Shabbat Parshat Emor - 5760
Heroes of Sefirat HaOmer
Parshat Emor, we are commanded to count Sefirat
HaOmer (Vayikra 23:15) for seven weeks, or forty nine days,
beginning with the second night of Pesach,
and continuing through the night before Shavuot.
This counting had a religious-agricultural aspect to it, and also an
aspect of partial mourning, or "aveilut" because of historical
events, as you can see by following the above links.
giants of Jewish History are involved in the observance of the Days of
Sefirat HaOmer; they are Rabbi Akiva and his student, Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai.
is involved in the sad aspect of the Days, because, according to tradition,
24,000 of his students perished during this period. The reason generally
given is that they were punished for not properly respecting one another.
Somehow, though, this jars, because of the
extraordinary ethical qualities of their Rebbe, or "teacher of
Torah," who had asserted that "You
shall love your neighbor as yourself" is the primary teaching of
the Torah. Perhaps, the students were lost in the Bar Kochba War, of which
Rabbi Akiva was a strong advocate, and which the
Jewish People as a whole
lost because of their ethical failings, described in Masechet Gittin in the material on the Destruction of the Temple; the students
"taking the rap," so to speak, for the entire People.
In any case,
any ordinary Rebbe would certainly have been crushed by this loss. Not so
Rabbi Akiva, who demonstrated his great faith at that time and for all
generations, when he rebuilt his yeshiva. By this, he asserted again his
truly unique capability of seeing light in the blackest darkness, redemption
in the face of utter devastation, as he had when he, with several
colleagues, overlooked the Temple Mount leveled by the Romans, described at
the end of Masechet Makot. They had wept, he
had laughed, and he explained his laughter by his confidence that just
as the prophecies of destruction had come true, so surely would the
prophecies of redemption.
bar Yochai is associated with the happier aspect of Sefirat HaOmer; Lag
BaOmer, the thirty-third Day of the Omer. This day is celebrated by Jews
worldwide mainly because, according to tradition, the plague which had
decimated the students, suddenly ceased on
that day. But Lag BaOmer, the 18th day of Iyar, is also the
Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon. The major role in
Jewish History played by the G-dly Tanna, as he is called, is as the author
of the Zohar.
This work is the basis of that aspect of Torah known as "Torat HaSod",
the "Secret Torah," a.k.a. "Kabbalah"
which, while it is the deepest and most esoteric branch of Torah study, it
also paradoxically has the greatest appeal to the masses. Kabbalah is one of the foundations of
Its study is
not without risk, as we know from the Talmud's account of the four great
scholars who "entered the Pardes" (not to be confused with the
Orthodox Union's Pardes Project)
"pardes" is an orchard; but the word is also an acronym, as PaRDeS,
corresponding to the Hebrew Letter, "Pai," stands for "Pshat,"
Of the four
great scholars who entered the "orchard," which in its
"Sod" or "secret" aspect must have involved entering a
state resembling deep meditation, the only one who emerged unscathed was
thousands of Jews gather in Meron each year on Lag BaOmer to light torches,
dance and sing with great joy the "zemirot," the songs, composed
in honor of the one who preserved the traditions of Jewish Mysticism. Lag BaOmer is itself also a torch in the Night of Exile, which has
helped the Jewish People survive the Galut - "Bar Yochai! You were
anointed - you are fortunate - With oil of joy from your fellows!"
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU