There is a famous song sung by many people on Lag Ba’Omer called, “Bar Yochai” (written by Rabbi Shimon Levi). The chorus of this song is, “Bar Yochai (the son of Yochai), fortunate are you for you have been anointed with oil of joy from among your peers.” This sentence is based on a verse in Tehillim (Psalms; 45:8) which says, “You love righteousness, and you hate wickedness, therefore, Hashem your God anointed you with oil of joy from among your peers.”
One question this raises is what is the connection between Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and oil?
Furthermore, why is this personality always referred to in this song as “Bar Yochai” and not by his first name “Rebbi Shimon?”
Additionally, when the verse says, “You ascended on High, you have taken ‘shevi’ (captives; Psa. 68:19),” the Talmud (Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akivah”, pg. 89a) and Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 28:1) interpret this to be talking about the time when Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher) climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The Torah was Moshe Rabbenu’s “shevi”, captive, so to speak.
However, the Smichas Chachomim (pg. 140a) adds that the “shevi” which Moshe Rabbenu captured was not only the Torah, but it was also the soul of the Rashb”i (the acronym for Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai). Moshe took the Rashbi’s soul in order to win the battle against the angels who also wanted the Torah.
The Chidah (Shem Hagedolim; 332) cites the Arizal who supports this notion with a hint in the aforementioned verse itself. It said that Moshe ascended on High and took a “shevi.” The word “shevi” is spelled with three Hebrew letters which are: shin, beis, and yud. Those three letters serve as the acronym for, “Shimon bar Yochai”, teaching us that Moshe took the soul of the Rashb”i in order to help him succeed in bringing the Torah down.
This brings us to another question. Why was it imperative for Moshe to bring the Rashb”i’s soul with him to Heaven in order to be victorious over the angels?
There is a Talmudic passage (Shabbos, chap. 20, “Tolin”, pg. 138b) that will begin shedding some light on all of these questions. It says that when the Sages came to Kerem B’Yavneh, they said that the Torah is destined to be forgotten from the Jewish people. They cited a verse (Amos, 8:11-12) which says that days are coming when Hashem will send a hunger into the land, not a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of God. The next verse goes on to say that one day people will ask each other, “What is the word of God?” But, nobody will be able to answer this question because nobody will know what the word of God is. The reason why nobody will know the word of God is because the Torah will be forgotten from the Jewish people.
When Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai heard this, he exclaimed, “God forbid, the Torah will not be forgotten from the Jewish people. He also cited a verse which says, “Ki Lo Sishachach Mipi Zaro,” (for it – the Torah) will not be forgotten from the mouth of your offspring; Dt. 31:21).
This is not just a debate amongst the Sages, but there also seems to be a contradiction between the verses. Will the Torah be forgotten from the Jews or not? Will the real verse please stand up!?
The Shvilei Pinchas explains that there is no tension between the verses. The Sages in Kerem B’Yavneh were 100% right. With their Divine inspiration, they foresaw that the Torah was going to be forgotten. They even had a verse to back them up.
However, Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai interjected and explained that the Torah WILL be forgotten ONLY IF the Jewish people continue learning the same Torah that they have been learning up until that time which was Toras Nigleh (revealed Torah). The Rashb”i promised to change the course of history by revealing Toras Nistar (hidden Torah). The teachings of Toras Nistar are so powerful that it can keep the Jewish people connected to Torah even in the most difficult of times at the End of Days.
There is even a hint in the verse that the Rashb”i cited which indicates that it was because of Rebbi Shimon that the Torah was not forgotten. If you take the last letter of each word of the verse, “Ki Lo Sishachach Mipi Zaro,” and unscramble the letters, they spell “Yochai”, showing that it was because of “Bar Yochai” that the Torah was not forgotten (Likkutei Moharan; Tiferes Shlomo).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that there are four ways in which Toras Nistar prevented the forgetting of the Torah. We will explore them right now.
The First Approach:
The Midrash (Koheles Rabba, 1:13; Rabbanan and Rebbi Tuvia citing Rebbi Yitzchak) says that it is beneficial for man that he forgets his Torah learning, because if he did not, he would probably spend a year or two learning everything there is to know and then abandon Torah study altogether for other activities. But, since man does forget what he learns, he will be motivated to constantly review his studies. By constantly having to review his learning, he also benefits by being constantly connected to Torah study which provides the fuel necessary to battle the negative impulses of his own Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), because the only way to overcome the Yetzer Hara is through Torah study (Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 30b).
However, this only applies to Toras Nigleh which has an end. It is possible for man to memorize all that there is to be had with respect to Toras Nigleh. Only with Toras Nigleh is there a concern that he might abandon Torah study after mastering it, leaving him defenseless against his Yetzer Hara. Therefore, Hashem brought forgetfulness to the world which motivates man to constantly study which also benefits him with having the tools to overcome his proclivities towards negativity.
This is not the case with respect to Toras Nistar. It is Toras Nistar that has no end (Zohar, Raya M’hemnah, Ki Seitzei, pg. 279b). Therefore, even if man would remember everything he learns, he would never abandon Torah study because there is so much more to acquire.
Since it was the Rashb”i who revealed Toras Nistar, he guaranteed that Torah would not be forgotten. Once we delve into Toras Nistar, Hashem can remove the harsh decree of forgetfulness and man will still constantly occupy himself in the infinite Torah study and thereby benefit having the strength to win over his Yetzer Hara.
The Second Approach:
Forgetfulness comes from darkness (Zohar, Mikeitz, pg. 193b). The B’nei Yisaschar (Kislev – Teves 4:57) brings a proof of this by mentioning that the Torah (Gn. 1:2; Bereishis rabba, 2:4) describes the Greeks as darkness, and it was the Greeks who attempted, and maybe even succeeded to a certain degree, to cause the Jewish people to forget the Torah, as it says, “Lihashkicham Torasecha” (to cause them to forget Your Torah; Al Hanissim prayer for Channukah).
There is a hint pointing at darkness as being the cause of forgetfulness. The Hebrew word for darkness is “choshech” which is spelled in the Torah with three letters: ches, shin, and chuf. When those letters are rearranged, they spell “Shocheach” (forget), demonstrating that choshech causes shikchah (forgetfulness).
The way to abolish shikchah is by removing choshech, and the way to remove choshech is to increase light, and there is no light like the light of Torah (Pro. 6:23).
When the Hasmoneans defeated the Greeks, the miracle of the Menorah happened, representing that the light of Torah overcame the darkness of the Greeks (Bnei Yissaschar, Kislev – Teves, 2:12).
However, the ultimate light of Torah is found in Toras Nistar (Zohar Beha’alosecha pg. 153a). Since the Rashb”i revealed Toras Nistar, its powerful light can dispel the darkness and remove forgetfulness. Therefore, we celebrate the day of Zohar’s revelation (Lag Ba’Omer) by lighting bon fires, representing the brilliant (Zohar) light that was revealed on that day. Moreover, the bon fires are lit at night because that is when it is dark. Our bon fires make the statement that Toras Nistar has the power to dispel the darkness of the world, thus removing forgetfulness.
The Third Approach:
Forgetfulness stems from our bodies, whereas memory stems from our souls. The body is limited. The body also withers and often loses pieces of itself as it ages. Therefore, it is the body that suffers from memory loss.
However, the soul is unlimited. The soul does not wither and the soul does not lose anything over time. The soul remembers everything it experienced.
Reb Chaim Vital says that Toras Nigleh is the body of Torah (see Pirkei Avos 3:23), whereas Toras Nistar is the soul of the Torah. Since the Rashb”i revealed the soul of Torah, it guaranteed that it would not be forgotten.
The Fourth Approach:
Forgetting Torah began the moment that Moshe Rabbenu broke the first set of Luchos (Tablets; Eiruvin, chap. 5, “Keitzad M’arvin”, pg. 54a; Ex. 32:16). We mentioned in the first approach that there is a benefit to forgetting Torah. Forgetting motivates us to constantly review. This connectedness to Torah study affords us with the ability of defeating our Yetzer Haras. But, before the Luchos were broken, we did not have any internal Yetzer Hara any longer (Shemos Rabba, 41:7; Ex. 32:16).
Therefore, it was alright that we remembered all of our Torah learning prior to the breaking of the Luchos because even if we would have stopped learning Torah, there was no concern that we would follow our Yetzer Haras because there was no longer any Yetzer Hara within us.
But the moment that Moshe broke those Luchos, the Yetzer Hara returned to them. Only then was it necessary that they began to forget their learning so that they would always be occupied in Torah study which would empower them to wage war against their Yetzer Haras.
However, Reb Chaim Vital (preface to Sha’ar Hahakdamos; Sefer Eitz Chaim Tov Parshas Chukas) says that the first set of Luchos was Toras Nistar. The second set of Luchos was Toras Nigleh. Since the Rashb”i revealed Toras Nistar, he returned the first set of Luchos to us in the form of the Zohar.
Parenthetically, there were two trees in Gan Eden (paradise), the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge) and the Eitz Ha’Chaim (Tree of Life). The Eitz Hada’as represented Toras Nigleh, whereas the Eitz Ha’Chaim represented Toras Nistar. Adam’s sin was that he only went for Toras Nigleh, and abandoned Toras Nistar.
The teachings of Toras Nistar are so powerful that they can eject our inner Yetzer Hara. Subsequently, there is no need to forget our learning because even if we would remember everything we learned and thereby stop learning, there is no fear of falling prey to the Yetzer Hara because there is no Yetzer Hara to begin with!
There is a hint which supports this idea that the first set of Luchos is the Torah that the Rashb”i revealed to us. The first set of Luchos is called “Shivrei Luchos” (the broken shards of the Tablets). The word “Shivrei” is spelled: shin, beis, reish, yud. When unscrambled, those letters serve as the acronym for “Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai”, indicating that the Rashb”i’s teachings are the secrets which stem from the first Tablets.
This will help us understand the angels’ opposition to having the Torah given to the Jewish people (Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akivah”, pg. 88b; Psa. 8:2 – 5). They claimed that we should not receive the Torah because we would wind up forgetting it anyway, just like the Sages in Kerem B’Yavneh predicted. They argued that the Torah should remain in the angelic realm since angels do not forget anything.
Therefore, Moshe took the soul of the Rashb”i with him before ascending on High. Moshe already guessed this angelic claim. Therefore, Moshe came prepared with the soul of the Rashb”i which made a statement to the angels that because of the Rashb”i, the Torah would not be forgotten from the Jewish people.
This will also help us connect the end of the Torah to its beginning. The Chumash concludes by speaking about the strong hand of Moshe Rabbenu who received the Luchos from Hashem. It goes on to say that Moshe broke those very Luchos before the eyes of all the Jewish people (Dt. 32:12, Rashi citing Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akivah”, pg. 87a).
What a smashing way to end the Torah! Moshe Rabbenu just set forgetfulness into motion. Perhaps the angels were right in claiming that we did not deserve the Torah. We were going to forget it anyway. Maybe the Sages in Kerem B’Yavneh were right in stating that the Torah would be forgotten by the Jewish people. How can we end on such a sad note?
The answer to this is that the story is not over yet. Because when you get to the end of the Torah, you have to start all over again from the beginning. In the beginning it says, “Bereishis” which is spelled: beis, reish, aleph, shin, yud, suf. When rearranged, these letters are the acronym of, “Ohr Toras Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai” (the light of the Torah of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai; Agra D’Kallah, Tzeirufei Bereishis, #55). This teaches us that because of the Rashb”i there would be no forgetting of the Torah because he brought back the first set of Luchos through revealing Toras Nistar.
The word “Bereishis” also has another meaning. The beis of the word Bereishis stands for the word “Bishvil” (because of), and the rest of the word, “Reishis” refers to the Torah which is called ‘Reishis'” teaching us that it was because of the Torah that God created Heaven and Earth (Bereishis Rabba 1:2; Pro. 8:22).
Once we have established that the word “Reishis” refers to Torah, the letter “beis” takes on new meaning. The letter beis is numerically two. Therefore, “Bereishis” means “Beis – Reishis”, meaning, there are two Torahs, Toras Nigleh and Toras Nistar. There were also two Law givers, Moshe Rabbenu and Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Moshe gave us Toras Nigleh and Rebbi Shimon gave us Toras Nistar. Actually, the Rashb”i was a reincarnation of Moshe Rabbenu. So Moshe came back a second time to finish the job of bringing us the other dimension of Torah.
All of this will lead us to understanding why we connect oil to the Rashb”i in the famous Lag Ba’Omer song. The Talmud (Horiyos, chap. 3, “Kohen Moshiach,” pg. 13b, Rebbi Yochanan) says that eating olives can cause a person to forget the Torah learning of seventy years, whereas eating olive oil can help us remember the Torah learning of seventy years.
The Shvilei Pinchas offers one explanation of this. He says that the olive itself is the external body of the fruit representing Toras Nigleh (like we mentioned in the third approach), whereas the olive oil is the internal part of the fruit representing Toras Nistar.
Therefore, the olive causes forgetfulness because it is like the body which eventually suffers loss. But olive oil generates memory because it is like the soul which doesn’t forget anything. This is why we compare the Rashb”i to oil. Just as oil is good for memory, so was the Rashb”i and the Toras Nistar that he revealed good for memory.
This also explains why the song refers to the Rashb”i only as “Bar Yochai” and not by his first name. It is because the name “Yochai” is coded into the last letter of each word in the verse, “Ki Lo Sishachach Mipi Zaro” (It will not be forgotten from the mouth of your offspring). This teaches us that because of Bar Yochai and the Toras Nistar that he revealed, the Torah will indeed remain on our mouths and never be forgotten.
One practical application of this teaching could be to learn a little Kabbalah during our Torah sessions. This suggestion might come across as shocking, given that there are conditions that one must possess before delving into Pardes (the four-level orchard of Torah learning), such as being forty years old and mastering the entire Talmud with its Halachic authorities (Rema and Shach Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah 246:,6). How can one advise the masses to engage in such a study if the chances are that not everybody has fulfilled these conditions?
Our suggestion can be understood once we define the difference between the study of Kabbalah and the study of Chassidus. Kabbalah tries to lift man to the Heavens. But, not everybody is ready to become a spiritual astronaut. There is a lot of training necessary in order to become an astronaut. Additionally, one must possess the right type of suit to enter outer space. That training is accomplished by going through Toras Nigleh first. Toras Nigleh provides the outer suit.
However, the study of Chassidus does not try to lift man to the Heavens, rather, it brings the Heavens down to man, and packages it in just such a way, and in the right dose, that we can safely absorb the Kabbalistic teachings that it is based on without being damaged.
Chassidus makes Kabbalah relevant to all. It can strengthen us to overcome the unique challenges that we are faced with in this very complicated and dangerous world that we live in. Its light can remove the darkness and help us get a handle on the Yetzer Hara, thus preventing forgetfulness.
So, may we all be likened to olive oil, saturated with both Luchos Shniyos – Toras Nigleh and with the endless Toras Nistar from the Luchos Rishonos, in order to obtain the strength to face the many challenges that confront us during these times – The End of Days, and thus be filled with incredible happiness and joy as we remember our learning, and thereby be fortified to battle the Yetzer Hara, filling this dark world with light, transforming our bodies into souls, and thus go back to Gan Eden and taste from the Eitz Ha’Da’as AND from the Eitz Ha’Chaim, making both Moshe Rabbenu and Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai proud of us.
Good Shabbos, Lag Ba’Omer Sameach,