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12 Iyar 5766 - May 10, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Lag B'Omer — A Lesson of Illumination

by Rabbi Yechezkel Spanglet

Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, is one of the most enigmatic days of the Jewish calendar.

Since the conclusion of Pesach, our children have been zealously collecting flammables, from trees to matches. The piles are everywhere, the children are nowhere. Sometimes they suddenly pop into our living rooms proudly displaying the fruits of their labors. After Ima recovers from the shock, she "gently" orders her son to evacuate the boards or branches immediately.

In the city of Meron, hundreds of thousands of Yidden converge upon the kever of the Tanna Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi). At nightfall, meduros, or bonfires, break out all over, illuminating the Holy Land. Simultaneously, masses of Acheinu Bnei Yisroel burst out in joy and jubilation, dance and song in praise of the Rashbi . . . songs not composed for any other tzaddik or sage throughout history.

Who was Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai? What is the root of these extraordinary minhagim? Why do Yidden joyfully visit his kever in such enormous numbers, like they visit no other tzaddik's kever?

Lag B'omer is the yahrtzeit of the Rashbi. This holy Tanna attained high spiritual levels in his lifetime. The Zohar relates that he possessed the neshomoh of Moshe Rabbeinu. Similar to Moshe Rabbeinu, Rashbi was a man of unique anivus as well as extraordinary ahavas Yisroel. To illustrate this point, the gemora (Succah 45b) quotes the Rashbi as saying, "I am able to exempt the entire world from the [harsh] attribute of din, judgment."

The Nesivos Sholom explains that Rashbi possessed such a storehouse of love for every Jew that, middoh kenegged middoh, he was able to effect a sweetening of the din to the whole world. That means that by accentuating the positive qualities of Hashem's creations, Shomayim, as it were, judged the world from a more merciful perspective.

Lag B'Omer, as well as being the day of Rashbi's passing, was also the day he revealed the Toras Hanistar, the inner content of Torah: the Zohar. This day is referred to as the Matan Torah of Toras Hanistar. Just as Moshe Rabbenu was the liaison to accept Toras Hanigleh on behalf of Bnei Yisroel, Rashbi revealed the Toras Hanistar to Am Yisroel.

How did this revelation occur? And why is there so much simcha and jubilation on the day of his passing? The yom petiroh of a tzaddik is in some communities a day of introspection and fasting.

Rav Eliyahu Kitov, in his Sefer Hatodaah, answers these questions with a stunning account from the Zohar. On the day of Rashbi's passing, his talmidim gathered around him like a "yom hilulah," that is, like the day a chosson rejoices with his kallah. A beacon of limitless happiness illuminated the area while the tzaddik disclosed secrets of the Torah.

The day was longer than any other and the sun did not set until Rashbi taught the penimius haTorah that the Creator permitted him to reveal. Then the sun was allowed to set, and the soul of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ascended on High. (Zohar Idra Zutto — Parshas Ha'azinu)

Rav Kitov concludes that the day of Matan Toras Hanistar became a yom simcha. "This was the Rashbi's wish, even though the day of the petiroh of a tzaddik is a day of fasting."

Multitudes of Yidden are therefore drawn to kever Rashbi annually on his yom hilulah to envelope themselves with the hashpo'oh of Matan Toras Hanistar and to be inspired by the elevated atmosphere of the place.

Another astounding middoh of the Rashbi was his self effacement (bitul hayeish). Through his 13 year sojourn in the cave with his son Eliezer, living on carob fruit and water, he attained a profound level of bitul hayeish and taharoh.

Fire achieves two purposes. It purifies by removing the dross where there are impurities, and it illuminates. As our Lag B'Omer bonfires crackle we are reminded of the high level of purity that Rashbi attained, as well as the light of Toras Hanistar that he revealed.

May Lag B'Omer this year enflame our neshomos to greater heights of Avodas Hashem by following in the footsteps of the holy Tanna and tzaddik Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai.

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