Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 12th 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 29 16th Iyar 5777
Parshat Emor / Lag Ba’omer
I am not a Kabbalist. I don’t even wear a red string. I hang out a lot in Tzfat, the city of Kabbalists. But mostly I tell stories and show people lots of cool art. Now don’t get me wrong. I respect Kabala, I certainly am a huge fan of the Ari”Zl the one who really promulgated the widespread of Kabbala teachings to the masses in the 1500’s. It’s good for business. After-all almost all of the graves in Israel that lots of tourists come to visit, are identified pretty much by him. He’d walk around and divine the different spirits and tell us where they were buried. Most of our customs throughout the year actually are based on kabbalistic teachings. Certainly a lot of the ones; Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat, Simchat Torah dancing, Hoshana Rabba braches klopping, kreplach eating, chicken swinging kaporas, regular Mikva going…Ok maybe I’m getting a bit carried away with the last few. Certainly the one kabbalistic day of the year. The day that really didn’t start until the ARI”Zl in the 1500’s is the day that will be celebrated all over the Jewish world this week, none other than Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer.
Until the Ari”zl no one even knew that the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the one who revealed the primary work of Kabbala known as the Zohar to the world and whose anniversary of his passing is commemorated on Lag Ba’Omer, was in Meron. There was in fact an ancient tradition that there was a cave on this mountain and in the cave was a spring and both Jews and Arabs would come and pray by the graves there. It was known to be the grave of none other than the great Hillel. In the 1500’s the ARI arrived there one fine Lag Ba’Omer morning with his 3 year old son in hand. He gave him the first three year old ‘first haircut’ or chalaka or upsherin (depending on where you’re from on what you call it-another fun custom in any event) and revealed to the world that this was in fact the grave of Rebbi Shimon. The mountain top hasn’t been the same since. The day hasn’t been the same since. Every year more and more Jews join the bonfire parties here up in Meron and all around the world. This is good for tourism J, as I said I’m a fan of Kabbala.
The truth is though it is certainly a strange phenomenon. There is no other sage in the history of Judaism that has all of the Jewish people celebrating on the day that passed away. Not Moshe Rabbeinu (although Chevra Kadishas (Jewish burial societies) generally have a special day on the 7th of Adar), not Avraham Avinu, not Aharon HaKohen, Yehoshua, King David, or Eliyahu Hanavi. None of them. Now don’t get me wrong, Rebbi Shimon is certainly a tremendous figure in Jewish life, in fact there is not a perek in the entire Talmud that doesn’t mention his name, making him the most quoted rabbi in the Talmud. Yet he was certainly not on the levels of our Patriarchs or Matriarchs or any of the prophets mentioned in the Tanach. So why him?
As I said I am not a kabbalist, but in the 49 day period of the counting of the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot it seems that all of us become a bit of a Kabbalist. There is a prayer that has become a custom to recite andis printed in most siddurim. It asks Hashem to purify us in the merit that we have counted the Omer of this particular day that corresponds to one of the 7 heavenly emanations that corresponds to the 7 weeks of Omer. Now Kabbala warning alert. Whenever you see the word emanation you have to say uh oh, this is about to get spooky. Well sorry to disappoint you, as I said I’m no Kabbalist. If I were I would probably be selling you some red strings with every sponsorship of this weekly E-Mail. I can however share with you some basic words that I have heard that describe this concept, more than that I’m scared that you might turn into a toad. Besides the fact I don’t know how many of you are reading this in the bathroom.. where you can certainly not study Kabbala or any Torah for that matter. So just skip down the bottom jokes if you are. Any way from what I understand the world was created and organized with 10 different ordered emanations from Hashem. They correspond to different attributes by which way we can elevate and connect the universe to Him. The truth is there are really 10 sefirot-(the Kabbalistic word for these emanations). Yet the upper three chochma-wisdom bina-understanding daas-knowledge (or Chabad) are the methods of perceiving them. The seven other ones are chesed-kindness, gevura- strength tiferet-beauty, hod- splendor, netzach- eternity, yesod-foundation and malchus- kingship. Now if you’re eyes are starting to glaze over don’t worry I’m not going to explain any of this. Just keep saying it like every good Jew after you count the Omer without paying much attention to its meaning, it will score you points, trust me. I will however focus on one of the 7. It is after all Lag Ba’Omer time, and Reb Shimon did reveal the Kabbala to the world so we can dabble a little bit on his special day.
See Lag Ba’Omer falls out on the sefira of hod sheb’hod splendor of splendor. [Each day we mention a sefira and each sefira is composed of all the other 6 sefirot so each one is really two-if this doesn’t make sense, you’re just as much of a Kabbalist as I am]. The word hod is an interesting word. It is in fact the same root as the word hodu-which doesn’t only mean turkey in Modern Hebrew, but in fact means praise or thanksgiving. There is another word as well for beauty it is called hadar. In this week’s Torah portion in describing the mitzva of Etrog, the citron that we take on Sukkot is referred to a pri eitz hadar a fruit of a beautiful tree. The Malbim explains the difference between the two that hod refers to inner beauty and hadar is external beauty. The Etrog is meant to be beautiful on the outside. It’s why every examines its color, it’s shape, they make sure there are no blemishes and pay a lot of money for a really nice one. We are told as well not to be (Vayikra 19:16) mehader the face of a great man in judgement-meaning don’t externally show favoritism. Hod on the other hand is the internal beauty. Hodu thanksgiving is an internal appreciation of the beauty and greatness of something. It is an internalization that leads to praise.
The secret of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is that he was an individual that was always able to see the pnimiut ; the deep hidden greatness of Hashem’s creation and his people. He personified hod she’bhod- the beauty within the beauty. In fact Rav Zevin has an incredible piece that he wrote on Rav Shimon where he follows this theme through all of Rabbi Shimon’s’ halachic positions in the Talmud. Rav Shimon is the one that suggests that one who does a forbidden act on Shabbat without any intent is exempt biblically, if he does the act even with intent but not for specific purpose of the act he is also exempt. (Melacha She’ein Tzorich Lgufo and Davar She’eino miskaven for my more learned readers who are certainly not in the bathroom). Wherever the internal does not connect to the external according to Reb Shimon it’s not the real deal. It is the hod, the internal that always defines something. It is why he is the one that can reveal the Zohar, the secrets of the world. It is why, our sages tell us that when it looks like he has departed an even greater beauty and appreciation of him can be achieved. For he becomes entirely hidden, he becomes hidden in each of us. Reb Shimon is the one sage who saw in each Jew that despite their externalities and their observance level even on the soul level we are all bnai melachim-children of the King. Forever, never to be tainted by anything that may happen in the external world.
It is no wonder than that we are told that mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva who died during this period ended on Lag Ba’Omer. For they were punished for not treating one another with the proper honor. Yet when Lag Ba’Omer the day of Rebbe Shimon, the day of beauty within beauty arrives. Then the true glory of each Jew comes out. It is impossible to not be an awe of every single Jew, It is the day when our inner shine shows the most. We all break out in song, we all break out in thanksgiving. You don’t have to be a Kabbalist to appreciate this for the light is shining as bright as the bonfires that light up the otherwise dark night. It is our huge yartzeit candle for this great tzadik who gave us the power that is so critical to receiving the Torah on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. The power to unite as one people and to stand before Hashem and all accept together responsibility and an appreciation of the Divine part that each Jews has to play here in this world. So fire up flames, lets’ sing and dance. It’s Bar Yochai time once again.
Have a bright and mystically uplifting Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week's Insight and Inspiration is sponsored anonymously by a dear friend in honor and appreciation of the really great Joke about the wasps and the bees last week. It is really nice to know that there are those of you that actually make it all the way down to the end. I mean I can’t imagine that anyone would just open up this weekly E-Mail just for the jokes right?!
Thanks so much- we’ll take it for whatever it comes for, if we bring a smile on your face, I’m happy tooo.. And I think Hashem is as well…
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SHABBOS PARSHAT EMOR
CANDLELIGHTING- 7:01 PM
MINCHA & KABBALAT SHABBAT- 7:15 PM
SHACHARIS- 8:30 AM
MINCHA 6:45 PM
MAARIV 8:20 PM (10 MINUTES AFTER END OF SHABBOS)
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Mit fremdeh hent iz gut feier tsu sharren.”- It’s good to poke the fire with somebody else’s hands.
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/rQnTodvonmk - Lag BaOmer 1935 In Meron…hasn’t changed much…NOT
https://youtu.be/7ZgkZKN1rtY – Beautiful Acapella song by my good friend Gershon Veroba BaYom Hahu
https://youtu.be/4RXRRx3WKbc –Lipa making Lag Baomer music with bow and arrow.
https://youtu.be/7l498XL3ChU - The Living Wells- Flicker-Lag Baomer rap
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q A Nobel Prize Laureate:
A. Dr. Chaim Weizmann
B. Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz
C. Prof. Ada Yonath
D. Prof. Yuval Ne’eman
A. Dr. Chaim Weizmann
B. Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz
C. Prof. Ada Yonath
D. Prof. Yuval Ne’eman
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
At the end of this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us the story of the person blasphemed using the name of Hashem. Hashem tells Moshe the way to carry out the death penalty.
Vayikra (24:14) Remove the Blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those who heard shall lean their hands upon his head: the entire congregation shall stone him.
On the words “their hands” Rashi notes an interesting halacha
“They say to him, ‘Your blood in on your own head and we will not be punished through your death, for you caused it to yourself.’
As we know there are tons of laws and nuances that realte to every mitzva the Torah mentions. Rashi though did not write his commentary to teach us the laws and mitzvos. He is there merely to give us insight into the pshat-the simple understanding of the verse. So why does he bring this law down?
Rav Isaac Cher suggest an interesting idea based on the above law. With that seemingly he seems to be answering the question that Rashi seems to be troubled with. Why are the witnesses and judges placing their hands on the mans head. That type of ritual seems to be an act of contrition similar to when one brings a sin offering. What sin did they commit? Or what sin would it seem like they are atoning for?
He answers that the Talmud tells us that when a man is being sentenced for blaspheming Hashem’s name the witnesses must repeat for the testimony before he is taken out to be killed the actual name of Hashem and the words that the condemned man recited in order that the court is certain what he said before he is executed. It is for that reason that they do semicha-the laying of their hands upon his head. They tell him as Rashi notes- that we will not be punished ‘through your death’-meaning that we who had to utter Hashem’s sacred name in order to give you the death penalty will not be punished for doing so. See, there is always an insight in Rashi in the reading of the text. Some times you need to go back to the sources and check out the laws he is pointing out. But if you do, you are sure to learn something new.
Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik Sher (1875-1952) – In Lithuania perhaps one of the most prominent yeshivot was in Slobodka. The ideology of the Slobodka Yeshiva was premised on the ideas of its founder Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel, better known as the Alter of Slobodka. It posited the idea of the greatness of man, created in the image of God, with a supreme mandate to repair and uplift the entire world. The students of Slobodka were taught to behave and act with aristocracy, for as being the ones privileged to study Torah all day, they were chosen to be the elite of the world. This was not a form of arrogance which obviously would be a negative trait, but rather a sense of obligation and responsibility and of esteem building. Rav Isaac Sher the son-in law of the Alter was the one that transmitted that legacy to the post World Wars Torah world. He served as a teacher in his Slobodka Yeshiva in Europe and when the yeshiva moved to Israel he was a co-Rosh Yeshiva until ultimately he founded the yeshiva in Bnai Brak. He is most known perhaps for really beginning the concept of the Rosh Yeshiva not merely being the one that would give the Talmud discourses but would as well give the Mussar and ethical lectures in Yeshiva. One of his primary ideas that took hold in the modern yeshiva study of Torah is that the great men in the Torah and even the wicked ones were all acting on levels way above what we can comprehend and their flaws and sins should not be understood in the way that we would relate to them in our small 21st century outlooks
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Reb Arehlech- Toldos Aharon – Anyone who has ever been to Meah Shearim has seen them. They are the chasidim with the “zebra colored frocks. On Shabbos they wear beautiful gold ones. The story goes that when the Old Yishuv of Jerusalem was first founded in the late 1800’s the arabs did not want to let them back in the city until the repaid the debts that were owed to them, when the ashkenazic Jews borrowed a lot of money for the building of the Churva shul of Reb Yehudah Hachasid. They therefore put on the more colorful caftans of the sefardic Jews and denied being ashkenazic in order to move back in. Whether the story is true or not, I can’t tell you. I heard it from a tour-guide and you know us tour guides. But the Toldos Aharon chasidim certainly are the core and history of the ultra-chareidi neighborhood of Meah Shearim. Walking amongst them one feels as if he has stepped back in time to the old ghetto in Europe. Although the current leader, Reb Dovid Cohen, was actually a Rav in Monsey New York until he moved back to replace his father who had passed away in 1996.
The original chasidus was established and named for Reb Aharon Roth a student of the Satmar Rebbe who moved to Israel- or Palestine as it was called then and that they most probably prefer for it to be called today, in the 1920’s. He was very connected to the mitzva of reciting Amen, loudly and with fervor and his chasidus was called the Shomer Emunim. The chasidus has split a few times with different internal fights and sibling groups opening up. The customs of the community, which number about 1000 families (and they ain’t small families) consist primarily of maintaining the old modest and certainly highly spiritually oriented way of living. Their dress, their lifestyle their homes, the language they speak and the way that they celebrate and live their yiddishkeit is truly old country. They also staunchly oppose the State of Israel, as the Satmar Rebbe and their chasidim which they come from do. They will not take money from the government and they see the establishment of a secular State in Israel or any state for that matter before the coming of Mashiach to be an act of the Satan and obviously not a good thing. The two times a year when they are most visible and it is truly amazing to see them are on Sukkot when they have Simchat Beit Hashoeiva parties each night and this Saturday night on Lag Ba’Omer in Meron where they traditionally have the major central bonfire and festivities.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TERRIBLE ISRAEL JOKES OF THE WEEK
At the local Talmud Torah School they brought in a fireman to talk about safety before Lag Ba’Omer. He brought some visual aids with him including a smoke detector. The fireman pressed the button to demonstrate and asked the children if anyone knew what it meant when an alarm sounded from the smoke detector.
Little Moishie Mehlman immediately raised his hand and said, "It means my Abba is cooking dinner."
Top Ten Signs Your Rabbi lost count of the Omer
10. Claims “It's too early to count.” It's 10pm.
9. Wishes the entire congregation a “Happy Lag Baomer!” on day 23
8. When you ask him “what night did we count last night?” He asks you for multiple choice
7. Keeps wondering when Tishabav will be so he can shave already
6. You're pretty sure you just heard him count the 84th day of the omer
5. You just realized, he's counting down
4. Apparently Day 13 now has “9 weeks and 3 days” to it
3. First time in the history of man: rabbi actually passes an honor off to cantor
2. As he's reciting the blessing, you notice his son in the back of the synagogue who is trying desperately to sign 17 with his hands
1. Proudly recites blessing and day off of his handy dandy Omer-Count calendar, dated 2006
Answer is C – Since 1966, there have been twelve Israelis who were awarded Nobel Prize, the most honorable award in various fields including chemistry, economics, literature and peace. To be honest I did not know the answer to this one and to be more honest it was the only guy that I never heard of on this list. Chaim Weizman the first president and I believe it is certainly an important name to know. As well Leibowitz the brother of Nechoma lebowitz the religious author was a controversial religious figure and scholar that was associated with the Left wing of Israel and was an Israel prize winner. Neeman was also a Israel prize winner for laying the foundation for the discovery of the quark and founded the Israel space program. The correct answer was this lady Ada Yonath who was the first woman in Middle East to win and the first woman in 45 years to win for chemistry. She discovered something to do with the ribosome. Why I would possibly know that or should any tour guide know that I have no clue.