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And the living take to heart – a lesson of humble unity and personal focus from the events of Lag Ba’Omer 5781

Thursday, 19 May, 2022 - 4:17 pm

By the Grace of G-d

 

And the living take to heart – a lesson of humble unity and personal focus from the events of Lag Ba’Omer of last year

 

 

·      We cannot understand, yet we cannot ignore

·      The first Hilula celebration, a Striking parallel

·      Reb Hamnuna Sabba, Like a fish in the sea

·      An Essential focus - an intimate, eternal, relationship

·      Passing on vs Elevating

·      Humility, a portal to the Infinite

·      And the living shall take to heart – a take home lesson

 

We cannot understand, yet we cannot ignore

The happiest of days.

Lag Ba’Omer, the culmination of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai’s life’s work is celebrated each year like a wedding. In fact, the analogy to a wedding is robust, with Rabbi Shimon’s entire weltanschauung being the loving, intimate, unity between G-d and the Jewish people.

It is beyond rational comprehension how last year at this exhibition of exultation in the relationship between man and our Creator, forty five souls, forty five entire worlds, were taken from us.

45 years ago, in the summer of 1976 the entire land of Israel and Jews around the world sat at the edge of their seats. An airplane carrying 100 Jews was hijacked and all of the non-Jewish people on board were released into freedom.

The Israeli military campaign and the subsequent miraculous victory are the stuff of history books but yet, there were days of tension and fear, and most of all the three human lives - three entire worlds - were lost.

With the blessing of audio recording we can take ourselves back to this time and listen to the Lubavitcher Rebbe describing the great miracles and offering thanks to G-d. At the same time, we hear the Rebbe teaching to not miss the opportunity to learn from the distress, and especially the loss of life involved.

What strikes me in those dialogs is the Rebbe’s approach. On one hand, G-d forbid for us to think that we understand the ways of G-d, but even more detrimental would be, on the other hand, to assume for a moment that it's just random.

With that in mind we look at what we can learn about the holiday of Lag Ba’Omar.

In the days, and the daze, after the events of last year, messages circulated on social media regarding a message in the Zohar that had uncanny parallels to the events in Meron. For every message suggesting a link, there were two that insisted that it was completely irrelevant.

The blessing of years spent being gifted the Rebbe’s perspective on life, G-d, Torah, and Judaism helped navigate the conflicting messages. My ears rung with the Rebbe’s adamant negation of attempting to invent lessons in pnimius, inner, parts of the Torah, while at the same time insisting in every situation to walk away with a compelling life lesson.

A lesson struck me one day. I was listening to the Rebbe speak about the Temple, and how it is engrained as a permanent edifice between us and G-d.

As a prooftext, the Rebbe began to teach the aforementioned Zohar.

I remember the feeling, on one hand not getting any more clarity of G-d’s inner plans, but at the same time being given a tease, a glimpse, that there is something deep here, that the events of Lag Ba’Omer in Meron represented something beyond what we can see.

In the process of working to share this, many more details came to light. The fact that this same prooftext is also the validation of our sole ownership of the Torah, the fact that the message from the story in the Zohar seems identical to a lesson we learn from Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai, and more.

I don’t feel that these words will bring clarity for things beyond our understanding. However, I hope to share the feeling that I felt when I first heard this lesson. That somehow our eternal, intimate, immovable bond with the Creator is in some way illuminated within the incomprehensible events of last year.

 

The first Hilula celebration, a Striking parallel

In the Zohar in Parshas Nasso, it describes a different Lag Ba’Omar celebration. This is going back 1800 years to the very first Lag Ba’Omer.

During that original celebration there was one noticeable absence. Eliyahu Hanavi, Elijah the Prophet, did not show up. Rabbi Shimon, who had specifically requested that everybody participate in this joyous occasion, asked him why he was missing?

He responded that he could not come because G-d had sent him on a mission. Rabbi Hamnuna Sabba was captured by the king and held with his colleagues for three days without eating or drinking.

Eliyahu had been sent to free them and he miraculously broke a wall, freeing Reb Hamnuna and his friends. He then brought them to a cave, gave them bread and water, and stayed with them all day.

What's shocking about the story is a remarkable detail that the Zohar includes. The Torah in general, and the Zohar in particular, is a work where no word or letter is extra, no meaning or number is without deep interpretation. In this story it says that in the process of freeing Reb Hamnuna, forty five officers died – the exact number of souls elevated at the exact same celebration, approximately eighteen hundred years apart.

Shocking.

 

Reb Hamnuna Sabba, Like a fish in the sea

Who was Reb Hamnuna Saba, the Sage that was freed from imprisonment via the incident where those lives were lost?

There is a fascinating discussion between Rabbi Dovber the Son of the first Chabad Rebbe, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked him to explain the seven blessing of the wedding. Hearing the explanation, he said in awe that the explanation he gave was an explanation expressed in the revelation of the first set of tablets!

What is described explaining this incident is that the son of the Altar Rebbe, his soul was a spark of Reb Hamnuna Saba - the Rabbi that Eliyahu was sent to free during the celebration of Rabbi Shimon.

The name “Hamnuna” is derived from creations that are “nunei yama” dwellers of the sea. Rav Hamnuna, and by extension the Mitteler Rebbe, saw G-dliness in the world the way that fish see water: As a constant, visible, reality, everywhere.

In fact, a custom of Reb Hamnuna was to pray for his sustenance, not just on rosh Hashanah, but every day – a constant awareness that the world is an active, miraculous, creation by G-d.

 

An Essential focus, an intimate, eternal, relationship

What is the lesson within the story the Zohar relates?

There are at least two times that this rescue story is used to validate essential elements that are deep-rooted in the core of the Jewish people.

The temple in Jerusalem is a permanent edifice between us and the Creator. Once the Temple was built, it was no longer permitted to bring offerings in any other location as an expression of our intimate relationship with the Creator. This exclusivity indicates that this home is not simply an ideal location, but an essential structure which cannot be replicated or moved.

We find this idea of immobility to our favor in another discussion.

When G-d gave us the Torah, the Angels claimed it for themselves. In the ensuing debate Moses succeeded to obtain the Torah for us where it now defines who and what we are.

But why did it have to be that way? Why couldn't G-d simply divide it and allow both us and the angels to have it?

We can ask the same question with the Temple. Why does the Temple need to be permanently centered in Jerusalem? After it was destroyed, why couldn't we simply move it to Brooklyn?

The answer to both of those questions, both of them core to our nation and to our relationship with the Creator, is answered through this very story, the rescue by Eliyahu of Reb Hamnuna Sabba during the celebration of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yocahi, involving the passing of the forty five officers.

If we look at the story again, it begs explanation. Eliyahu's justification for not being at Rabbi Shimon’s celebration has a deep inherent flaw: how could he claim to be missing because he was saving Reb Hamnuna's life, when we know that he joins us all at our Seder, and participates at every circumcision - despite the fact that countless are happening at any given moment?

Why could he not simply save Rabbi Hamnuna’s life and also attend the party?

The answer to this question, and because of that, this story, is a groundwork to our permanent home in the Temple and our sole ownership of the Torah.

The reason given is because while Eliyahu can spiritually attend many Seders at once with a spark of his Holiness being at each, and while he can do the same at a circumcision, when it came to saving the life of Reb Hamnuna that was not an option. To save a life he needed to be present with his entire essence in attendance. The Essence cannot be in two places at once.

From this seemingly anecdotal story, showing how Eliyahu could not be both saving Rav Hamnuna’s life and also with Rabbi Shimon, we learn an entirely different level of our bond with the Creator. We learn of a connection that gives validation to our sole ownership of the Torah – an Essential connection with the Creator which cannot be in two places at once, and our permanent home in the temple which is similarly immovable.

 

Passing on vs Elevating

As we look into these details in the Zohar and perhaps draw a parallel to a story involving the passing of a human soul grasping for meaning, we find a story that puts our view of life and purpose into focus.

The holy Bais Yosef is the author of the Shulchan Oruch. Literally translated as “the set table”. The Beis Yosef collected the instruction to Moses on Mount Sinai which had been distilled and expounded on in oceans of volumes, and prepared it for us in handy, organized manual.

Yet the Beis Yosef lamented the fact that he had once lost out on being able to sacrifice his life - decades before he went on to write his magnum opus.

We have no idea what it means for someone’s life to be elevated as part of G-d’s infinite plan, but we see from the Beis Yosef’s priorities in this late-in-life self-evaluation  that it supersedes the highest form of Torah, the application of practical law.

 

Humility, a portal to the Infinite

Even the number mentioned in the Zohar and etched in our minds seems to have a lesson for us.

The Zohar describes how when the world needed rain, Rabbi Shimon taught a verse, ps. 133:1: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers also to dwell together. Henei mah tov umah no’im sheves achim gam yochad.

Chassidus teaches that this verse expresses how when opposites unite, we elicit G-dliness from on high.

The word ‘mah’ included in the verse is parallel to the seminal intellect of ‘chochmah’ – which itself includes the word mah. Chochmah’s unity with the other sefiros is what draws G-d into the world, in this case causing rain and growth.

In other areas in Chassidus it explains that ‘mah’, meaning ‘what?’ represents the humility necessary to open ourselves up to a completely new idea.

The world ‘mah’, our portal to internalizing previously untapped elements from our infinite Soul, or from the Infinite in general, when written in Hebrew, has the numerical equivalent of forty five.

 

An the living take to heart – a take home lesson

We yearn for the clarity of hearing the Rebbe illuminate a direct take home lesson. However, in an effort to utilize all of the above to help us increase in our relationship to HaShem, there are some ideas that come to mind.

One lesson always primary on the day of Lag Ba’omer is unity. The number forty five as found in the verse celebrated on Lag Ba’omer is found in the word mah, implying humility. Specifically, relating to how the opposites, chochmah and bina unite.

Perhaps one lesson might be, to make every effort to achieve the sort of humility that allows us to not just tolerate others, but to truly partner with, and be productive with, people who approach life with a completely different perspective.

There is another lesson that seems to dovetail with the story we discussed here, perfectly.

The Rebbe teaches is how by Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai, Torah was his whole life. The Rebbe says that although we may not be of Rabbi Shimon’s stature, we can learn from him and imitate this manner of learning.

How can we do this? In another captivating tie-in to the rescue mission, the Rebbe tells us that the way we can imitate Rabbi Shimon, is, as Eliyahu exemplified during the rescue mission, with focus.

And then the Rebbe gives a practical idea – when you are learning, don’t pick up the phone.

This possible take home lesson from Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai seems to be the very message inherent in this story. What kept Eliyahu Hanavi from celebrating with Rabbi Shimon, and what became our claim to sole ownership of the Torah, and the permanence of the holiness of the Temple all boil down to one thing:

Focus.

When we are with our kids, when we are learning in our home, the home should know and feel that the world, and the phone, don’t exist to us – focus.

With blessing for the immediate redemption.

 

 

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