Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
It’s been a rough week for the Oisvorfer, the trouble having begun last Friday morning not even 15 hours after the heylige toirah for Bechukoisai went out. Nu, that morning a choshovo reader complained that there was ’too’ much toirah and not enough humor. Later that day another reader emailed all the way from Yerusholayim to suggest that I made an error when discussing the length of the the shlishi aliya. It’s taka emes that people often err when discussing length. On shabbis I heard from one of my female readers that there were at least 4-5 typos. Nu, I absorbed all those punches and was still ok until Sunday afternoon when I attended a special and emotional chasunah. There, yet another reader came up to and said azoy: “Yitz: I’ve been reading your toirah and this week’s was quite disappointing. If I want to know p’shat in the medrish, I know where and how to look it up (I wasn’t prepared to argue that point with him). You’ve gone too mainstream and I’m not happy. In fact, I’m giving you one more week, one more chance to get back to yourself. Get back to the person you were or I’m done with you”. The bottom line: all these comments had me shvitzing de gantze voch (the entire week).
Nu, let me explain: about too much toirah and not enough humor or schmutz- nu- I zicher apologize and didn’t realize how big of a minuvil each one of you taka is. As to the typos – nu- avada that wasn’t entirely my fault- what taka happened is that a sholom bayis issue arose (not the one you’re thinking about- you chazerim)- one that didn’t allow my senior editor (read:eishes chayil) to give it a final spell check. Nu, I’ll make sure not to pick a fight on Thursdays anymore.
And as to the length of the shlishi aliya….this is what I wrote: “the Shlishi aliya (3rd) happens to be the longest in the gantze Toirah, and consists of a whopping 37 pissukim.” My chaver in yerusholayim wrote saying “Ki sisa has a longer aliyah.” And on Sunday I was ambushed by two baalei kriya who after conferring with each other, decided that the Oisvorfer was dead wrong, but was I? Take another look: I said the shlishi aliya in bechukoisai was the longest in the gantze toirah. I still stand by that!
As I told you in the past: all I do is teach what the Rebbe didn’t or didn’t want to. If the parsha has material, I provide it. If it’s hidden, I find it and share with my now thousands of readers. Ober, if it’s not there, what am I to do, make it up? This is not aggadata. Do I look like Chanoch Teller?
And with that introduction, let me welcome you all to Sefer Bamidbar, the fourth of the Chamushai chumshai toirah (five book of the heylige toirah) and to Parshas Bamidbar.
If ever you wanted to take a shabbis off from listening to kriyas hatoirah, you might consider this parsha. Other than counting people, first all males above the age of 20 from every sheyvet (tribe) but Levi, and then a separate count for the liviyim. Why the liviyim merited their own count is avada the subject of many discussions but the bottom line is that all the other shevotim participated in the making of the eygel (golden calf) but the leviyim kept their hands clean, so to speak and as a shtikel reward, the RBSO counted us (I too being a levi) separately and gave us a special assignment in the midbar. Yet another reward was that we get to wash the hands of the koihanim. And as the biggest of all rewards for being such faithful Jews, the RBSO declared that we don’t get to own any land in Israel and had to instead schnoor off the other shevotim. Nu, is this a reward or what?
The parsha contains none of the taryag (613) mitzvois and other than flag decorating and marching formations, not much else going on this week. Since most of us have been to camp and experienced color war, we’ll leave this topic alone. I couldn’t find too many interesting Rashis or medroshim on this topic, as well, no humor. Even Rashi, who mamish can opine and often does on even the minutia, has little to say this week. Ober not to worry because as we move along in this Sefer (book) there will plenty to discuss as the yiddin commited many chatoim (sins) during their 40 year hike in the midbar. Stay tuned! Nu what to do about this week’s parsha? How to keep my talmidim and readers tzifreden(happy)? Am I a miracle worker? Avada nisht!.
And then it hit me. This past Sunday we celebrated the shtikel (minor) holiday we affectionately call lag b’oimer. What is it? How did it get its name, what can and can’t we do? What do we do anyway? And I was trachting (thinking) that taka since lag b’oimer almost always comes out (by design), on or near Parshas Bamidbar, there must be a connection of sorts, and efsher I could stretch into discussing the origins of this day, its minhogim (customs) and the entire sefiras ho’oimer.
Am I dreaming or has lag b’oimer changed? Moreover, has the entire sefira and its myriad restrictions gone the way of korbonois? Ich gidenk altzs klyn kint (I remember as a child) learning all about sefira and lag b’oimer. I recall with great clarity how I and all the kids my age couldn’t wait for lag b’oimer to arrive, it couldn’t get here fast enough. Eshtens it was a day off from yeshiva and avada that was always a good thing. Secondly, there were times when the yeshiva would mamish splurge for a bus and take us to the park where we took out our bows and arrows and made believe we were Indians. After all, who had bows and arrows besides Indians?
And where did you see an Indian? You know where? Nowhere! Because there were no Indians! The Amerikanner killed them all, chapped away their land and they were mamish extinct. And that’s how it was for years. Until…………until casino gambling came along or until the politicians decided that in order to legalize gambling in certain parts of the country (mostly outside Vegas), the casinos needed to be built on Indian land. Suddenly, in a scene reminiscent of what awaits us when the Moshiach arrives, there was mamish techiyas hamaysim (awakening of the dead). From no Indians, suddenly there were hundreds, then thousands and from sacks of bones hundreds of years old, suddenly everyone is, was or wanted to be an Indian. Shoin!
Anyway, lag b’oimer was great because avada on that that day we could get a haircut (or an Indian scalping) and also listen to music and even make and attend weddings. Avada, none of my chaverim were getting married in the eighth grade or even in high school (though a few efsher did through biya) so this particular nikuda (point) didn’t affect me until later on.
Of course back then I never wondered why we needed to be in the park, why we needed to play with bows and arrows, nor about anything else. Ober as I got older and was introduced to even stranger minhogim of lag b’oimer, I taka started to wonder. What’s going on here? Is this what the RBSO wants from us? Ver veyst. Ich farshtey nisht (I don’t understand), so let’s take a closer look at what goes on here.
What taka happened on lag b’oimer? Why is everyone so happy? Nu like everything else in our complicated religion, it depends on who you ask. First its name and that’s poshit (simple to grasp). Llamud+gimmel (lag) is bigimatria 33 (its numerical value) and is the 33rd day of the oimer, poshit geredt (plain and simple). Some say that on this day many years ago, Reb Shimon bar Yochai (Rashby) exited the cave where he and son were holed up and hid for 13 years. What was he doing there lechatchila (to begin with)? Taka an excellent kasha and here’s what happened. Due to persecution against the yiddin (Jews) led by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Reb Shimon was sentenced to death for defying the government (taka, not such a good idea, if you chap). To save his own life, he fled and hid in a cave for thirteen years together with his son Reb Elozor, where they studied the heylige Toirah day and night (Shabbas 33b). A carob tree and a spring of fresh water miraculously sprung up at the entrance to the desert cave and they were sustained until the Emperor died and the decree was annulled. Nu, a father and a son in a cave alone does not sound all that kosher especially if it’s a Father in another religion, if you chap. Anyway, taka, a nice story; shoin ginig (enough already). Is that the reason we celebrate on lag b’oimer? What’s the big deal?
Some say that he died on that day. Not that very day because some say that after he came out (of the cave) and saw the world, and not too pleased with what he saw, he went back in for another year, then came out and died later. But most hold that he died on lag b’oimer. Is that the reason we celebrate on lag b’oimer? Another personality the Ramo also died on that day. Who’s he you ask? Oy vey iz mir (woe is to me) that you don’t know but bikitzur (in short), the Ramo’s writings affect each one of us daily. He, Moshe Isserlis (1520- 1572), was a Rabbi and Talmudist, renowned for his fundamental work of Halacha (Jewish law), a commentary on – and component of – the Shulchan Aruch (lit. “the set table”). He is also well known for Darchei Moshe, a commentary on the Tur.
Nu, in my mishpocho and mistama in yours as well, if someone dies, we are mamish sad. We don’t go out dancing, partying, take haircuts, play in the park, nor do anything else with much joy to mark the day. Especially so on the yurtzeit; we are a shtikel solemn. So what gives here? Why is everyone giddy on this day? Can you picture the scene? Breaking news: RASHBY dead and the RAMA too- let’s party! What’s p’shat here? Did the BNY (yiddin) party when Moishe Rabaynu passed away or even Aharoin the kohain godol? Doesn’t the heylige toirah tell us that after they died, the BNY mourned them each for 30 days? Yes it does. Was the RASHBY (or they) so giferlich that we celebrate his/their petira (death) with a party?
Most people also associate Lag B’oimer with the day that hundreds of thousands of people go to Meron (from all over world) to the keyver of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (approximately 400,000-450,000 yearly). And why is this so? Is this how we commemorate the passing of a tzadik? Since when is yurtzeit a celebration? Isn’t it emes that certain people mark the day by fasting and doesn’t that seem epes more appropriate? However, Reb Shimon Bar Yochai is seemingly different, so say the party planners and others. Before he was niftar he called his students and revealed the secrets of the Toirah which he seemingly reduced to writing in a book called the Zoihar, someone the Oisvorfer quotes quite often. And of course whoever hears a secret is avada happy, especially if he thinks he’s the only one hearing it and in this case, each person hearing these secrets was mamish so overjoyed, they decided to dance and celebrate his petira. Makes sense to you? Good, veyter. What are those secrets? Ver veyst- who knows? Seemingly they remain secret but for the few people that can decipher his writings. Avada I refer to Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and a few other yichidim who zicher understand them; I, for one, remain clueless. Ok- we’ll come back to that soon, for now let’s look at the days leading up to lag b’oimer.
As an aside, the gemorah tells us that when he emerged from the cave, Rashby perceived Jewish farmers working. Dismayed by their lack of Toirah study, he “burned them up.” What this means literally I never chapped but mistama his shock is understandable in light of his position that yiddin should only study the heylige torah and not work, a position since adopted in Lakewood , many other kollels and also in many parts of Brooklyn ad hayoim hazeh (till this day). Nonetheless, due to his erratic behavior, Rashby and his son were ordered to return to the cave for another year of toirah study, after which a mellower Rashby emerged. This too, writes the Aruch Hashulchan, was on Lag B’oimer. Nu, as you can see, a lot happened that day. And some say that he was born and died on lag b’oimer; givaldig mamish and mistama worthy of celebration forever.
Still others say the reason we celebrate lag b’oimer is to show kovoid (honor) to Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. Others suggest that it’s got nothing at all to do with him; we celebrate because on this day the mon (manna) started to fall in the midbar (desert) and for thousands of hungry Jews, this was taka a valid reason to celebrate. And still others say the reason for the joy is based on reasons of kabbalah: in other words- none of our business!
Nu- given that all like lag b’oimer, let’s see what else people made up about this day. Some say it’s a segula (good luck charm) for parnasa (making a living) and mistama (likely) they’re correct – especially so if you’re a barber, sell bows and arrows or some other drink they distribute over in Israel called the ‘Chai Rotel.’ Ok- what’s that you ask? According to legend (chasidishe maysis), anyone involved in distributing this chai rotel drink gets many merits. The Bobover Rebbe zt”l said that one who gives out this mashka (drink) on Lag B’oimer is zoicheh (merits) to great things including children. Mistama, if you stay home with the eishes chayil, you can also accomplish this. Many people who can’t make the annual trip to Meron to hand out the mashka pay people to hand it out for them and if you read the Jewish Press and other such literary papers, you’ll see a plethora of ads offering this service. Chai Rotel is an ancient Israeli measurement which today is equivalent to 54 liters. The minhag used to be to hand out only wine or grape juice, however and as you can only imagine those on 54 liters of Mashka, didn’t fare all that well and today, water and soda may be substituted. There were however able to ignite the bonfires with one breath.
In many communities, even here in the heylige five towns, Lag B’oimer is celebrated as the Hillulah d’Rashbi; in other words, a huge party with lots of singing and dancing. Also on this day, bonfires are lit throughout Israel, especially at Rabbi Shimon’s grave in Meron. Little boys have their first haircuts, men go to the barber shop and all are happy, especially the women whose husbands have been scratching their faces for the last 33 days. Grada, even one of my own attorneys who lives over in West Hempstead, admitted that he too made a bonfire. Why do we light up? Some say the origin of this minhag (tradition) stems from the fact that just as Rashby gave spiritual light to the world through his mystical teachings, bonﬁres are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. Says the Bnai Yissaschor, a relative of a neighbor of mine, that we light bonfires because Rashby was known as Bozina Kadisha, the Holy Candle, and in honor of the Zoihar, the Book of Splendor.
And listen to this factoid that the Oisvorfer himself dug up: It is interesting to note that the story of Rashbi appears on the 33rd page of Maseches (Tractate) Shabbas, as his life is so bound up with the 33rd day of the Omer. Am I good or what?
And the heylige Zoihar relates how on the last day of his life, the sun stood still as Rashby revealed the greatest secrets of the Toirah. Why we needed a bonfire for light when the sun stood still, nu, this I don’t understand. Dying happily, he encouraged his followers to make his yurtzeit a celebration. For this reason, the Ari, the Ohr HaChaim and other great Kabbalists would journey to Meron to celebrate on Lag B’oimer. Nu, now you know the gantze gisheft (all you need to know about lag b’oimer)- hey- did your Rebbe teach you all this or did he just invite you into his cave?
Way back when, we were taught that the famous Rebbe Akiva lost 24,000 talmidim. Not lost in the park, but lost mamish. Exactly 24,000 of his talmidim died between Pesach and Shovuois, so we learn in the heylige gemorah (Yevamos 62b). Is this cause for a party? Avada nisht and that’s why according to legend, during this time, we taka don’t listen to music, shave, cut hair, get married or make other simchas. This makes good sense to me; taka if you lost 24,000 friends in a 49 day span, you’d be ois mentch (go out of your mind) and in no party mood. And since I mentioned Rebbe Akiva and a good number of you gifreliche oisvorfs have no clue about him, here’s some basic information.
The heylige gemorah (Menachois 29a) compares Rebbe Akiva favorably to Moishe Rabaynu, which is zicher the ultimate compliment and we can safely assume that he was quite the fellow. He is the national hero of the Jewish people for all time. Sadly he was killed by the Romans for supporting bar Kochba’s revolt. Who’s he? Nu, didn’t they teach you anything in yeshiva? Neither in mine but that’s for another day..
Anyway, we are taught that between pesach and shovuois, 12,000 pairs (yes according to the gemorah they were paired up as yeshiva boys often are) – 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva’s talmidim plitzling (suddenly) died. However, on lag b’oimer a miracle happened and they stopped dying for that one day. Avada not all agree. Some say that they continued dying until the 34th day of the Oimer. Some say this entire story of their death has absolutely nothing to do with lag b’oimer. And some say, though not the heylige gemorah that they died at the hands of the Romans. According to this theory, which grada (logically) makes sense, Rabbi Akiva ran what was the first Hesder yeshiva where the boys learned and also joined the army. Though they fought valiantly and had some early victories, the Romans regrouped and over this pesach to shovuois period, mamish killed them. Do I know? That was over 1850 years ago.
And how do we mark their passing or how did we celebrate? Nu, during these days (the sefira days) we, at least as youngsters, were taught that we don’t listen to music, don’t get haircuts (some don’t shave), don’t make weddings or bar mitzvahs and a few other restrictions. Ober (but) bazman hazeh (in our times) it seems that many if not most of these restrictions, have gone the way of the rotary phone. What happened to all the things we weren’t allowed to do between pesach and shovuois? Isn’t it emes that just a few years ago, no one dared making a bar mitzvah during sefira and a chasunah (wedding) was upgereddt (out of the question)? Who made and who went during this time? Nobody! And given that we didn’t know which 33 days any one person held as his mourning time, people simply didn’t make simchas. The caterers typically shut down and started getting ready for the June weddings. What the hec happened here? Who changed the halochois of mourning? Doesn’t it seem that bazman hazeh we find ourselves going to myriad simchas throughout the sefira? We do. Is the catering and simcha lobby so strong that they could mamish change halocho? Ver veyst? All agree however that lag b’oimer, was always a party day.
Ok- back to the 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva and what happened to them. Nu, let’s take a closer look: As expected, many poskim (codifiers of halacha) rightfully ask: if so many talmidim died why is this a reason to be happy? Taka an excellent question. So they answer azoy: we celebrate and are happy that the talmidim Rebbi Akiva (seemingly he started all over again) acquired afterwards did not die. You hear this? Is this logical? Ober, are you satisfied with that answer? Does it make sense to throw a party because death eluded these poor souls for one day? If what happened on Lag B’oimer was a cessation of the plague, wouldn’t it be more fitting to set it aside as a single memorial day for the thousands of scholars who died, especially in view of the Talmudic statement that as a result of their deaths “the world became spiritually desolate”?
And why did the first 24,000 die? Depends on which version of the story you like. Some say they were stingy, taka an excellent reason for the death penalty. Others suggest and we are taught that they died because they did not show respect to one another. Some say they spoke loshoin horo about one another. Can you imagine what the original story sounded like after passing 24,000 mouths? Yikes! Others say although each talmid grew to higher levels of Toirah, they were treated by one another as if they had not grown at all, because they were still friendly from the olden days. In other words – their friends didn’t respect their new found knowledge. Still others as quoted by Rav Chiya, suggested that they died an ugly death which some say is a form of diphtheria.
…but is that what really happened? Or were they actually killed by the Romans? Ver veyst? We don’t know the precise role played by Rabbi Akiva’s students in the revolt against Rome as the heylige gemorah, mistama for valid reasons, is hush on the story. Were they scholars or scholar/soldiers? Nor do we have proof that Rabbi Akiva taught his famous ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ doctrine in the wake of the demise of his 24,000 students, but it appears to be obvious that this is the case.
Avada all this begs other questions? Why does the death of Rebbe Akiva’s students, tragic as it was, merit 32 or 33 days of mourning, when greater tragedies in Jewish history are marked by a single day of mourning? In terms of numbers, the massacres of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Chmelnitski pogroms and the Holocaust far overshadow the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Why are the students given so much more weight? Ver veyst? Especially when the heylige gemora tells us that they were wisenheimers who seemingly deserved the death penalty? In fact, why mourn them at all? According to this theory efsher we should be mourning on lag b’oimer and celebrating during sefira? You hear this givaldige kasha? And finally, why are all these questions not discussed openly in the Talmud or in the writings of our Sages? So…what’s the bottom line in our times? Here’s what I found after combing many sources.
If you need to or want to get married on lag b’oimer – you’re good, though as expected some say you can only get married during the day. The Sefardim have the custom to marry on the 34th day. The overwhelming minhag is that one may get married the night of Lag B’oimer, however others, again as expected, don’t get married on Lag B’oimer at all. A wedding that started during the day may continue into the night. On the other hand, if you get invited to a wedding while observing sefira, you can go but…you can’t dance until the chosson/kallah come out of the yichud room, since before they come out, the dancing is not considered being mes’ameach the chosson/ kallah. In other words: weddings trump sefira.
And what about those bows and arrows? Who added those to the celebration? One reason given is connected to the RBSO’s promise not to bring a mabul when He’s very upset with the yiddin and wants to destroy us. Instead, he shows us a rainbow (keshes) in the sky and we are to get the message and repent. In the generation of a few people, including the RASHBY, the rainbow did not make an appearance in their merit. Accordingly, many tzadikim have adopted the minhag to shoot a bow and arrow (representing a rainbow) on this day. The oisvorfs do other shooting, if you chap.
And now you too are a lag b’oimer and sefira expert.
A gitten shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv
Yitz Grossman, Lawrence, NY