This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Lag B'omer (5764)
This week's section contains the unusual commandment of Counting the 49 days of the OMER; the days between Pesach (when an OMER, a dry measure of barley, was offered in the Temple) till Shavuot. Shavuot is the holiday when the Jews received the Torah and counting these 49 days, is considered to be a preparation for Shavuot.
It is unusual because it is the only commandment in the Torah that deals purely with TIME (counting days).
In addition, the 33rd day of this counting (called Lag B'Omer) is also a holiday.
On this date some 1,800 years ago Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Mystical book THE ZOHAR" passed away. Every year over a hundred thousand Jews gather at Rabbi Shimon's grave in Meron (a small town in the north of Israel) to celebrate and rejoice.
What has counting days got to do with the Zohar and receiving the Torah? Why do we rejoice at the death of Rabbi Shimon?
First, let us understand who was Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai.
Rebbe Shimon lived some 100 years after the destruction of the Second Temple. His teacher, Rabbi Akiva, is considered to be the greatest scholar of all time. At one time Rabbi Akiva had over twenty four thousand pupils and all of the Oral Torah is attributed to his genius. (Stam Mishna -Rabbi Meir, Torsefta -R' Nechemia, Sifra -R' Yhuda, Sifrei -Rabbi Shimon and they all are from R' Akiva! Sanhedrin 86a)
But he was no stranger to tragedy; all 24,000 of his pupils died (in the days of the Omer) in a tragic plague (because they were lacking brotherly love) except for five. And he himself was publicly tortured to death under by the Romans (who then ruled Israel) because of his refusal to stop teaching Torah.
The foremost of the five that remained was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
But like his teacher he was very uncompromisingly opposed to the Roman conquest, and he was outspoken. When the Romans eventually got wind of his opinions they sought to kill him and his son Elazar and they fled into hiding. This was to become a major turning point in Jewish history.
At first they hid in a Synagogue for a year and, when that became unsafe, they ran to the hills of the Galilee and hid in a cave.
Several Carob trees and a spring of water miraculously appeared there to sustain them and he and his son immediately began to learn Torah (all from memory) without interruption for the next twelve years!
Being that the Torah is the wisdom and will of the Living Eternal Creator they eventually reached unknown heights of spiritual purity and many hidden secrets of creation and of the Torah were revealed to them. But, unfortunately there were side effects; they couldn't bear the mundane world.
In fact it became so exaggerated that when they were informed (by Elijah the prophet) that the Romans seeking their lives had died and they actually left the cave … when they got outside and saw Jews busy working the land and not learning Torah, they became so irate that everywhere they looked burst into flames!!
G-d had to personally intercede and send Rabbi Shimon and his son back to the cave for another year to learn how to properly use their newfound powers. (Talmud; Shabbat 33b)
When they emerged for the second time Rebbi Shimon had learned his lesson: Everything his son Elazar (who still couldn't control his rage) destroyed with his angry gaze, Rabbi Shimon restored. He then proceeded to the city of Tiberius, asked if he could be of help and then miraculously revealed all the unmarked graves there thus purifying the entire city.
But he also discovered that he was incomparably higher than anyone in his generation: Before Rabbi Shimon went into hiding Rabbi Pinchus ben Yair his son-in-law, gave him twelve answers for each question he asked in Torah. But afterwards he gave 24 answers to each of Rabbi Pinchus' Torah questions!
In fact his holiness was so great that it was said of him "Who is the face of G-d? Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai" "One who leaves Rabbi Shimon leaves life" and he said of himself the undeniable truth: "If there is one truly great person in this generation it is ME."
Soon he was surrounded by a group of select pupils and, in addition to his new Talmudic discoveries, he began teaching the secrets he had acquired. These mysteries were written down and found such favor in heaven that G-d exclaimed, "With this treatise of yours, the Zohar, the Jewish people will go out of the exile in mercy."
In other words, the ideas in the Zohar are so essential to Judaism that ONLY they can bring about the purpose for which the Jews were chosen and the world was created: the arrival of Moshiach, global 'Creator' worship, and universal harmony and peace.
For instance, let us take an excerpt from this week's section (The Zohar is a running commentary on each Torah portion) regarding the commandment of Counting the OMER and see how the Zohar does it.
"Come and see! When the Jews were in Egypt they were in another domain clinging to impurity like a woman when she is in her impure days. After they were circumcised [before leaving Egypt all the Jews had to circumcise themselves] they entered the holy portion called 'The Covenant' and began to leave their impurity. Then, just as a woman counts seven days until she can be with her husband so G-d told the Jews to count seven times seven days in order to be purified by the spiritual level called "Holy Supernal Waters' (Chachma) and then be attached to the King and receive the Torah. Why seven weeks? So that the might be worthy to be cleansed by the waters of that stream called Mayam Chiam "Living Waters" (Bina) and from which issue Seven Sabbaths. That is why when the Manna fell it was covered with dew (the dew that will enliven the dead). But when Israel stood by Mount Sinai that dew (Keter) descended in its completion and then all death truly ceased from them. Then they united in the Holy King in His aspect of Kingship (Malchut) to receive the Torah.
"And (so it will be in the future) at that time certainly all the rivers will unite with the sea to immerse all being in purity then the life force of the world (Shechina) will become holy an unify with the Holy KING!"
In other words, the Zohar makes a cold ritual (counting days) into a living, meaningful…even mystical experience: Every 'counting brings us to a higher level of integrity and purity.
Culminating with an immersion in the sea (of Torah) and uniting with the Source of Life (rising of the dead)!
This answers our questions.
Counting the Omer comes to remind us that TIME itself is precious; every day, indeed, every instant can bring new purity and meaning into life. And Rabbi Shimon was a prime example; he never left a moment untouched. Even when he was in the cave he spent every moment in the most meaningful way and when he got out he continued to do all in his power to fix up the world.
In fact he is still continuing! His masterpiece, The Zohar teaches us also how deep, meaningful and eternal every instant of Judaism is…. and how each commandment we do gradually increases the purity in the world (like counting the Omer) until WE bring Moshiach and completely reveal all the hidden G-dliness in the world.
That is why we rejoice on Lag B'Omer; because Rabbi Shimon is even MORE alive today than ever! Even moreso than all other Tzadikim.
And through the teachings of Chassidut, that make the ideas of Rabbi Shimon alive and bring them into our minds and hearts, we will soon be dancing with ….
MOSHIACH …. NOW!!!
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.