This week we begin with very hearty wishes of mazel tov to our friends Mindy and Gerald Gartner who will be walking their beautiful and accomplished daughter Sari down the aisle this coming Sunday, on Lag B’oimer mamish. Mazel tov to the choson Benji, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tzvi and Lea Bedziner who snuck into Lawrence from North Miami Beach to chap up one of our finist. Mazel tov as well to the extended Gartner and Bedziner mishpocos.
Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
Bread on Pesach!
Very busy week, where to start? Should we begin with Parshas Bichukoisai, the rather short parsha we will read this week, the last in sefer Vayikra and the one that contains a very early version of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’? Nu, since we mentioned the parsha, let’s spend mamish one paragraph on it before we move on. The RBSO begins with these words: “If you follow my decrees and if you are careful to keep my commandments” (26:3), then good things will come your way. Note the double language of ‘if’ and ‘if’. Nu, it’s like this: if you follow the RBSO’s Chukim (decrees), all will be good. Ober tome-nisht (if not), all hell will break loose and you’re in big- no very big do-do. Shoin, got the picture? If not, the parsha lays out the specifics; 49 different curses, one worse than the other that the RBSO has in store for the Yiddin should they not follow in his ways. Disease, famine, war and exile including the gory details, are enumerated. Suffer from low blood pressure? Read the parsha; results guaranteed! On the other hand, if you’re an occasional bed wetter, have trouble falling asleep, suffer from nightmares and or any other sleep disorder, do not read this parsha; it’s not for the faint of heart. Nu, despite the grave warnings, the Yiddin did their own thing; their travails will be further explored as we will read soon in Sefer Bamidbar.
Or, shall we discuss why Yiddin all over world will, come shabbis morning, be chanting in unison, the words ‘chazak, chazak vinischazek’ as we say goodbye to Sefer Vayikra until next year? Or, efsher we should discuss Pesach Shay-ne, the second Pesach that was marked and celebrated by some this past Wednesday? It was? Taka yes! And it was mamish free and painless. Is there taka one mitzvah in the gantze Toirah that has yet to be exploited and commercialized? If we’re not being price gouged on matzo, travel and hotels, is it really a Yom Tov? Seemingly yes and taka in a minute, we’ll shine a light on it. Moreover between the Yom Tov you missed, and the Yom Tov of Lag Boimer which we will celebrate on Sunday and the completion of Sefer Vayikra which many of you weren’t too thrilled to even begin studying, it’s taka cause for celebration. But is it? Lommer lernin.
Pesach Shay-ne evokes its sister Yom Tov, the real Pesach, ober, not exaclty. It’s just one day, not eight, and to date none of the Toirah inspired entrepreneurs have organized hotel stays. Moreover, one can eat bread, all chometz products allowed and givaldig mamish. In fact, there are mamish no restrictions and zicher no seder. Some have a minhag (custom) to eat leftover matzoh. Pesach Shay-ne originated at the time of Yitzyas Mitzrayim (Exodus) when efsher the first ever chevra kadisha burial society that carried Yoisef’s bones out of Mitzrayim was told by Moishe that they were disqualified from offering the korban Pesach because they had come into contact with Yoisef’s bones. They were tomay (impure). The chevra, upset over being excluded and punished for having done a good deed, filed an appeal with Moishe who then asked the RBSO for guidance. Says the heylige Toirah (Bamidbar 9:6-7) azoy: They approached Moishe and Aharoin . . . and they said: ‘. . . Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present the RBSO’s offering in its time, amongst the children of Israel?’ Nu, the RBSO overruled Himself and advised azoy: anyone who couldn’t do what they had to do because they were touched by death or “on a distant road … now or in future generations,” could have a second go at it every year, one month after Pesach, for one day only. Nu, zicher we’ve all heard of touching dead bones at home, if you chap, ober on the road? In any event, we call this day Pesach Shay-ne (Iyar 14). And if you’re on the raod and also getting tomay at the same time, if you chap, this was your second chance. We all need them, if you chap.
Says the heylige Gemora (Pesachim 93a) azoy: The following keep the second [Pesach]: the Zov and the Zovo – of course you remember them from a few weeks back. Male and female lepers, a nidah and those who had intercourse with a nidah, women after confinement, those who did not observe the first Pesach inadvertently, and those who are forcibly prevented, and those who [neglect it] deliberately, and he who is unclean, and he who was in a journey afar off. Nu, if you recognize yourself on this list of eligible participants, chazir that you are, you qualify!
And for the shabbis tish and something they mistama didn’t teach you in yeshiva: though our ancestors brought the first korban Pesach just before they left Mitzrayim and the second, one year later, it appears that there were no further Pesach observances until after they entered the Promised Land. The Yiddin went 39 years without Pesach? Is that emes? Seemingly it is. And taka why? Because that’s what the RBSO said to do! Shoin! Says the heylige Toirah (Shemois 12:25) azoy: Pesach should only be observed “When you come into the land that the RBSO shall give to you”; only the first two, -the one observed in Mitzrayim, and the one held in the desert on the following year-were exceptions to this rule, specifically commanded by the RBSO. And saysRashi, who avada knew, azoy: Pesach in the Midbar was done only once, andfrom that time forth until the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), people commemorated Pesach by refraining from work on day one and day seven, and abstaining from chometz. Ober the Yiddin conducted no Seders and brought no sacrifices to punctuate the holiday until the Temple was built. Veyter!
This coming shabbis as we close out sefer Vayikra with the reading, parts in a hushed tone, the shrekliche parsha of Bichukoisai, we will all be standing, happily celebrating, as we chant in unison the three word phrase of – ‘chazak-chazak-vinischazek’ (be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened). Ober why do we do this? What’s the significance of these words as opposed to words of mazel tov! Or yashar koiach (may your strength return)? And why are we covering chazak in the middle of this Toirah review and not at the end where it efsher belongs? Why? Because the Osivorfer felt like it; veyter. Shoin! In any event, Oisvorfer followers should taka be proud and happy. We are mamish 4/5ths of the way through another Toirah cycle and early in sefer Devorim the Oisvorfer will be completing his own fourth cycle of writings. Will he continue? Ver veyst?
Does the heylige Toirah contain these words? Not! And shtelt-zich-di-shaylo (the question arises), how did this phrase make it into each and every chumish and taka why do we chant these words? Moreover, why is it that some rabbis insist on receiving the kibud (honor) where this phrase will be chanted? And not just insist; some have this written into their contracts! Who came up with it, who started this and who got this phrase included in every single Chumash no matter ones’ affiliation? Wait, another question: it would seem epes more logical to efsher chant these words before we begin a sefer, before we begin the effort of reading and learning each Sefer and parsha. Logic epes dictates that we would need strength before we undertake the toiling over a new book and not when we’re done! What’s taka pshat?
On the other hand, efsher as we recite the words, we are taka having them in mind for the next sefer, ver veyst? After all, isn’t the entire religion about having in mind? Nu, believe it or not, the heylige Oisvorfer was not the only one bothered by this question and taka says one Medrish azoy: We say them because it is a tradition! It is? Started by whom? Ver veyst? Maybe Tevye! More specifically, it’s an Ashkenazi tradition. Some say it’s not clear where the custom to say chazak-chazak-v’nischazek came from. Nice! Nonetheless, according to tradition, one should recite “chazak” three times which is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word Moishe. What’s Moishe have to do with chazak? Numerically, חזק equals 115, and 3x חזק equals 345, which is the gematria of Moishe. And pshat is that we celebrate having finished one of the books given to us by Moishe. Gishmak!
Does everyone agree? Of course not! Some argue about the wording of the phrase; most taka chant ‘chazak-chazak-v’nischazek’ ober some suggest that we should be chanting chazak-chazak-v’nischazak, instead of v’nischazek. Seemingly, the first version has, by popular demand, won the day.
And says the Sefer Tammei Haminhogim azoy: there may be 3 solid reasons for chanting these words. (1) It had to do with the phrase we come across in Sefer Yihoishua 1:8 (Joshua) where it says azoy: “this book of the Toirah shall not leave your mouth”. Says the medrish that the word “this” implies that Yehoishua was actually holding a sefer Toirah at the time. Yehoshua had just completed it, and therefore the RBSO said to him “chazak ve’ematz” (1:6,7). And some infer from this passage that when one completes a sefer of the heylige Toirah, we should say “chazak”.(2) The heylige Toirah is something that requires strength to continue learning, as seen from other Talmudic sources, so we wish ourselves strength in our continuation through the next sefer.(3)”Chazak-Chazak-V’Nischazek” is meant as a public “chizuk” for those that just finished reading the Toirah – akin to having completed a tractate of the heylige Gemora. It is a way to tell those present that they need to strengthen themselves through what they have learned, not to forget what they have learned, and to encourage them to continue learning. And just like we chant the words “hadran-alach” (I shall return to you) after finishing a mesechta (Tractate), or saying ‘Yasher Koiach’ (may your strength return) to a chazan, we chant chazak after each sefer of the heylige Toirah is completed. Veyter.
And on Sunday, we will mark yet another Yom Tov, this one known as Lag b’oimer. Why are we so happy on Lag-b’oimer, ver veyst? Some suggest we’re happy because on that one particular day, none of Rebbe Akiva’s 24,000 students perished. Is this a reason to celebrate, make weddings, get haircuts, and listen to live music, all because no one died that day? According to this version of events, thousands had already died in the previous 32 days. Should we be out partying on the one day they didn’t? Ver veyst.
According to legend and one version in the heylige Gemora (Yevamos 62b), 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. And that’s why, during this time, we taka don’t listen to music, shave, cut hair, get married or make other simchas. This makes good sense and taka if you lost 24,000 friends in a 49 day span, you’d be ois-mentch (out of your mind) and in no party mood. Since we mentioned Rebbe Akiva and a good number of you giferliche oisvorfs have no clue about him, here’s some basic information.
The heylige Gemora (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? Not to worry; they did teach you about partying with your fallenboigen (bow and arrow); at least they covered the important things.
Anyway, we are taught that between Pesach and Shovuois, 12,000 pairs (seemingly, they were paired up as yeshiva boys often are, if you chap) – 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, though not the heylige Gemora, say 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; avada proving that one can combine service to one’s country, and learning. Though they fought valiantly and had some early victories, the Romans regrouped and during the 49 days between Pesach and Shovuois, mamish killed them. Do we know what really happened? We don’t! 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 cannot and should not listen to music, get haircuts (some don’t shave), make weddings or bar mitzvas 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 blackberry. What happened to all the restrictions? 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 planned a simcha? 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 mourning rules?
Doesn’t it seem that bazman hazeh we find ourselves going to myriad simchas throughout the sefira? We do. Does business trump halocho? Are the catering and simcha lobbies 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 new talmidim of Rebbi Akiva -seemingly he started all over again-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 they died because they did not show respect to one other.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. 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 was a form of diphtheria.
Ober 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 Gemora, 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.
And the bottom line: If you need to or want to get married on lag b’oimer you’re on safe ground. On the other hand, if you get invited to a wedding while observing sefira, you can go but…you can’t dance until thechosson/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.
What taka happened on lag b’oimer? Ver veyst? Why is everyone so happy? Ver veyst! And like everything else in our complicated religion, it depends on whom you ask. Only its name is logical; it is lamud+gimmel (lag) which 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 his son were holed up and hid for 13 years. Lag B’oimer was then a coming out party. What was he doing there lechatchila (to begin with)? Nothing good can come from a father and a son in a cave together for so long. Zicher nothing good can come from a rebbe and his student in a cave, even for 5 minutes. Some say that Loit, Avrohom’s nephew did ok in the cave. Then again, he was holed up with his two daughters and we all know what happened next.
What was he doing there? Taka an excellent kasha and here’s what happened. Seemingly, due to persecution against the Yiddin led by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Reb Shimon was sentenced to death for defying the government. To save his own life, he fled and hid in a cave together with his son Reb Elozor, where they studied the heylige Toirah day and night (Shabbis 33b). This went on for 13 years. 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. Taka, a nice story ober did that really happen? Why not? Ober what has that to do with 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? 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 was a Rabbi and Talmudist, renowned for his fundamental work of Halocho, a commentary on and component of the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish Law). He is also well known for Darchei Moshe, a commentary on the Tur.
Which again begs the question: two great people seemingly died on this day and we’re partying? Especially so on their yurtzeits? 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? What’s taka pshat? Breaking news: RASHBY dead and the RAMA too: let’s party! What’s p’shat here? Did the 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 Yiddin mourned them each for 30 days? Yes it does. Was the RASHBY (or they) so giferlich that we celebrate his/their petira (passing) with a party?
Ober, Reb Shimon Bar Yochai was 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. 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. And taka says the heylige Zoihar azoy: on the last day of his life, the sun stood still as Rashby revealed the greatest secrets of the Toirah. Dying happy, 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. Today, enterprising Yiddin have found a way to turn this into a givaldige business opportunity involving travel, accommodations, food and the selling and marketing of a special Lag B’oimer drink they call the Chaim Rotel. That for another day.
Makes sense to you? Good, veyter. What are those secrets? Ver veyst! If we knew, they wouldn’t be secrets! Seemingly they remain secret but for the few people who can decipher his writings. In our times, few, including Madonna can. Most remain clueless.
Others suggest that it’s got nothing at all to do with him; we celebrate because on this day the mun (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: it’s none of our business!
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) Shabbis, as his life is so bound up with the 33rd day of the Oimer. Gishmak!
A gitten shabbis, chazak and a joyous lag b’oimer-
The Oisvorfer Ruv