A Message from the Kalever Rebbe for Lag Ba’omer 5776: Seeking True Wealth – A Lag Ba’omer Lesson

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Log Ba’omer marks the yahrtzeit of the passing of the great and holy Tanna Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. It is a day that is celebrated with great joy and fanfare amongst Jewish communities worldwide. Indeed, in contemporary times, some half million Jews make a pilgrimage to the gravesite of this great Tzadik in Meron, Israel, to offer their prayers to Hashem on his yahrzeit.

Why was Rabbi Shimon worthy of this great honor when other Tzadikim throughout the course of Jewish history do not see similar attention?

The answer to this question lies in the extraordinary impact that Rabbi Shimon made during his lifetime—an impact which continues to this very day. Rabbi Shimon is rightly credited with saving and preserving the Torah, as well as the traditions of the Jewish people during the period of Roman occupation. One can argue that in this regard Rabbi Shimon was as instrumental in saving our people as was Yosef haTzadik during our time in Egypt. In fact, similarities between these two great Tzadikim are uncanny. Consider:

Yosef endured 12 years of oppressive hardship in prison for refusing to sin with the wife of Potifar, regardless of her importuning and offers of vast wealth. Yosef did not need to take the money and live like a millionaire. He could have rationalized his “opportunity” to receive this wealth and use it for charitable and humanitarian purposes. However, Yosef was his father’s son. He would not abandon the G-d of his fathers, the Holy Blessed One. Thus, he rebuffed Potifar’s wife saying, “How can I do this terrible evil deed and sin against G-d who granted me life? The G-d who wants me to observe His commandments will certainly bring me justice. If I merit reward, it will be through permissible means.” In this great merit, Yosef ended up ruling over Egypt, a phenomena that would never again be repeated for a simple lad.

One of the direct results of Yosef’s actions was that despite millions of Jews enduring hundreds of years of Egyptian hardship (Golus Mitzrayim), not a single Jew assimilated. Yes, they suffered, but they remained Jewish, keeping their names, language and clothing (and thus meriting redemption). When Jews suffer—individually or as a nation—we must always have in mind not only schkus Avos (the merits of our fathers) but our own merits, which will eventually benefit not only us but also our children.

More, when the Jewish people recalled the level of spirituality and wisdom that Yosef achieved through his adherence to the teachings of his father Jacob, they further anticipated the great gift of the Torah, which would soon arrive on the first Shavuuos. They recognized that through the performance of Mitzvos, Hashem’s rewards in this world—wealth and honor—were an illusion and simply another form of a test in contrast to the rewards that await in world to come.

So too it was with Rabbi Shimom bar Yochai. One of the Roman tactics was to work towards Jewish assimilation. Subjects of a ruling power are simply better subjects when they assimilate. To this end, the Romans presented themselves as benevolent rulers who had the best interests of the Jewish people at heart.

When Rabbi Shimon heard the Romans lauding their kindness towards the Jewish people via a construction project that included houses, roads and bridges, he vigorously protested and admonished the Jewish people, explaining that the Romans were doing no favors—that their real intention was to fill these marketplaces with all manner of immoral conduct while taxing the Jews for the use of their infrastructure. He warned his fellow Jews not to befriend the Romans nor see them in any way as benevolent.

With these protests, Rabbi Shimon endangered his life and was forced to flee and hide from the Romans. Like Yosef haTzadik, he too endured 12 years of hardship as he hid in a cave. He further suffered the indignities of the masses who attempted to humiliate him for speaking out against their Roman rulers. They told him he had brought his suffering upon himself unnecessarily.

But Rabbi Shimon ignored his critics. With joy he continued to learn Torah throughout his personal exile and through this ordeal merited to ascend to the highest levels of Torah scholarship and wisdom. Though the power of his great righteousness, he averted harsh judgment for not only the Jewish people but the entire world. Additionally, he merited to author the holy Zohar, the greatest of all Kabalistic works.

Rabbi Shimon’s great sacrifice saved Jews from assimilating into Roman society. He preserved the identity of the Jewish people. For this reason, he merits eternal honor as Jews are compelled to visit his grave on the anniversary of his ascension to Heaven. He merited to bring healing and salvation to his people, something that continues to this very day as Jews flock to his gravesite, allowing them the merit praying to Hashem at the gravesite of a Tzadik. All of this occurred because he acted for the sake of Heaven, like our forefather Yosef did.

May it be the will of G-d that we continue in His holy path, meriting to sanctify the name of Heaven through the performance of Mitzvot and Torah study. More, may may we merit to see the final redemption speedily in our days.

Special thanks to: R’ Avrami Farber and Yehudah Leib Meth for the translation

{Matzav.com / Photo courtesy of Flash 87 Images}

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