Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,
Vol. III, Lag BaOmer;
the Sichos of Lag BaOmer, 5733
Lag BaOmer commemorates the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the foremost sages of the Talmud and author of the Zohar, the primary text of the Kabbalah. Rabbi Shimon's knowledge extended from the exoteric, legal realm of the Torah, to its deepest mystical secrets. Moreover, he was uniquely able to perceive these two areas of knowledge not as distinct, self-contained disciplines, but as one composite unit, the legal aspect being the body and the mystical element the soul of one integrated Torah.
This unity within the Torah which Rabbi Shimon recognized enabled him to perceive the Divine unity within our material world, and moreover, to have this unity expressed in actual fact as well as in the abstract. He understood Torah study as all-encompassing, able to influence and control every aspect of our lives.
Thus the Zohar relates that Eretz Yisrael once suffered a severe drought. When the Jews appealed to Rabbi Shimon for help, he expounded the verse, "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together" - and it began to rain.
In the same vein, the Midrash relates that one of Rabbi Shimon's students returned to Eretz Yisrael after acquiring wealth in foreign lands. Seeing that some of his other students grew envious, Rabbi Shimon led them to a valley and called out, "Valley, valley, fill up with gold coins," and it did. "Anyone who wants may take," declared Rabbi Shimon, "but he should know that he is taking from his portion in the World to Come."
Rabbi Shimon was able to make the spiritual wealth of the World to Come manifest as material wealth in this world.
On Lag BaOmer, we seek to emulate this quality of Rabbi Shimon's. On this day, it is customary for young yeshivah students to leave the halls of study and go out to the fields.
The intent of this custom is obviously not to mark Rabbi Shimon's yahrzeit by taking a vacation from the study of Torah, but rather, to bring the yeshivah out into the fields. Rabbi Shimon was able to unite the deepest mystical elements of the Torah with the natural elements of the world. In emulation of him, children extend the atmosphere of the yeshivah to encompass even the field, an area seemingly beyond the realm of Torah.
Rabbi Shimon taught that the underlying unity of Torah and worldliness should be expressed every day, not only once a year. In light of this, we can understand a classic Talmudic debate
on the verse,
"This Torah scroll shall not depart from your mouth."
Rabbi Yishmael maintains that the verse cannot be taken literally; rather, as much time as possible should be devoted to Torah study, but part of one's time should be devoted to earning a livelihood. Rabbi Shimon, however, argues that the verse should be taken at face value. A person should devote all of his time and effort to Torah study, leaving it to G-d to ensure that his material needs will be met.
Rabbi Shimon was true to his own teachings. The Talmud says of him, Toraso umanuso - "His profession was Torah." He devoted himself solely to Torah study, remaining completely uninvolved in worldly concerns.
Is Rabbi Shimon's view relevant to us? Summing up the debate, the Talmud notes:
"Many followed the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael and were successful; others followed the opinion of Rabbi Shimon and were not successful." Although Rabbi Shimon himself was able to function at this exalted level, it appears to be beyond the grasp of most people.
In fact, our Rabbis state
that the concept of Toraso umanuso as exemplified by Rabbi Shimon no longer exists.
How, then, are we to understand his teaching? Our Sages note that the Torah was given only to those - i.e., the Jews in the wilderness - who ate manna. This statement is not intended to limit the number of people who have access to Torah study; it aims, instead, to teach us how we should approach it.
While our ancestors received their food from heaven, they did not have to worry about earning a living. With all their needs miraculously provided for, they were able to concentrate their energies on spiritual growth alone. We, by contrast, do not enjoy overt miracles, and must therefore spend a certain amount of time involved with worldly concerns. Nonetheless, during the time we study Torah, all of our cares and worries, all our concern for material affairs, should be set aside. In this manner, during the time we have designated for Torah study, we can approach the level of "those who ate manna," and emulate Rabbi Shimon's state of Toraso umanuso.
The Alter Rebbe explains that fulfilling a mitzvah establishes an eternal union with the Divine. Thus, studying Torah even briefly with the undivided attentiveness of "those who ate manna," affirms us in a timeless bond with G-d at the level of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Even after such study, when a person turns his attention to his material concerns, this inner connection is maintained.
In the Era of the Redemption, the fusion between the material and the spiritual exemplified by Rabbi Shimon will be reflected throughout the world. And through spreading Rabbi Shimon's teachings, the coming of the Redemption can be hastened. As the Raaya Mehemna states:
"Because eventually the Jewish people will taste of the Tree of Life, which is the Book of the Zohar, they will go out of exile with it, in mercy." May this take place speedily in our days.
- (Back to text) Note the essay (Vol. I, p. 101ff) entitled "Bridging the Gap between the Intellect and Self-Transcendence," where this concept is explained in the distinctive light of Chabad Chassidus.
- (Back to text) Vol. III, p. 59b. The Talmud records a number of cases in which various Sages had their prayers for rain answered (see Taanis 23a, 25b). What is unique about the instance cited above is that the rainfall came about not as a response to prayer, but as a physical expression of the spiritual energies aroused through Torah study.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 133:1.
- (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 52:3.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaSichos 5704, p. 119; HaYom Yom, entry for Lag BaOmer; Sefer Bein Pesach leShavuos (Israel, 5744), chs. 18:33-34 and 19:8-9.
- (Back to text) Berachos 35b.
- (Back to text) Yehoshua 1:8.
- (Back to text) Shabbos 11a.
- (Back to text) Berachos, loc. cit.
- (Back to text) It appears that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai himself ultimately appreciated that this level of devotion was beyond the potential of most men. Thus, Shabbos 33b relates that when Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar emerged from their thirteen-year ordeal in the cave, they encountered people involved in their day-to-day affairs.
Rabbi Elazar was unable to understand, "How can people abandon eternal life (i.e., Torah study) and occupy themselves with temporal concerns?" Rabbi Shimon placated him, saying, "You and I are sufficient for the world."
- (Back to text) Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchos Tefillah 106:4; Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:4-5.
- (Back to text) Mechilta, Shmos 16:4.
- (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 25.
- (Back to text) Zohar III, p. 124b; see Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 26.