Seven years ago, I was invited to join an Orthodox Union Rabbinic mission to Eretz Yisroel, co-sponsored by “Hachavayah HaYisraelis – The Israel experience.” Along with twenty-five rabbis from America and South Africa, I spent a week touring the country.
One of the many places we visited was the Nevatim air force base in the Negev. Our tour guide, a highly-trained experienced soldier named Shakid, allowed us to board a C-130 Hercules fighter jet. These were the types of planes used in missions such as the Entebbe raid and Operation Solomon (Ethiopia). There was an incredible plethora of buttons and dials in the cockpit, which every air-force soldier must be intimately familiar with.
Shakid explained that every jet has a minimum five-man crew: Captain, Copilot, Flight Engineer, Navigator, and Load Master. Each has his own role that must be executed perfectly for a mission to be successful.
He then added that the most important person on the plane is unquestionably the navigator. All the expertise and knowledge required to fly the plane is worth nothing if the plane is not directed to where it needs to be!
“G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim… each of you shall not contaminate himself to a dead person among his people, except for the relative who is closest to him…” (Vayikra 21:1-2).
“The Kohen who is exalted above his brethren – upon whose head the anointment oil has been poured… he shall not come near any dead person… he shall not leave the sanctuary…” (Vayikra 21:10-12).
Rabbi Meir Rubman zt”l, (Zichron Meir, quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov) notes that the discrepancy in halachic status between kohanim and the rest of the nation, and between the Kohain Gadol and the rest of the kohanim, reminds us that every person must serve G-d based on his own level.
The Mesillas Yesharim commences with timeless words: “The foundation of piety and the root of complete service is that it be true and clear to every person what is his obligation in this world.”
It does not say that one must know “man’s purpose in the world,” but “his own purpose in the world.” Piety and ultimate service to G-d is rooted in understanding one’s own uniqueness and mission in life.
The Gemara records the epic saga of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabi Elazar his son. After being forced to flee for their lives from the pursuant Roman forces, they took refuge in a cave where they remained for twelve years. When they finally emerged from the cave and saw people plowing and working the fields, they were aghast. They had reached such transcendent levels of holiness and purity that they could not fathom how one could busy himself with the mundane needs of this world.
Rabbi Rubman explained that when Rabi Shimon and Rabi Elazar emerged from the cave initially after the twelve years were over, they viewed the world through the perspective of their own lives. Therefore, they could not comprehend that anyone would give of his time to engage in earthly pursuits. They were then instructed to return to the cave so that they could learn to live in G-d’s world without destroying it. This entailed learning to understand that every person has his own distinct mission and path in life. Thus when they emerged the second time, Rabi Shimon understood that although for him physical pursuits were anathema, for the people in the fields it was a necessity.
The greatness of Rabi Shimon was that despite his personal extreme greatness, he learned to tolerate and appreciate that every person has his own path in life, and not every person could be expected to live according to his lofty levels.
Before I left Eretz Yisroel during that visit, I had the privilege to go with my brother Yaakov to visit Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, in his home in Yerushalayim.
While there, Rabbi Feuer shared with us the following thought.
The Mishna (Avos 3:11) states, “Rabi Chanina ben Dosa said: Anyone whose fear of sin exceeds his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone that his wisdom exceeds his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.” It is worthy to note that the Mishna does not state, “If one’s fear of sin exceeds wisdom, his wisdom will endure.” Rather it says, “Anyone that his fear of sin exceeds his wisdom, his wisdom will endure.” Rabi Chanina was teaching us that it is not sufficient for one to be G-d-fearing, but one’s fear of G-d must be commensurately superior to his own level of wisdom. Two people may be equally G-d-fearing yet one of them may not merit being called a G-d-fearing person because he is wiser than he is G-d-fearing. The more wisdom and insight one is endowed with the greater one’s obligation to raise his level of fear of G-d to ensure that he not be swept away by his own brilliance.
In regard to the counting of the omer in anticipation of the holiday of Shavuos, the Torah commands, “You shall count for yourselves… seven weeks they shall be complete.”
The commentators derive from this verse that to fulfill the obligation of counting one must recite each night’s counting by himself, and cannot rely on the principle of hearing is like answering.
Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt”l, noted that the Torah exhorts us to count the omer in a personal manner, because counting the omer is not about counting days, but about making days count! When we count the days of the omer we are essentially counting the value of our days and how much we invest in our days. Therefore, the counting is a very personal experience, and one must count for himself.
The celebration of the holiday of Lag B’Omer is inextricably bound to the celebration of the life and legacy of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Part of the greatness of Rabi Shimon was that despite the fact that he had reached the epitome of holiness and sagacity, revealing the esoteric secrets of kaballah in the Zohar, he was able to tolerate and understand the divergent and unique mission of every Jew.
Stephen Covey once remarked that the most important ingredient for success in life – even more than having a positive attitude – is having a roadmap. To be successful one must know and understand the course and direction that his life must take for him to be successful.
When all is said and done, each of us walks our own path in life. For one to achieve personal greatness he must first find that path and then never waver from it as he navigates his way through life.