died.24,000 of them. On Lag Ba'Omer though, the dying stopped. The Talmud tells us the reason they died and were punished so harshly is because they did not treat one another with respect. Rabbi Shimon was one of the five surviving students from whom Rabbi Akiva once again rebuilt the Torah and restored the glory once again to this world. It is perhaps for that reason that when he came out once again from his exile he sought ways to bring Jews together again. It was therefore why he was the revealer of the hidden secrets of the Torah and the Kabbalah that seek to see deeper beyond the basic laws and observances but to get to the heart of the Torah, the soul that connects us. The unity of Hashem, his people and the land.
I'm sure Rabbi Shimon would be pained, that there are Jews that are violating the Shabbos for his Hilula. Perhaps even more painful to him would be the fact that there are Jews that are not pained by this. That haven't reached out or inspired so many out there with the beauty, joy, inspiration and celebration that Judaism could be. At the same time the Ari tells us that Rabbi Shimon rejoices in all the Jews that come to his grave and he blesses them before our Heavenly father. To see Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Hasidic, Lithuanian, Yemenite, Zionist, Ethiopian from all levels of observances and backgrounds coming together, here in Eretz Yisrael and rejoicing and providing food for one another for someone who loves Jews, loves unity understands that we are all connected, there can be no greater joy. When we celebrate Lag Ba'omer we pause our period of mourning and recall the divisions amongst us that let to our destruction and we reunite once again. Rabbi Shimon is the individual that was at the worst of times and who turned the world back once again on the path to our return. May we all celebrate that day together, not just in meron and not on two separate divided days but as one nation, under God, indivisible with holiness for all.
Have a magnificient Shabbos and a fantabulous Lag Ba'Omer,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week's Holyland Insights and Inspiration is dedicated in honor of the sweet sixteen birthday of my son Yonah. We are so proud of your learning, your incredible Aliyah and what a super super adult and ben Torah you are growing to be…May Hashem continue to bless you and may Mommy and I continue to see only joy and nachas from you!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Peace in Israel will come when an Arab mother will love her child more than she hates a Jewish one"-Golda Meir
"Mashiach will come when a Jew loves all of Hashem's Jewish children more than he hates them for their differences from him."-Rabbi Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
What is the most common type of rock that is found in western Sharon area
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
It is pointed out that the 33rd day of the Omer-Count comes after 32 days, which is the gematria of "leiv," or "heart." After Lag B'Omer, there are 16 days left to count, the 17th day being Shavuos itself, when Torah was given. The number 17 is the gematria of the word "tov," or "good," and when combined with the word "heart," they become, "good heart." This is the objective of the Omer period. Until know we have worked on developing and formulating that Jewish heart of ours. Lag begins the final process of making it Tov;bringing out the goodness in ourselves and to one another.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
The upper Galilean hills- I have only traversed this lush and beautiful part of our country via jeep ride. But the mountains surrounding Meron, Gush Chalav, Kerem Ben Zimra are just full of amazing beautiful springs, hills and hideaways. In these mountains one can see (with the right tour guideJ) some ancient ruins of the 18 synagouges that Rabbi Shimon built in this area of where they were hiding. As well as the place where he gathered his students and wrote the Idra Rabba a kabbalistic work. In the summer its particularly cool over here to see thousands of Bnai Akiva students from around the country as they spend their summer vacations on hikes in these big campgrounds that hold hundreds of students at one time as they bonfire, sing and celebrate Israel together.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL ACAPELLA YOUTUBE CLIPs OF THE WEEK
REALLY COOL LAG BA'OMER RAP..PRETTY FUNNY AND BRILLIANT..
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S CARTOON OF THE WEEK
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is C: Geology was not my favorite topic in my course. Rocks are pretty much rocks to me. But it actually became quite interesting as we learned about sedimentary rocks and the way it froms and the things that you can tell by the various rocks that make up the fascinating geology of Israel that has been formed by flooding, volcanos, earthquakes, and land shifts. The Sharon which is the Central coastal region of Israel from Mt. Carmel down to Tel Aviv is noted for its sandstone. Once it used to be a jungle in this barren sandy plains that is full of sand dunes and swamps from the streams that flow into it. But in the 1800's the Turks chopped down the forests for wood for the train tracks they were building.