Friday, May 27, 2016

Lag BaOmer and Ahavat Yisrael: Our son Moshe's Bar Mitzvah speech

5727. 1967. 49 years ago the Land of Israel and her people stood alone facing Arab armies far larger and better equipped than Israel’s, armies ready to attack at any moment. This was a time of great danger. Fear entered the hearts of all Jews everywhere. Like this year, 5776 -  5727 was a year of Hakhel – gathering: 
In ancient Israel, every seventh year was a Shemitah ("sabbatical") year. At the onset of the eighth year, on the second day of the holiday of Sukkot, sixteen days into the new year, all gathered in the Holy Temple for a dose of inspiration to tide them over for the next six years of wordly endeavors.
This event was known as Hakhel, "assemble!" It was the only event that required the attendance of every Jew, women, men and children, reminding us of the historic moment when our nation stood at Mount Sinai, when every member of our nation was present when G‑d lovingly gave us the Torah.
Once the entire nation had gathered, the king, situated on a specially constructed platform in the Temple's courtyard, was handed the Torah scroll that Moses himself had written, which he read to all those present.
The biblical mitzvah of Hakhel is only in effect when all the Jewish people reside in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe repeatedly encouraged all Jews to utilize this special year to assemble– men, women and children – and encourage each other to increase in Torah observance and study, and create an environment of closeness to G‑d.
Lag BaOmer of 1967 fell out on a Sunday, in which case, the Rebbe always called for a giant Lag BaOmer parade. Children and adults from all over the Northeast gathered on Eastern Parkway, where the Rebbe, standing in front of 770 addressed all present and to those beyond in communities worldwide by landline telephone, cellphones and the internet being decades in the future.
 But first a little bit about a holiday that has only been widely observed for a short time - about 500 years. For the Jewish people, that’s just yesterday.
 A Gut Yom Tov. I have the Zechus, the merit of having been born on Lag Be’omer. Everything happens by specific Divine Providence, and the fact that I have now become a fully responsible member of the Jewish people on this day obliges me to explore this Yom -Tov, an exploration I am privileged to share with you.
First the basics: Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count—this year, May 26, 2016—is a festive day on the Jewish. It is celebrated with outings, bonfires, and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day. It is in Meron that my “Upshernish” took place. This is the first haircut, at age 3, marking the beginning of formal Jewish education of a boy.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century of the common era, was the first to teach a large circle the mystical ideas of the Torah known as the “Kabbalah,”. Kabbalah is an essential part of the “Torah Shebaal Peh” the Oral Law, whose core themes were given by G-d to Moses. RashBi as he is known by his acronym is the author of the basic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”
The Chassidic masters explain that the final day of a righteous person’s earthly life marks the point at which “all his deeds, teachings and work” achieve their final perfection and the greatest power to impact our lives, going forward -forever. So each Lag BaOmer, we celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s life and the revelation of the inner soul of Torah, a life that continues to elevate us today.
Lag BaOmer also commemorates another joyous event. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities prohibited by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of the obligation to love and respect one’s fellow (ahavat yisrael).
The celebration of Lag BaOmer became much more widespread by the Arizal’s encouraging thre observance of this holiday whose depths he revealed. The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, further developed the accessibility of the Kabbalah – the inner dimension of the Torah,making it accessible to more and more of the Jewish people.
On that Lag BaOmer, almost 5 decades ago, the Rebbe made the point that the disaster striking the students of Rabbi Akiva ended on this day. Why? Because they finally had learned to have respect and unconditional love, Ahavat Yisrael - for each other. The cause of the trouble gone, the trouble ended. Elsewhere, the Rebbe explains that the students had genuine Ahavat Yisrael for each other. Nevertheless there was a flaw in this love: Since each was sure they truly understood their master’s teachings of the Torah, they felt compelled to correct their fellow’s erroneous thinking and behavior, and to enlighten them as to the true meaning of their master’s words. For the same reason, they found themselves incapable of expressing respect for each other’s views since they honestly believed that the others’ understanding was lacking and incorrect.
The greater a person is, the higher are the standards by which he is judged; in the words of our sages, “With the righteous, G‑d is exacting to a hairsbreadth.” Thus, a shortcoming that for people of our level would be considered a minor failing, had a devastating effect upon the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was a surviving disciple of Rabbi Akiva reached a higher understanding of the meaning of unity and love. He understood that Hashem created many souls with many paths, and that unity is not about all seeing matters the same way, but recognizing the common source from which all flows. The Kabbalah and Chassidus explain that light can be expressed in many colors, yet, be the same essential energy radiating from the same source. Light expresses itself in many ways without compromising its single nature. So too, with Hashem who is the source of each of our souls. We celebrate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, because his approach is the cure for the trouble that preceded Lag BaOmer.
At the parade of 5727, the Rebbe called for all the Jewish people in the spirit of “Hakhel” to gather together in unity, irrespective of all superficial differences. We do share a common soul, therefore, all differences between Jews are superficial.  
To explain this idea, we turn to Tractate Sanhedrin page 39A –Daf Lamed Tes amud alef as explained by the foundational text of Chabad Chassidus, the Tanya. There, in Chapter 35 it states: “Clearly, any such diffusion of the light of the Shechinah, that is the revelation of the light of the blessed En Sof, cannot be termed a change in Hashem, G‑d forbid, nor manyness. Witness the passage in Sanhedrin, where a heretic said to Rabban Gamliel: "You say that on every assembly of ten Jews the Shechinah rests. How many Divine Presences have you, then?" And he replied to him with an example of the light of the sun which enters through many windows.... “
The Rebbe went on at this Lag BaOmer, to explain that this was the way by which we can strengthen all the Jewish people, including those in the Land of Israel. He then said the following words: “G‑d is guarding Israel and…the people of Israel will emerge from the current situation with remarkable success.”
This was followed by the launching of the Tefillin Campaign, one that goes on to this day -asking each and every Jewish man over 13 to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin – starting with at least once. In the Maamar I just gave over, the power of Tefilin was extensively discussed, and uniting through this Mitzvah was and is a great source of strength to the Jewish people.
The Jewish people worldwide and especially in the Land of Israel today, face great challenges. As it was Forty-Nine years ago it can be today. We need to stop waiting for our fellow Jews to start seeing things exactly as we do, and simply think, feel and act with love and respect for each other, as our common being demands.

Then, inasmuch as
דברי הצדיק חיים וקיימים לעד “The Words of the Righteous Are Alive and Current as Ever” we shall again see that: “G‑d is guarding Israel and…the people of Israel will emerge from the current situation with remarkable success.”
From these partial, temporary salvations we hope and pray that Hashem will bring us to a full salvation – the Final Redemption, with the return of the all the Jewish People to the Complete Land of Israel, the rebuilding of an Everlasting Beit Mikdash – the Temple, on the Har Habayit, and an era of absolute felicity for all of Humankind.  In the words of the Rambam - Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (one of the Moshes I am named for)

In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.”


  1. What a beautiful, thoughtful, deep d'var. I learned so much. You're a wonderful writer Moshe! Mazel tov on becoming a bar mitzvah.