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Lag B'omer (5767)
This week's section contains sixty three commandments most of which deal with the Jewish holidays, one of which is 'Counting the Omer'.
The 'Omer' was a sacrifice of barley brought to the Holy Temple on the second day of Passover. It is a commandment to count from then till the holiday of 'Shavuot' 49 days later.
Jews have been doing this for some 3,300 years.
And some 1,900 years ago on the 33rd of these 49 days they added another holiday called 'Lag B'Omer' (The Hebrew letters LG stand for 33) which this year comes out immediately after this Shabbat.
It is the day that the Holy Scholar Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai (nicknamed the Rashb'i) passed away after revealing Torah mysteries that are essential in bringing Moshiach found in his mystical masterpiece called the "Zohar".
And bringing Moshiach is so essential that even Rabbi Shimon commanded that on this day all Israel should rejoice.
Therefore, every Lag B'Omer the children in Israel rejoice around thousands of bonfires spread across the country. In Meron, the site of the Rashbi's grave, almost a half-million Jews sing, dance and pray for twenty four hours non-stop!
But what has Rabbi Shimon's passing got to do with the commandment of the 'Omer' counting? There must be a deep lesson here; nothing in Torah is accidental.
To understand this here are two stories about Rabbi Shimon. Both of which occurred over a thousand years after his passing.
Over 400 years ago, some 1,500 years after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived in Israel, another holy Torah genius who taught secrets of the Torah by the name of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, or as he is best known, Ar'i Zal (Zal means 'of blessed memory').
The Ar'i Zal, who was probably the greatest Kabbalist (master of mystical Torah secrets) of all time, was very careful to take all his pupils every year on Lag B'Omer to Meron and see that they rejoice at the Rashbi's grave.
But one of his greatest pupils, Rabbi Avraham HaLevi, had a hard time rejoicing. He was a holy and very sensitive man who felt the suffering of the Jewish people in exile and mourned the destruction of the Temple constantly; especially in every prayer and every blessing he said.
He tried but he couldn't allow Lag B'Omer to make him forget his pain. And amidst the rejoicing he said a prayer of mourning for the Temple.
Just moments after he finished his prayer he felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see the Ar'i with a serious look on his face.
The Ar'i took him aside and told him that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai just appeared to him, and told him that the pupil that mourned on this day of rejoicing will soon have real cause to mourn.
It seems that the holier the Jew, the more G-d demands from him, especially the pupils of the Ar'I whose job it was to save the world. On Lag b'Omer is a revelation of Moshiach and the Third Temple he will build and the job of the Ari's pupils was to rejoice and advertise this feeling - not ignore it.
Several months later Reb Avraham experienced a tragedy and lost someone dear to him. (G-d is not so exacting today however.)
Another Lag B'Omer there was an opposite story regarding one of the Ari's 'smallest' followers.
The Ari had brought his pupils to Meron and was watching them dance along with the hundreds of other Jews there when a very impressive looking, impeccably dressed old man stepped out of the crowd, grabbed the hand of the caretaker of the Ari's synagogue, a simple Jew by the name of Elazar who also came along, and began to dance with him.
The other pupils, rather amused at the old man and their very ordinary caretaker becoming the center of attraction, stood in a circle around them and joyously clapped their hands and sang and watched them dance.
But then the unexpected occurred; the Ari himself, who was usually removed from the physical and rather rejoiced in the 'upper' spiritual worlds, broke from his reverie and joined them in their dancing! First he linked arms with the old man and then with the janitor and danced fervently, seemingly with no limit to his energy.
The pupils were truly amazed. Everything the Ari did was according to the deepest heavenly secrets and certainly his dancing with this simpleton was no exception. At the first opportunity they would ask for an explanation.
Sure enough a few hours later they found time to ask and the Ar'i replied with a smile.
"Do you know who that old man was? Have any of you ever seen him?"
When no one answered he continued. "Well, if he danced with Reb Elazar then it must be that our janitor is not as simple as he seems. I certainly had to dance with him.
"That old man was ….. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself!"
Later it that 'simple' janitor became renowned as indeed a holy genius by the name of Rabbi Elazar Azkari and authored the book 'Sefer Haraidim'.
This answers our questions.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai appeared to the Ar'i in the first story and to the entire crowd in the second because he is really not dead!
True, the Talmud teaches that all Tzadikim (totally holy Jews) live eternally.
But the uniqueness of Rabbi Shimon is that he taught others to also live forever as well! His book the Zohar contains ideas that change people's priorities in life and reveal what is the true, unique optimism found only in Judaism.
Optimism that will eventually bring an end to all war, suffering, ignorance, sickness and …. Even death! Indeed, according to Jewish belief even those that died will return to life in the raising of the dead… something like it was at Mount Sinai (see Tanya end of Chapt. 36).
Similarly, the Zohar explains that the purpose of this Counting the Omer was to prepare the Jews psychologically to receive the Torah and 'See' G-d (Ex. 24:10,11) at Mount Sinai where death was also erased (until they bowed to the Golden Calf).
And it is also a preparation to us today, now, for Moshiach who will rejuvenate the Torah and the entire creation again wiping out death forever…. Completing the work of the Rashb'i!
But it all depends on us.
Today we have the hundreds of volumes of Chabad Chassidut (ask in your local Chabad House) that will enable every Jew, and even gentile, to put meaning and blessing in the world and achieve the goal of all creation. As the Rashb'i of our time; the Lubavitcher Rebbe said:
We must do all we can to prepare for and hasten the arrival of.....
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