The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
The powerful ox of Taurus symbolizes the month of Iyar. The bull’s characteristic of stubbornness features positively when it manifests itself as uncompromising loyalty. During the course of this month we brace ourselves in readiness to embrace the holy Torah by fortifying our fear and awe of God. Iyar‘s letters transposed spell yira- fear. “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” – The beginning of wisdom lies in the fear of God (Proverbs 7:1). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s neshama emanates from the same root as Moshe Rabbeinu’s – thus Lag B’Omer and the fourth day of the following Sukkot (Moshe’s ushpiza) always fall on the same day of the week. Lag B’Omer and Moshe share the same numerical value of 345. The month of Nissan corresponds to Reuven – our matriarch Leah named her firstborn when she said that God had “seen” her affliction; Iyar corresponds to Shimon – upon the birth of her second son with Yaakov, Leah proclaimed Hashem had “heard”; the month of Sivan, the third month, is linked to Levi, Leah’s third son – named when she declared that Yaakov would (now that she had begotten her share of the 12 shevatim) be forever attached to her (lavah – accompany or attached). In the month of
The powerful ox of Taurus symbolizes the month of Iyar. The bull’s characteristic of stubbornness features positively when it manifests itself as uncompromising loyalty. During the course of this month we brace ourselves in readiness to embrace the holy Torah by fortifying our fear and awe of God. Iyar‘s letters transposed spell yira- fear. “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” – The beginning of wisdom lies in the fear of God (Proverbs 7:1).
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s neshama emanates from the same root as Moshe Rabbeinu’s – thus Lag B’Omer and the fourth day of the following Sukkot (Moshe’s ushpiza) always fall on the same day of the week. Lag B’Omer and Moshe share the same numerical value of 345.
The month of Nissan corresponds to Reuven – our matriarch Leah named her firstborn when she said that God had “seen” her affliction; Iyar corresponds to Shimon – upon the birth of her second son with Yaakov, Leah proclaimed Hashem had “heard”; the month of Sivan, the third month, is linked to Levi, Leah’s third son – named when she declared that Yaakov would (now that she had begotten her share of the 12 shevatim) be forever attached to her (lavah – accompany or attached).
In the month ofNissan we witness God’s miracles; during Iyar we perceive the divine light from afar as we prepare for the most extraordinary event in the history of mankind, when in Sivan we are “joined” to God to personally receive His doctrine, the holy Torah (Zohar: Shem MiShmuel).
The generation that lived in the days of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was imbued with chachmas haTorah. This extended across the spectrum of the Jewish people and was not exclusive to those who committed their lives to “sitting and learning.” From merchant to child and in between, all were versed in the wisdom of Torah, prompting the great tanna to disclose that the world would never again see such an exalted generation until the coming of Moshiach.
The souls of the children were reincarnations of the ones who had lost their lives when the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. In the merit of R. Shimon Bar Yochai, the entire generation
of his day was ensured a place in Gan Eden. Hashem therefore saw fit to bring these holy neshamos back in his time (Zohar:Remak).
Persistence, integrity and dependability are the hallmark of the Taurean personality, augmented by the character traits of generosity and loyalty. One born under the sign of Taurus is given to forming lifetime friendships.
* * *
Little Meir’s shining face reflected the excitement of this glorious Lag B’Omer day. He and his family had traveled to Meron to convene at the burial site of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – the age-old traditional setting for inaugurating the first distinct mark of maturity: payos.
Cheerful toasts of l’chayim and shouts of mazel tov were offered up along with cake and drink as family members took turns shearing the child’s lustrous locks.
Gedalya, the proud father and baal simcha, glimpsed a familiar face in the milling crowds. He called out to his friend whom he hadn’t seen for many years, “Baruch habah, Zalman! Come and share in our nachas!”
Zalman, an “older” bochur (single male) of 25 had not yet met the good fortune of encountering his partner in life. (In chassidic circles, every effort is made to adhere to the Torah concept of “ben shemone esrei l’chuppah” – to lead one’s children to the marriage canopy by the age of eighteen.)
The newcomer found himself surrounded by married couples and youngsters and secretly hoped that no one would guess at his spouseless status in light of his mature countenance. Holding scissors in hand, he was jolted by a sudden smack on his shoulder that accompanied an exuberant outburst of “Ah, Zalman, when we were in yeshiva together, little did we envision meeting here in Meron – you still a bochur and me the father of a three-year-old!”
Zalman knew that Gedalya had meant no harm but had simply gotten carried away with the moment. Yet his reasoning could not deflect the piercing blow to his heart. Pent-up emotion fused with shame and embarrassment, as at least twenty pairs of eyes seemed to bore into him.
Murmuring best wishes to the host, Zalman beat a hasty retreat to a lone corner of the holy site where the bulging lump that had lodged in his throat gave way to heartrending sobs. His wails of anguish left no one within the perimeters of the sacred chamber unmoved or unshaken. The stream of tears that soaked the ancient stones surely penetrated the very soul of the holy sage interred therein.
The inner dam that burst to unleash his tears left Zalman feeling renewed and at peace. A sense of relief washed over him, and he sensed that his agonizing expressions of pain had found a listening ear. It was as though a heavenly hand had reached down to stroke his tearstained cheek. In his comforted state, he was almost grateful to his friend for unwittingly unlocking the door to his hurting heart.
Long before the arrival of the next spring’s growth, Zalman had his longing fulfilled as he stood with his intended beneath a starry Jerusalem sky under the traditional wedding canopy.
Less than four years later, memories enveloped Zalman as he and his family set out to Meron for the happy event of his Avrumele’s upsherin (haircutting). He recalled a time when his broken heart had set the stones awash in a torrent of tears – the same stones that still stood in place and that had once allowed his earnest pleas and prayers to penetrate the very gates of Heaven. He had never ceased to be thankful to his Creator for the benevolenceshowered on him, even as he sojourned to Meron again . . . and then again with his third son, little Akiva’le. By now some nine years had elapsed since that eventful day.
Zalman’s children were evolving into fine and God-fearing young adults, and at the age of 48 (wasn’t it just yesterday when he was an “older” singleof 25?), the prominent and respected Reb Zalman experienced the euphoria of escorting his first child to the chuppah. His heart overflowed with gratitude to Hashem as he and his loved ones rejoiced in the happy occasion.
Hardly five years later, a minibus transported Reb Zalman and his extended family to Meron, this time to make payos for his first grandson! Breathless with exhilaration, they traversed the magnificent green hilly terrain toward the courtyard that housed the tzaddik’s ohel. Avrum, the proud father of little Bentzion, extended the cutting shears to his own father – now a proud zeida. Scissors passed from hand to hand as adult members took part in the time-honored tradition.
In the deep recesses of his mind, Reb Zalman pictured himself at another hair-cutting ceremony more than thirty years back. He vividly recalled the throes of pain, his unbridled emotions. . . . A spark of familiarity cut into his reminiscence. Reb Zalman blinked to clear his vision and jubilantly called out, “Baruch habah, R. Gedalya . . . Shalom aleichem!”
Two old friends greeted each other warmly. Reb Zalman’s gracious request that Reb Gedalya honor him by partaking in the cutting of his first grandson’s hair was met with tepid enthusiasm.
A casual exchange of pleasantries unearthed a startling fact: Meir, Reb Gedalya’s firstborn, was still single, at the age of 31. With deep sighs, Reb Gedalya described the torment of years spent searching and pursuing – yet neither Meir nor any of his younger siblings had had any luck in finding their intended.
Who better than Zalman could sympathize with such a plight? Searching for words to soothe his friend’s broken spirit, he found himself saying, “Yes, I remember your son, Meir… I even cut some of his hair” – as altogether different words played through his mind. “Ah, Zalman, when we learned in yeshiva together, little did we dream that we would be meeting here in Meron at such an occasion – you still a bochur and me a father of a three-year-old…”
Reb Gedalya’s face paled. “You were there? Yes, you were there. . . . You cried. I remember. I said something I shouldn’t have and embarrassed you. I instantly regretted my words but could not retrieve them. Afterwards I’d reasoned that in all likelihood you’d have forgotten. Perhaps now is a good time to put the incident to rest, by begging your forgiveness.”
Reb Zalman’s heart ached for his friend. To add to his personal misfortune, Reb Gedalya shouldered a burden of guilt as well. Reb Zalman feigned forgetfulness of the long-ago incident and insisted that if there were something to forgive, he did so now wholeheartedly. Upon taking their leave, the two communicated an ardent and mutual hope of meeting again soon under happy circumstances.
Meir met his future wife that same year. The big simcha was a forerunner of a ripple effect in thehousehold as the younger family members very soon followed suit.
On a balmy spring Lag B’Omer some six years since they’d last met, Reb Zalman and Reb Gedalya chanced to meet in Meron yet again – one a seasoned zeida attending one of his numerous grandchildren’s haircutting occasions, the other at his first grandchild’s, Meir’s firstborn.
Together the two grandfathersrejoiced, their tears glistening like dewdrops on their silvery beards. Arm in arm they danced, their hearts soaring in unison, keeping in rhythm with their leaping feet to the tune of “Amar Rabi Akiva.”
According to Reb Avrum, the eldest child of the saintly Reb Zalman, his father hardly ever missed an opportunity to narrate the fascinating chronicle, always prefacing it with, “Who are we to even attempt to analyze the ways of the Ribono Shel Olam? I simply tell the story as it happened, the way it was . . . down here on earth.”
Both as a father and grandfather, Reb Zalman never tired of reiterating, “Remember, dear children, to guard your tongues, to be cautiously mindful of your words . . . to think very carefully before you speak.”
* * *
One of the reasons stated for the dreadful calamity that befell 24,000 talmidimof Rabbi Akiva was the lack of unity among them. Though exceptional in their dedication and devotion as Torah scholars, their downfall came about as each sought to outshine the other. It was Lag B’Omer, the 18th day ofIyar, that marked a cessation of the plague that had snuffed out so many lives – and is the date that marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Akiva’s most illustrious student, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who never ceased to ascribe his Torah knowledge to the venerable Rabbi Akiva. (The letters that form the name Yaakov are all contained within the name Akiva, illustrative of their shared attributes. Kabbalah teaches that the souls of Akiva and Jacob were connected.)
His life on earth was drawing to a close and his bedside visitors, namely R. Pinchas, R. Chiya and R. Abba, were deeply affected by R. Shimon’s declining physical health. “How can the sun leave this world?” they cried.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai began to comfort them with the assurance that he was going to be judged by a benevolent Creator. Abruptly he stopped in mid-sentence. The petrified onlookers perceived their rebbe carrying on a discussion with someone unseen – but were soon mollified by a heavenly fragrance that permeated their surroundings.
The mystery was shortly resolved. R. Shimon divulged that he had just been given the privilege of viewing his eternal habitat in the hereafter and had forthwith negotiated a different site. The scent that lingered in the atmosphere was a whiff of Gan Eden air that he’d brought back with him.
When he was about to unveil the Kabbalistic secrets that would become known as Sefer haZohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai secluded himself with his son R. Elazar and his chavraya (tannaim of the time). R. Shimon instructed R. Abba to commit his elucidation to paper, his son R. Elazar to study his father’s holy utterances, and the rest of the sages to imprint them in their hearts.
Thus R. Shimon Bar Yochai cloaked himself in his tallis and set about expounding the heretofore-concealed divrei Torah, all the while encircled by a radiance that prevented anyone from gazing in his direction.
It was only when the holy tanna concluded the revelation of the mystical body of knowledge and ceased to speak that the gathered students were able to see that their beloved leader, smiling serenely, had left this world.
R. Elazar took his father’s hands in his and kissed them, R. Abba kissed the dust beneath his rebbe‘s feet, while the rest of the chavraya were rendered speechless in their overwhelming grief.
* * *
Tuned in to the affairs of the universe from its inception to Hashem’s coming Kingdom, our esteemed Psalmist can always be counted on to sum it up neatly. “Sod Hashem lirayov” – The secrets of Hashem [are revealed only] to those who fear Him (Tehillim 25:14).
Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.
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