Today is a day of rejoicing and festivity, since Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai proclaimed that Lag BaOmer is his day of celebration. The power of this celebration is reflected in the renown story of one of the sages during the era of the Arizal who was so strongly affected by sorrow over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash that he would recite the prayer Nachaim every day -- even on Shabbos and festivals. When, however, he recited this prayer on Lag BaOmer, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai protested "How is it possible that one could say Nachaim on this day of celebration?" and for this reason, the sage was punished.
On the surface, this is most unusual. In general, it is undesirable that a righteous person be punished and furthermore, that the narrative of his being punished become publicized within our Torah tradition. Indeed, we find that the Torah avoids making undesirable statements even in regard to animals. Surely, this principle should be applied when speaking about a person, and indeed a Torah scholar. Nevertheless, to emphasize the magnitude of the celebration of Lag BaOmer, this story is publicized.
Moreover, the celebration of Lag BaOmer has an affect on the entire world, even non-Jews as reflected in Rabbi Shimon's statement, "I can free the entire world from judgment..."; "the entire world" also includes non-Jews.
Rabbi Shimon was on a level above that of the world at large; he alone was on the rung of Toraso Umanaso, "his Torah was his occupation." Nevertheless, the Zohar speaks of him in connection with "his company," chevraya in Aramaic. The term chevraya relates to the word chibur, meaning "bond;" i.e., he established a bond of oneness with his students.
Here we see a connection to the Counting of the Omer. The mourning customs associated with this period were instituted because of the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died because they did not show honor to each other. It follows that in this period, there must be an emphasis on showing honor to one another and following the guidelines of Rabbi Akiva who taught, " 'Love your neighbor as yourself' is a basic principle of the Torah."
This should be reflected in our declaration before beginning to pray "I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the positive commandment, 'Love your fellowman as yourself.' " It is insufficient to merely think about the matter and make a resolution to that effect, one must make an actual statement. Similarly, the statement itself is insufficient and from this statement, the resolution must be drawn down in actual deed.
The first of the deeds of this nature is gifts to tzedakah, for "tzedakah brings the redemption near." The redemption also relates to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for his "freeing the entire world from judgment" also implies freeing them from exile. Thus, Rav Hillel Paritcher would explain that Rav Shimon bar Yochai was above the entire concept of exile.
This is alluded to in the manner in which Rabbi Shimon's name is written in the Zohar. Although the Talmud generally writes the name Yochai without an Alef (ëçàë), in the Zohar that name is usually written with an Alef (ëÇçàë). Alef stands for Echad, "one," which points to the unique level possessed by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as reflected in the statement, "I have seen men of ascendancy and they are few.... If there is one, it is I."
The Alef also has the potential to transform exile (äîàé) into redemption (äîàÇé). When one adds an Alef (which stands for G-d, Alufo shel olam), the exile ceases.
The unique quality expressed by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was elaborated upon by the Rebbe Maharash who explained that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to fuse the teachings of P'nimiyus HaTorah (Torah's mystic dimensions) with the teachings of Nigleh (the revealed dimensions of Torah law). He would study P'nimiyus HaTorah with the clarity with which Nigleh is studied. Conversely, his study of Nigleh was infused with the vitality and energy which stems from P'nimiyus HaTorah.
There is an intrinsic connection between these two sages, for there is a connection between the Sefirah of Tiferes sheb'Tiferes with which the Rebbe Maharash is associated and the Sefirah Hod sheb'Hod which is associated with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Generally the Counting of the Omer is associated with the Sefiros in the order beginning Chesed sheb'Chesed (which emphasizes revelation from above). There are times, however, when an emphasis is placed on the reverse order (which emphasizes the service of elevation from below). In the latter pattern, the counting begins from Malchus sheb'Malchus. In the latter order, the 2nd of Iyar, the day usually associated with Tiferes sheb'Tiferes is associated with Hod sheb'Hod. And conversely, Lag BaOmer which is usually associated with Hod sheb'Hod is associated with Tiferes sheb'Tiferes.
The above must be expressed in deed; firstly an emphasis on study, Toraso Umanaso, and particularly, the study of P'nimiyus HaTorah. This study must lead to an increase in ahavas Yisrael and thus, should be expressed in an increase in tzedakah. In this connection, coins will be distributed with the intent that its value be given to tzedakah, together with an additional amount by each recipient.
May this lead to the redemption. And may we proceed together with the entire Jewish people "on the clouds of heaven," to Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash, "the Sanctuary of the L-rd established by Your hands."
(After the conclusion of the sichah, the Rebbe Shlita distributed a special coin minted for this occasion.)
- (Back to text) This comes as a result of a revealed connection to the attribute of yechidah, the essential point of the soul.
- (Back to text) Although tzedakah should not be given at night, one can give the coins to a person who collects for a charity with the intent that the actual transfer of ownership take place the following day.
- (Back to text) For it was a lack in the feelings of ahavas Yisrael which lead to the exile.
- (Back to text) There is a unique connection between the Counting of the Omer and the Beis HaMikdash as reflected in the prayer we recited after fulfilling this mitzvah, asking G-d to restore the Beis HaMikdash.