Embodiment of The Creation
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On this coming Tuesday we will celebrate Lag Ba’Omer.
But – what is Lag Ba’Omer, you may ask.
Lag Ba’Omer is a festive day on the Jewish calendar, celebrated for two main reasons.
It occurs on the 33-d day of the Omer count.
The numerical value of the letters ל”ג is 33.
1. The Talmud describes how, during the period of Sefirat Ha’Omer – ספירת העומר, counting the days of Omer.
(the days between Passover and Shavuot),
a plague killed Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, because they did not behave with proper respect for one another.
To commemorate the tragedy, mourning customs are observed during this time. On the thirty-third day of the Omer count לג בעומר – (Lamed-gimmel, pronounced lag, is the Hebrew number 33.), however, Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying.
The mourning customs are suspended, and we celebrate the day as a holiday.
This year, of course, under the cloud of the coronavirus, most of the celebraions unfortunately will not take place…
2. Lag Ba’Omer is also the yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing), several decades later, of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, best known as the principal author of the book of Zohar, the fundamental text of Jewish mysticism.
The Zohar relates that on the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon revealed new and profound mystical ideas to his disciples, and commanded them that rather than mourn for him, they should rejoice on this day, just as he rejoiced in his soul’s imminent reunion with G‑d.
Customs for Lag Ba’Omer
The Talmud relates how Rabbi Shimon was once overheard criticizing the Roman government in Israel, and had to flee for his life together with his son Rabbi Elazar. The two took refuge in a cave, where they remained for 13 years, studying Torah.
G‑d made a fresh spring emerge miraculously by the mouth of their cave, and a carob tree grew, whose fruits supplied them with food.
Many have a custom to eat carob fruit on Lag Ba’Omer to commemorate this story.
It is recorded in the Zohar that the overwhelming deluge of spiritual light had such a potent effect on the world that the sun did not set until Rabbi Shimon had finished conveying his wisdom and passed on, and that a spiritual fire surrounded his deathbed the entire day.
We light fires to commemorate the spiritual revelation that occurred on this day.
Bows and Arrows
Many have a custom to give children toy bows and arrows to play with at Lag Ba’Omer picnics. One of the explanations is that as a result of Rabbi Shimon’s great merits, no rainbow was seen during his lifetime.
According to Torah, the rainbow is a sign of G‑d’s displeasure. We play with bows to commemorate this miracle.
Mentionng the the mystical teachings of the Zohar, let’s now relate to the Kabbalistic meaning of the first letter with which the Torah starts. This is the letter ב
It starts the first word of Genesis – בראשית
בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
The design of the letter ב (בית – Bet), which happens to be the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, comprises three lines: two horizontal and one vertical.
These three lines represent the world directions:
(In ancient times North used to be depicted
on the left side).
- The horizontal line on top represents the east.
- The vertical line is the south.
- The horizontal line below is the west.
The design of this letter is similar to the path of the sun, which rises in the east and sets in the west.
“Where is then the North?”, you may ask.
The Midrash tells us that the letter Bet is similar to the construction of the world, which is the home for the whole creation.
The spelling of the Hebrew word for home בַּיִת is the same as the spelling of name of the letter Bet – בית.
And the shape of the letter Bet resembles a home with an open door, inviting others to inhabit it.
When one looks at the earth from above, he can see that there are continents to the east, west, and south.
Beneath the ice cap of the South Pole, one finds the continent of Antarctica. But beneath the frozen mass of the North Pole, there are no continents.
The north is so to speak “open”, similarly to the open side of the letter Bet.
The lesson we can learn from the letter Bet
is that the world was created incomplete.
The job of humankind is, therefore, to complete the creation by perfecting it.
We do this through our good deeds and by making the world a better place to live.
Our sages teach that north represents the evil relating to the verse: “From the north the evil will be released upon all the inhabitants of the land”.
It addresses the universal evil.
But, we also need to recognize that the “open” side – this northern aspect, exists within each individual as well.
When one strives to perfect oneself, he in turn contributes to the perfection of the world.
This is the concept embodied in the letter Bet.
We wish all of those who have been affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus to come back to normal, healthy life very soon.
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Wishing all of you a peaceful and healthy weekend.
Yoel & Orly
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