Friday, May 20, 2011

Lag Ba'Omer: We're All In This Together

This Motzaei Shabbos, Am Yisrael is going to enter into a brief window of time where a tremendous amount of spirituality will enter the world. A special deal. A limited time offer. The largest yearly gathering of Jews anywhere in the world. This Motzaie Shabbos six hundred thousand Jews will converge on Meiron, the small town in the north of Israel – home to the Kever, the burial place of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai - better known simply as Rashbi the sacred author of the Zohar, the centerpiece of all of the hidden secrets of the Torah.

What’s happening this Motzaei Shabbos? It’s Lag Ba’Omer, the thirty-third day between Pesach and Shavuos, which happens to be the day that Rashbi passed away. But don’t worry – the end of the Zohar describes this day in detail and begins with the introduction where Rashbi says that his whole life was in anticipation of this day. On this day his life comes fully into fruition. On Lag Ba’Omer Rashbi tells of how he can reveal on this day more than any other.

But that’s not the only excitement of Lag Ba’Omer. It’s famously explained that this is the day upon which Rebbe Akiva’s students stopped dying. The end of this plague too is a reason for commemeration.

There are those that enter into Lag Ba’Omer thinking about Rashbi. There are those whose intentions are focused on the students of Rebbe Akiva. But when we attempt to approach matters with more depth a very poignant question must be asked. We know already that the Jewish cycle of the year is really a series of different spiritual energies that enter the world. Everyday has its nuance which translates into the importance of that day. There is something very unique about the tenth day of Tishrei that creates Yom Kippur. If this is true then it must be that if multiple things fall out on one date then automatically they must be related. Therefore if Lag Ba’Omer is the date on which two separate occurrences took place – namely the celebration of Rashbi and the commemoration of the death of the students of Rebbe Akiva then perforce we say that they are linked.

Based on this out question becomes deeper. Lag Ba’Omer isn’t just anywhere on the calendar. Lag Ba’Omer is just that – on the Omer. The Omer is our path to Shevuos and Kabalas HaTorah. Whatever the connection between the two facets of Lag Ba’Omer is, we need to analyze it in the context of it’s centricity to the national acceptance of the Torah.

(My Rebbe, Rav Yoel Rackovsky brought down a beautiful illustration of the importance of Lag Ba’Omer to Kabalas HaTorah: David HaMelech says, Gal Einai V’Abita Niflaos MiTorasecha - Open up my eyes and I will see miracles from Your Torah. Gal (Open up) spells Lag [33 – as in the day of the Omer]. Niflaos is really broken down into two parts: Nun Plaos - fifty wonders. What is David HaMelech saying? Perhaps one level of understanding is this. ‘Gal Einai’ Let me see the world through Lag, meaning Lag Ba’Omer, V’Abita Nun Plaos MiSorecha and I’ll automatically connect to the fifty wonders – the fifty phenomenal days that lead to Kabalas HaTorah. I can’t have Sfiras HaOmer without Lag Ba’Omer. Hopefully we will come to understand why this is so.)

Why did Rebbe Akiva’s students die? The Gemara tells us that they didn’t act with proper respect between one another and for this Hashem sent a wave of death that reduced Rebbe Akiva’s Torah kingdom to rubble. (Why their lack of respect garners a death penalty is a completely different topic, and not the one of this essay, nonetheless this is what happened.) The Gemara, in its description of the tragedy, throws in the two cities between which these students lived. The commentators point out that these two towns are actually not that far away from one another. What emerges is that these people were probably close socially. Their geographical situation allowed for lots of potential closeness – which wasn’t there. They could’ve been very close and they passed it up.

Rashbi is the total opposite. From Chassidishe and Yeshivish to the completely non-observant. Six hundred thousand Jews make the trek up to become unified by him. He’s got that power. There is no being a germy by Rashbi. Claustrophobia ceases to exist on Lag Ba’Omer. In Meiron, everyone is your brother and you best friend – no matter how different he is. I’ve experience this first hand.

The physical reality is merely a symbol of the spiritual essence. How does Rebbe Shimon do it? What does Rashbi have that brings Jews together? He tells us himself. It is said in the name of the Zohar that the spreading of the concepts of the deeper aspects of Torah that he revealed, Pnimius HaTorah - is one of the main vehicles that will bring the Geula. The profundity of Torah gives us the strength and the insight to see and tap into the inherit holiness that permeates the very physical and seemingly mundane world around us. Redemption means Kibbutz Galios - ingathering of the exiles. All the Jews from all of their various colorful backgrounds, Jews from all over the world are and will be drawn together by the Zohar’s propelling redemptive force. And therefore they all converge on his Kever on his deepest day - Lag Ba’Omer..

The important thing is that in contrast to Rebbe Akiva’s students who could’ve be close and weren’t - Rashbi takes those who wouldn’t normally be close and brings them together. These two things happen on the same day become one is the answer to another. The problem faced by Rebbe Akiva’s students could have easily been solved by the messages of Rashbi. It’s now clear why the end of the plague coincides with the revelation of national unity via Pnimius HaTorah. The plague ends when the message comes out.

And as we’ve discussed in other essays – it’s absolutely impossible to have a national acceptance of Torah without complete and total unity. As Chazal explain: We are told that there are six-hundred-thousand root souls of the Jewish nation which correspond to the six-hundred-thousand letters of the Torah. Just as Halacha declares that if there is one letter missing the whole Torah scroll is rendered invalid – then in the same way the Jewish people suffer as a whole if they do not come together as individuals to create that unit. And this explains that if the wholeness of the Torah is intertwined with the unity of Am Yisrael then the Midrash which says that the Torah was only able to come down in a situation in which all Jews were present. If we are whole down here, then it can come to be with us. Based on this we understand why Lag Ba’Omer falls out during our journey to Kabalas HaTorah. We see the depth of Gal Einai V’Abita Niflaos MiSorasecha. We can’t get there without this.

Perhaps we can take things one step deeper. Hashem operates with this world through seven emanations called Sfiros or Midos. These spiritual modes of communication mirror themselves as character traits in man. Through our refinement of those Midos from our end we liken ourselves to our Maker and therefore automatically we become more holy.

Each one of these seven can be seen in the light of the other seven. For example – the first Midah of Chessed has within it all the other seven. If all seven have all seven then the result is forty-nine combinations in all.

Each one of these forty-nine combinations has its very specific Avodah mirrored on man’s end that stems from the uniqueness of its factors. If you look in your Siddur you will see that each one of the days of Sefira is dedicated to the refinement of one combination of Sefiros (they come from the same root for good reason). Each weak one Midah is taken as the big picture and then all seven are passed through it as a prism. Therefore on the fifth day of the third week, the fifth Midah in the series is seen in the context of the third etc…

The fourth Midah in the series of seven is called Hod. Hod, which literally means ‘Glory’ is described as the ability to empty myself of my biases and pre-concieved notions to make room for a greater presence. The Bitul - the nullification – of desires, distractions and predispositions - that is required in so much of our Avodas Hashem is rooted in Hod. But that’s just in regards to our relationship with Upstairs. There is Hod in my interpersonal relationships as well. Those people who it most difficult for me to get along with require the same implementation of Hod if there is to be nay chance of fostering a relationship between the two of us. If I get see past my own ego, if I remain stuck in my own perspective and fail to remove myself from the equation to see a bigger picture – then I nix the opportunity to create something very deep with those who seem not to be able to stand.

If the fourth Midah is Hod, that means that Hod becomes the theme of the fourth week of the Omer. In the same vein, the fourth day of the fourth week with be the day of Hod within the context of Hod. The fourth day of the fourth week becomes the day where I am most able to rectify the interpersonal relationships that I find more than just challenging the rest of the year. The fourth day of the fourth week is exactly thirty-three days into the count. Hod within the context of Hod falls out on Lag Ba’Omer.

Lag BaOmer is time where we will be uniquely empowered to achieve in our relationship with the divine via improving our relationships with our neighbors. Lag Ba’Omer is a central and pivotal step in the process of making it towards Matan Torah. Because if we are unified, if we come together in the name of making the world a more meaningful place - everything that Rashbi is trying to teach us - then that togetherness only creates an exponentially more potent Kabalas HaTorah.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to be empowered enough to implement Hod as a means to achieve the deepest possible levels of Gal Einai V’Abita Niflaos MiTorasecha. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to the Creaotr and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!


  1. Aryeh Leib ShapiroMay 22, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    Very Nice my friend, keep up the great work!

  2. Great vort from Rabbi Rackovsky!
    Yasher ko'ach.