By Rabbi Dan Lewin
This Friday is the widely celebrated day known as Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. It comes as a singular bright spot in a calendar period of solemn mourning, a day wherein, for example, exceptions are made to allow festive events, Jewish marriages, and live music. There are different historical reasons for the happiness of this day.
The most famous association is the date of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar (the son of) Yochai, who declared that he wanted this date to be remembered as a joyous occasion. Thousands of people gather at his gravesite in Israel. Bonfires are lit. Ancient stories are recounted. Songs about this legendary personality fill the air. He was known as the pillar of his people, about whom the Talmud declares that his spiritual work alone “saved the generation from harsh judgemnts.”
One of his unique traits involves the power of his Torah insights, seen in both the Talmud and his mystical teachings. There are two primary ways to bring light and blessing into the soul and the outside world: Torah (study) and tefillah (prayer). But they are different in their paths and their effects. Torah study involves bringing down light and wisdom into the mind. Tefillah, in contrast, is climbing up a metaphorical ladder: the human toil and reach to contact the Heavens.
There are advantages to both: Torah takes less effort to effect change than prayer, which seeks a reconsideration of divine will (hence, the common phrase: “May it be Your Will that…”). But when that contact is made in prayer, the effect on the world is greater — it can nullify decrees and influence the natural course of things.
Usually, we tackle these two paths at separate times in different ways. But there are some special people, giant souls carefully planted in this world, whose Torah insights are so valuable that the study they do is on par with tefillah — they can accomplish with Torah what is usually reserved for prayers. Another major contribution was Rabbi Shimon’s mastery of the two dimensions of Torah — the hidden (esoteric mystical) and revealed (action mitzvahs and laws) — which he unified, bringing great joy to all Jews.
On a more personal level, connected to the Omer, this day (and week) is instrumental in the completion of the ongoing character refinement. There inevitably comes a point in life when you are forced to fight for something dear to your heart and to your mission in this world. And during that time, you find out who your true friends are — who really cares and will step up to act — and who is satisfied to just stand on the sidelines and extend good wishes.
The ability to fight for the goal, until the last drop, is called netzach. The ability to recognize the truth (of who is with you) and to stay focused — despite naysayers and disappointments — is called hod, which is the sefirah (soul power) that we exercise this week. So, this Friday, make sure to set aside time to tune in to, or participate in, one of the many events taking place for Lag B’Omer, a bright day of blessing for all.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.