Latest update: April 12th, 2013
Seems like we crossed the sea just yesterday, yet here we are literally counting down to the big day ahead – it is less than six weeks away. On this Shabbos, Parshas Shemini, we bentch Rosh Chodesh Iyar, which falls on Yom Revi’i and Yom Chamishi (Wednesday and Thursday). It was during this month that we were commanded to keep the Shabbos holy and woman was accorded the honor and privilege of performing the mitzvah of candlelighting to usher in the Shabbos and thereby enhance her mazel.
The letters of Iyar (aleph, yud, yud, reish) form the acronym of Ani Hashem Rofecha – I am G-d your healer. An age-old custom has pious Jews collecting the rainwater that descends in Iyar, which is believed to have healing properties. In Chassidic neighborhoods, buckets and other containers for the purpose of gathering this water can be seen adorning many outdoor terraces.
In Iyar the mon began to fall from Heaven to nourish B’nei Yisrael in the zechus of Moshe Rabbeinu, and the well of Miriam materialized to accompany them on their trek in the wilderness. Other notable events of this month include the inauguration of the building of the Bais HaMikdash during Shlomo HaMelech’s reign; the first war in the history of our nation, instigated by Amalek; and the passing of R’ Shimon bar Yochai whose yahrtzeit is celebrated on the 18th of Iyar, the 33rd day of the Omer.
Lag B’Omer also marks the cessation of the merciless plague that tragically claimed the lives of 24,000 of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim. Though these were exceptionally dedicated Torah scholars, the unity among them was sorely lacking. R’ Shimon bar Yochai, one of the disciples of Rabi Akiva, went on to revive the Torah that had been all but forgotten following the terrible scourge.
The custom of children carrying bows and arrows in the fields on Lag B’Omer has its origin in the rainbow, the symbol G-d had instituted as a sign of forgiveness for His children’s iniquities. The rainbow was not seen in the lifetime of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai — whose merit safeguarded his generation.
Other righteous souls whose yahrtzeits are observed in the month of Iyar: R’ Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, the Chacham Tzvi and R’ Shmelke of Nikolsburg (1 Iyar); R’ Yeshaya’la Kerestir (3 Iyar); Eli Kohen Gadol and sons; R’ Yitzchak Alfazi, the RiF; R’ Yitzchak Isaac Yehuda Yechiel M’Komarna; R’ Dovid (Twersky) of Tolna and R’ Hillel Lichtenstein of Kalamei (10 Iyar); R’ Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz (11 Iyar); R’ Meir Baal HaNess (14 Iyar); R’ Yechezkel Landau, the Noda B’Yehuda (17 Iyar); R’ Shimon bar Yochai and R’ Moshe Isserles, the Rema (18 Iyar); R’ Meir ben Baruch, the Maharam M’Rottenberg and R’ Menachem Mendel M’Riminov (19 Iyar); R’ Mordechai of Chernobyl (20 Iyar); R’ Chaim of Kosov (25 Iyar); R’ Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal (26 Iyar); Shmuel HaNavi (28 Iyar) and R’ Meir’l of Premishlan (29 Iyar).
Shmuel HaNavi was born to Chana, the wife of Elkanah (a prophet and tzaddik in his own right) after many years of childlessness. Chana had actually urged her husband to take a second wife with whom he might beget children and by which she hoped to gain divine mercy and be blessed with children as well.
Penina, as it happened, bore several children in succession and all the while taunted Chana about her inability to conceive — allegedly to motivate her to cry out to Hashem for a yeshua.
As if Chana, who beseeched Hashem day and night, hadn’t shed enough tears… One day Eli, the Kohen Gadol chanced upon her in the Mishkan where she stood in devout and silent prayer. Thinking her to be intoxicated, Eli chastised the good woman and advised her to stop drinking. Upon realizing his grave error, the Kohen Gadol took pity on the tzadekes and assured her that she would be granted her desire and be blessed with a son. Chana gave birth to Shmuel less than seven months later.
Shmuel was all but two when his mother took him to the Mishkan to serve G-d under the tutelage of Eli HaKohen — as she had earlier vowed that would Hashem hearken to her prayers, she would “lend” her son to Him for all of his days. (Shmuel at two was said to be as wise as one at twenty.)
Shmuel HaNavi lived for 52 years, fulfilling his mother’s words. A Levite would normally begin his service in the Sanctuary at twenty-five, for a duration of not more than fifty years. Since Shmuel was only two when Chana brought him to Eli, his fifty was actualized at fifty-two — his mother having in essence shortened his life.
Chana was endowed with Ruach Hakodesh as she euphorically paid tribute to Hashem with prayer and songs of praise. She subsequently bore five more children, and for each child Chana brought into the world, her adversary buried two… until Penina was left with two sons. She tearfully begged Chana to forgive her for having tormented her about her barrenness and asked Chana to pray that her remaining two children be saved.
Shmuel HaNavi is considered to be in the exalted league of Moshe and Aharon. The righteous Prophet served G-d and the people with genuine loyalty and devotion and merited to anoint two kings – Shaul HaMelech and Dovid HaMelech – in his relatively brief sojourn in this world.
Chana’s demeanor and style of prayer to the Ribono Shel Olam has over the generations served as a paradigm for the Jewish woman. And how intriguing that the story of Chana and the catastrophic occurrence of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim should both incorporate the powerful lesson that antagonizing or hurting another can, Heaven forbid, lead to the gravest of consequences — an apt message year round, but especially apropos for this month of Iyar when we strive to reach a level of virtuousness that will make us truly deserving of being His Chosen.
Iyar’s letters transposed spell yira – fear. “Reishis chochma yiras Hashem” – The beginning of wisdom lies in the fear of God. [Proverbs 7:1]
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