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Parshat Emor

Thursday, 11 May, 2017 - 1:04 pm


This Sunday will be Lag Ba’omer – so called because it is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period of counting the days from Pesach to Shavuot, and the numerical value of 33 in Hebrew letters is Lamed Gimel, that spells Lag. This is a day of celebration, with bonfires, gatherings, parties, and special outings for children. The Rebbe instated a custom to have a Great Parade on this day. It started on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, attended by many thousands of children, with floats, marching bands and entertainers, followed by a day of activities in the park. The Rebbe would personally participate in the parade, delivering a major address to the children, and then watching with great love and nachas as they passed by his stand. This custom is also observed in many major cities when Lag Ba’omer is on Sunday. As a young boy, I participated in a few parades in London and I remember the excitement building for weeks in advance.

The day of Lag Ba’omer celebrates two historical events. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest Talmudic sages. 24,000 of his students died during this period following Pesach, and they stopped dying on Lag Ba’omer. This is also the day of the Yartzeit - anniversary of passing – of the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon was the first to reveal the secrets of Kabbalah, that had previously not been taught to anyone but the leader of the generation. Shortly before he died on the day of Lag Ba’omer, Rabbi Shimon called his closest disciples and told them he was going to reveal secrets that had never before been revealed. The mystical fire and light surrounding these teachings, as well as Rabbi Shimon’s intense holiness at that time, caused a physical fire to surround Rabbi Shimon, and most of the disciples were not able to remain in the room. This is one of the reasons for the custom of lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer.

Rabbi Shimon was one of those unique sages who affected the entire world for all generations. He is one of the most prolific Talmudic teachers, quoted widely throughout the Mishna. He is also the author of the Zohar, and is credited with beginning the process of revealing the inner secrets of the Torah to the world, thereby beginning the preparation of the world for the Messianic revelation. The Talmud says that many tried to emulate Rabbi Shimon but were not able to. This is referring to his level of devotion to pure Torah study, which was his only occupation. We generally consider people who are involved completely in study to be removed from the world and without impact on the world. However, this was not the case with Rabbi Shimon. When he heard that there was a drought, he taught Torah and it started to rain. His disciples once asked him to show them how Torah brings material blessings. He took them out to a valley and commanded the valley to fill up with golden coins, and that immediately happened. The Rebbe explained that Rabbi Shimon was showing them that the material rewards from Torah are real, albeit not usually as clearly visible at the time of that miracle.

In Rabbi Shimon’s time, our sages taught, there was no rainbow. A rainbow is a sign, as written in Parshat Noach, that Hashem made an oath never to again destroy the entire world with a flood. Rabbi Shimon’s holiness was so great and affected the world in such a way that there was not even a possibility that there would be a flood in his generation, so there was no need for the sign. This is one of the reasons that children customarily play with bows and arrows on Lag Baomer.

One of Rabbi Shimon’s teachings (Talmud Megillah 29a) is that wherever the Jewish people are in exile, the Presence of Hashem is with us. One of the sources is the verse that states that at the end of the exile, Hashem will return us from all corners of the earth to our land. The Hebrew word for “He will return you” should be “Veheshiv.” The word used in the verse is “Veshav,” which translates to “He [Himself] will return, implying that Hashem is with us in exile and will return with us. This has been a very comforting statement to Jews throughout the ages, knowing that even though we have experienced tremendous difficulties in exile, Hashem is with us to keep us going.

As I mentioned before, the revelation of the mystical secrets of Torah prepares the way for the Messianic revelation. Lag Ba’omer is a time for us to increase our connection with the inner part of Torah. While pure Kabbala is inaccessible to most and are therefore called “secrets,” these secrets have been made not secret anymore by the teachings of Chassidus, accessible to all. Let’s delve into this study, and do our part to hasten the revelation of the Moshiach. I invite you to come and join us at Chabad for bonfires, barbecues and parties.

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