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Lag B'omer (5765)

This week's section (Bechukotai) begins with G-d telling the Jews that "If you walk in My 'statutes' (Chukim), I will give you rain in the proper time etc."

At first glance this is hard to understand.

First of all, the usual term for G-d's ways is 'Mitzvot'. Why are they called 'Chukim' here?

Second, why does G-d promise only rain? What about everlasting spiritual bliss in the world to come? What is so impressive about rain?

But really these two things; 'Chukim' and 'rain' are perhaps the deepest ideas in the Torah, even deeper than the spiritual mysteries.

First, let's take Chukim:

In the works of Chassidut it is explained that 'Chukim' means 'carved which hints at how the Torah is 'engraved' in the essence of every Jewish soul, above all spiritual levels; just as the Ten Commandments were carved in the Tablets.

To illustrate this, here is a story from the Talmud (Brachot 61). Some 1,900 years ago the Romans destroyed the second Temple and ruled over Israel. They were cruel rulers and once made a decree that it was forbidden for the Jews to learn Torah.

At that time lived the greatest scholar of all time, Rabbi Akiva whose was such a holy genius that the entire Talmud is accredited to his drive, erudition and holiness. (Sanhedren 86b)

Of course Rabbi Akiva paid no attention to the decree and not only continued learning and teaching but even gathered large groups of Jews and taught them Torah in public.

The Talmud tells us that a well meaning Jew called Papus ben Yehuda tried to bring Rabbi Akiva to his senses and begged him to stop.

Rabbi Akiva replied. "Papus, I will give you a parable to show you the folly of your advice.

"Once there was a fox walking along the banks of a shallow river when suddenly he noticed several large fish swimming around. Foxes are known for their cleverness and this fox was no exception. Rather than brutishly trying to pounce and devour his prey, which might not succeed anyway, he used his mind.

'Hello there my friends!" he yelled in a spirit of true camaraderie until he caught their attention.

"Ahhh, poor fellows! How I pity you, always fleeing from cruel fishermen with their evil nets and devices. What do say you join me up here on the dry land and we'll live together like my parents used to do! I'll befriend and protect you and then you will have free time to live normal lives!!" (sounds a bit like Sharon's peace plan)

The fish replied. "If it's true what they say that foxes are clever then you are some disappointment!

"Fool! If we aren't safe here in the water, which is both our home and our life, then how much more so will be in danger on dry land which is neither!"

Rabbi Akiva didn't pick a random parable. He was hinting that the Torah is not just a religion book, rather it is the very life and soul of a Jew.

Namely; just as fish must be united in their lifesource; so the Jew, the Torah and G-d (the source of life) are 'one'.

Similarly rain;

The Talmud (Taanit 2a) tells us that rain is the deepest of all mysteries, (along with giving birth and the raising of the dead). It's source is above even the highest of spiritual worlds (which are only 'creations') and its secret rests solely in the hands of the Creator Himself.

This is stressed in the following story about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai; the best known pupil of Rabbi Akiva;

[Rabbi Shimon, besides being among the greatest of the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishna), wrote the mystical book, 'The Zohar', which contains the teachings that will bring Moshiach. This week on Friday (Lag b'Omer) hundreds of thousands of Jews will flock to his grave in Meron (Israel) to celebrate and rejoice the anniversary of his passing.]

The Zohar (part 3 pg. 59) tells a story. Once there was no rain in Israel. The Rabbis declared fasts and prayers. People made vows, took oaths and improved their ways but nothing helped. Finally they went to Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochi to see if his prayers would work.

Instead of praying Rabbi Shimon sat down, gathered his pupils and began to explain the sentence (Psalms 133:1) "Behold, how good and pleasant when brothers sit together, also united."

And after a few minutes rain began to fall.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this short story was no small miracle. Usually rain can be bought by prayer. G-d made a covenant with prayer (especially Jewish prayer) that it can even cause Him to 'change His mind', so to speak. In fact the entire Tractate of 'Taanit' is based on this idea.

In drastic cases great Tzadikim were even called in to pray, as in the case of Choni HaMagel who, so to speak, 'forced' G-d to send rain by declaring that he would not move from a circle he drew on the ground until rain came. (Taanit 19)

But prayer only works, explains the Rebbe, if the Jews are somehow worthy that the prayers be answered - they must have some sort of hidden merit.

In our case, however, prayer couldn't help and the Rabbis knew it. The Jews had exhausted their merits and drought was inevitable. In fact, not only did they not DESERVE rain, they lacked even the spiritual 'vessels' to receive such a blessing.

That's why they went to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon was 'Carved' and United' with G-d and the Torah even more than Rabbi Akiva his teacher, in fact deeper than anyone in the history of Judaism (except Moshiach).

Therefore only he could arouse the 'Essence' where ALL the Jewish people are connected to the essence of G-d through the essence of the TORAH; above all spiritual levels and irrespective of sins or shortcomings.

He brought rain even when no one deserved it.

That is why he taught a sentence of Torah rather than pray, and why he picked a sentence that spoke of unity. "Behold, how good and pleasant when brothers sit together, also united." Because the Torah makes this essential connection real. Then the Jews have power to bring rain, birth and even the Raising of the Dead.

Rain is also reminiscent of Moshiach.

That's why both are mentioned in the second blessing of the Amida prayers. Both depend on arousing the essence of our souls and both bring life and blessing to the entire world (see Lubavitcher Rebbe's Sicha of 5752 - paragraph 13 about how Moshiach, like rain, will be physical, then 'evaporate' and again become physical to save the world).

So may the merit of Rabbi Shimon stand for us as well! May we open our eyes, reveal how the Torah is carved into our souls and bring blessing, meaning and true joy to the entire world.

With Moshiach NOW!!

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