Parashat Emor and Lag LaOmer- Learn it and DO it WELL
4. These are the HaShem's appointed [holy days], holy occasions, which you shall designate in their appointed time:
ד. אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם בְּמוֹעֲדָם:
A king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the prince, was thirsty for water. But instead of sending a horseman to bring over water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to be marked with a signpost.
‘At the present time,’ explained the king to his son, ‘we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then, the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set.’
The Mar’eh Yehezkel tells us that HaShem established the hagim that we read about in Parashat Emor (Pesah, Shavuot, Sukkot) as a signpost at each time of the year that we initially received the gift we are celebrating each year, like freedom on Pesah, joy on Sukkot, and Torah on Shavuot. Since the time of Sukkot is the time of the year most auspicious for joy, that is why Sukkot is established around that time of year, not the other way around. We don’t create joy because it is Sukkot, we celebrate Sukkot at that time because that time of year is specific to joy. Therefore, the hag of Sukkot becomes a signpost in the year to remind us that this is a time for joy and should we want to, we can dig deeper into the hag and tap further into our source for joy.
This time of year, the first thirty-three days of the Omer are essentially ones of sadness, since we mourn the loss of 24,000 Talmidei Hakhamim, students of Rabbi Akiva that perished during this time. During these days we observe customs of mourning; we do not cut our hair or shave, we do not listen to music and so on. However, on Lag LaOmer, we celebrate! What are we celebrating? The passing of the pillar of nearly all the learning we have today, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. One must stop and think. If we are mourning for an entire month over the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students, then what reason could we possibly be celebrating the passing of arguably the largest, most fundamental Torah scholar and Sadik that ever existed?
The Talmud tells us that the reason Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim perished on such a large scale is because ‘Lo Nahagu Kavod Zeh laZeh’; they did not treat each other with proper respect. How so? These were the most elite talmidim! They didn’t understand the basic concept of kavod? In what sense did they disrespect each other? They did not show sufficient kavod in how they shared their Torah. A talmid thought to himself that another talmid ‘inferior’ to him was not worthy of his time to come explain simple matters of the Torah to him. He preferred to spend his time increasing his own Torah knowledge and was reluctant to help others ‘inferior’ to him advance in their own Torah learning. A talmid who really has kavod for other talmidim sees everybody equally, or even greater than himself; he truly cares about sharing Torah with others and even takes away from his own time in order to accomplish this. Otherwise, what good is the Torah he learns? It stays locked up in his head and disappears from the world when he does.
There is a story about a young sheep whose wool was growing out beautifully. Every month, the wool that he grew doubled in size. He went through the winter months so proud that he has such thick wool to keep him warm. Came the beginning of the summer months and his owner wanted to sheer his wool so he could sell it. This sheep protested, ‘No! No! This wool is mine, you can’t take it away from me! It’s what protects me!’ and so, his owner could not object. He let the young sheep have his wish. One by one, all the other sheep, freshly shorn, were running around the pasture and jumped into the lake to cool off and then came out of the other side. The sheep who refused to sheer his wool to give to others started building up a sweat under all his wool in the summer heat. He decides he will also swim through the lake to cool off. The sheep never comes back up. His wool was too heavy; he sunk.
The Torah of the students of Rabbi Akiva actually became a burden to them. This is why we mourn. We cry over the loss of all the Torah that could have been revealed, that we could have known, that we could have used to enhance our lives, but is now forever lost….all due to the pride that stood in the way of these talmidei hakhamim. Their Torah weighed them down and they sunk. If they were not going to share their Torah, they had no further purpose in this world, that is why they were taken away.
This is the same exact reason why we celebrate the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai left this world. Not only did he contribute enough Torah for his own generation, he learned and gave over enough Torah for literally every generation to come, even the last one. He shared his Torah with all of us. Is this not reason enough to celebrate him? The teachings of the Zohar we have today are maybe less than one percent of what he originally learned at taught. And look how it fills the world today! When we hear the word Zohar or Kabbalah, we jump up in excitement of revealing these teachings because they are so great and deep. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, on the high level that he was, did not think he was wasting his time relaying the Torah he knew to people in generations far lower than him. He shared and shared and shared. He gave us sufficient kavod. This is why he is celebrated even on the day of his passing.
The Torah HaKedosha isn’t a book; it is something we live by. It is something we infuse into every ounce of our being, every moment of our lives, something we put into action, not just something we read. It is fundamental to the world’s existence. Torah is compared to water. Without either of them the world would not exist. Water is not just two Hydrogens and an Oxygen (H2O), it is what keeps us alive! We would never think of water as just three atoms. Likewise, the Torah is not just five books, IT KEEPS US ALIVE! It is our life source! Can you go a day without it?
The same way in the story with the well, the well must be dug in order to discover the water inside. We must dig with much effort to seize the Torah. Knowing how to build the well is of no help unless one knows how to pull out the water from inside for others to drink. The same way, the students of Rabbi Akiva only knew how to build the well. Even though they were such experts in it, they missed the whole purpose of creating a well—to draw water from it! In this they were deficient. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai may or may not have known how to design the most advanced well in town (I am sure that he did), his strength was in drawing the water up for us to drink. He didn’t just fetch a cup of water when he was thirsty, he dug a well for us to enjoy the water as well. He didn’t just learn Torah for his own benefit, he taught it to last for generations until the world’s end. And even though nowadays we may feel that the well is just filled with sand, remember what the king told his son, ‘Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set’.
Pirkei Avot teach us, ‘Lo HaMiderash ha’ikar Ela haMaaseh’. It is not the study that counts but rather the action. Torah is not just a pursuit of knowledge; it’s not about how much you know or how many hours a day you learn. We see from the students of Rabbi Akiva that amassing knowledge in one’s head serves no real purpose. It’s what you do from what you learn that counts. Torah is about how you live your life and how you spread it to others.
Be’Ezrat HaShem, we should all develop the proper sensitivity and mindset to what the Torah really is and come to the realization that it is far more than a 3,000 year old Sefer; it is the principle by which the entire world ran, runs, and will continue to run. May each and every one of us develop the koah to be of the people who dig the well and draw the waters of Torah from them and share it with others. May we all capture the essence of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai deep inside every one of us. May we all give the proper kavod to those around us, big or small, and in that zekhout to bring Mashiah ben David beYamenu, Amen!
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorakh!