“Our Heavenly Father, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, Bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving kindness And spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and officials, And direct them with good counsel before You.” “Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy land; Grant them deliverance, our G-d, And crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.” “As for our brethren, the whole house of Israel, Remember them in all the lands of their dispersion, And swiftly lead them upright to Zion your city, And Jerusalem Your dwelling place, As is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant: ‘Even if you are scattered to the furthermost land under the heavens, From there the L-rd your G-d will gather you and take you back. The L-rd your G-d will bring you to the land Your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; And He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.’” Deuteronomy 30:4-5 “Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name And observe all the words of Your Torah, And swiftly send us Your righteous anointed one of the house of David; To redeem those who long for Your salvation.” “Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, And let all who breathe declare: The L-rd G-d of Israel is King And His kingship has dominion over all. Amen, Selah.”
In light of the recent tragedy in Meron, at the Lag b’Omer celebration there, this essay is dedicated as memorial to those who perished, those who were injured, and those who are recovering from shock and ther psychological trauma after witnessing the event. Also, comfort and solace to those who are in bereavement; the families and friends of all who have suffered on this day. Usually, an auspicious day, honoring R’Shimon bar Yochai, the reputed author of the Zohar, the event turned tragic after the collapse of a structure, where some were celebrating. Full details are not available at this time.
Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot. The day has several clear historical references, most significantly, being the day that the plague that took 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased. With his five remaining students, he began again to promote Torah instruction to his students, including Shimon bar Yochai. The message being that because the reason given for the plague is the baseless dissension amongst the students, the importance of respect towards others who have differing opinions and viewpoints, inclusive of various interpretations should be respected, despite the differences. A timely message for today’s world.
It is proclaimed by the most devoted advocates of the Zohar that the author of the premier mystical literature of Judaism is indeed R’Shimon bar Yochai. Yet, not everyone agrees with this claim; in particular, from a scholarly perspective, the work has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon of Spain. When the Aramaic writing is deciphered according to its grammar and other idiosyncracies, these have much in common with the grammatical structures and manner of conveying ideas at the time and place that Moses de Leon lived. Additionally, there is testimony from that time, that indicates he wrote the work, yet because of his own relative obscurity, assigned the authorship to Shimon bar Yochai to bring an air of authenticity to the writing.
Shimon bar Yochai, according to a reference in the Talmud lived in a cave for many years, in order to escape persecution by the Romans. When he left the cave, he is given almost supernatural powers in the Talmudic account, as if he acquired these during his meditations in the cave. A likely story that was later developed into a greater myth by the author of the Zohar, assigning the mystical treatise itself to his authorship. Yet, any astute reader can note that the “companions” of the character, Shimon bar Yochai in the accounts given over in the Zohar are historical personages whom did not even live during the same time span as each other. Yet, they all gather around Shimon bar Yochai as if they are alive and well, irrespective of when they actually lived.
While it is true that the Zohar does contain many ideas, teachings, and Torah gems not generally found in more traditional works, these mysteries of Torah are revealed by the actual author based upon his knowledge of prior mystical treatises. So, perhaps, it may be considered as a moot issue, who the author of the Zohar is, if indeed it’s words help to further understand the secrets of Torah.
On the other hand, it is a concern of my mine, that Shimon bar Yochai is described as a holy lamp, subsequently elevated as the chief expositor of the mysteries of Torah, when some of what is conveyed in the Zohar are foreign to Torah, Tanach, and Talmud, such as gilgulim, transmigration, and the error of reincarnation. The specific teachings in regard to reincarnation do not bring light into the world; rather, they cast a shadow of darkness upon the truths of Torah. Moreover, the concept of reincarnation detracts from the clear understanding having to do with the Tehillas HaMeisim (resurrection of the dead). Whereas, the soul is restored to the body and we are judged according to how we lived this one life that we are all given.
Furthermore, glorifying Shimon bar Yochai seems to detract from the expectation of the prophet, Eliyahu HaNavi revealing the secrets of Torah, upon his return. Incidentally, since the prophet ascended into Heaven on a chariot, his return would not be counted as reincarnation. Additionally, the role of the Messiah in part is to bring to light the essential Torah truths for the generation that will see his crowning as King in Jerusalem, at the beginning of the the sabbatical millennium, when G-d’s Kingdom is ushered into existence.
Ad mosai – how long until the fallen sukkah of David is restored?
“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”
Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, for those who were impure, according to the definition of Torah, or were on a distant journey. Pesach Sheini connotes the idea of second chances. The Israelites who were not able to observe Pesach were given a second chance, one month later, on Nissan 14, in order to do so. Today, the concept may be applicable to the personal instances of our lives, when we were given a second chance of some nature. Traditionally, matzoh is eaten on Pesach Sheini. Apropos of the theme, let us all consider the second chance to re-evaluate our lives in the face of the challenges ahead.
“Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Is a land born in one day? Is a nation brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”
– Isaiah 66:8, JPS 1917 Tanach
“And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
– Isaiah 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time. In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.
– Al HaNisim for Yom HaAtzmaut, Siddur Sim Shalom, by Jules Harlow
May G-d remember the valiant men and women who braved mortal danger in the days of struggle prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and the soldiers who fell in the wars of Israel.
May the people of Israel cherish them in their memory; let them mourn the splendor of youth, the altruism of valor, the dedication of will and the dignity of self-sacrifice which came to an end on the battlefield.
May the loyal and courageous heroes of freedom and victory be sealed forever within the hearts of all Israel, in this generation and forevermore.
“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”
– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach
As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).
When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). H notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down upon them.
That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.
While in bondage in Mitzraim , the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to a low level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those – the Children of Israel and the Egyptians – were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through Torah.
H’Shem brought us out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3: 12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. Why? “The tables were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32: 16, JPS). The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, “freedom” is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our true freedom is derived through Torah.
B’nei Yisrael was enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated, to some degree, to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from slavery in Egypt , we were still slaves to sin; so, H’Shem gave us the Torah to free us from bondage to the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). May we all break through the limitations of our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt), so that we may also pass through the Yam Suf (Dividing of the Sea), into the freedom of responsibility – the ability to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination), for the sake of choosing a righteous path on a daily basis in all of our endeavors.
In Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther), towards the end of the story, King Ahasuerus allows the Jews to avenge themselves of their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. In Shushan, the capital, the Jews kill 500 men and hang Haman’s ten sons on a gallows. Queen Esther then approaches the King with an additional request: “…allow the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow as they did today, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows” (Esther 9:13). It’s curious that she would request the hanging of Haman’s already slain sons. Nevertheless, the King complies.
Now, the Hebrew word for “tomorrow” (“machar”) occasionally refers to the distant future. Further, the Sages tell us that whenever the word “king” appears in the Megillah it alludes to the King of kings as well. Thus, the verse could be understand as a request by Esther to G-d to again hang the ten sons of Haman at some point in the distant future. Now, when the Megillah lists the ten sons Haman during their hanging (9:7-9) there are a number of unusually-sized letters. (We have a tradition to write certain letters in the Torah larger or smaller than the standard size.) According to the most accepted tradition, there is a large ‘vuv’ (numerical value = 6) and a small ‘tuv’ (400), ‘shin’ (300) and ‘zayin’ (7). The following suggestion has been made: The large vuv refers to the sixth millennium (of the Hebrew calendar); the small letters refer to year 707 of that millennium. The meaning, then, is that G-d agreed to hang Haman’s ten sons again in the year 5707 = 1946-7.
On October 16, 1946 (21 Tishrei, 5707) ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. (An eleventh, Hermann Goering, a transvestite, committed suicide in his cell. The Midrash tells us that Haman also had a daughter who committed suicide.) As if the parallel were not obvious enough without further corroboration, Nazi Julius Streicher’s last words were, “Purimfest 1946.” (In case you question the accuracy of Streicher’s last words, they are are well-documented; they appeared in Newsweek, October 28, 1946.)
In the Book of Esther, the narrative that is read on Purim, the name of G-d is not found even once; rather, His divine guidance is hidden within the framework of coincidental events within the narrative. G-d’s providence is already at work, in order to provide for a yeshua (salvation) for the Jewish people, even before the initial threat arises as recorded in the narrative. First of all, Queen Vashti is deposed after she disobeyed her husband, king Ahasueros, who is king of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopa. The sets the stage for a beauty pageant, won by Esther, whose beauty resides within as well as without. The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight” (Esther 2:17, JPS). Moreover, she remained obedient to her Uncle Mordechai; and, as he instructed her, she did not make “known her kindred nor her people” (2:20).
As recorded at the end of chapter two, Mordechai had overheard a plot against the kind by two of his servants; so, he informed Esther, who told the king in his name; thus, his good deed was recorded in the chronicles of the king (Esther 2:21-23). This preceded a threat that rose up from Haman, who in the next chapter is raised up to a position of power. Therefore, both the position of Esther as Queen, and Mordechai’s deed for which he will be honored later in the narrative, as the ensuing events unfold, are as seeds of redemption waiting to ripen in due time.
It is Haman, whose new position demanded that all bow down to him. Mordechai, a Jew who is a Benjamite will not bow down to him. It is interesting to note that our of the twelve sons of Jacob, Benjamin is the only one who did not bow down to Esau when he approached Jacob and his family. This is because Benjamin was still in the womb of his mother. Therefore, Mordechai exhibits this trait, if you will, by not bowing down to Haman, who is a descendant of King Agag, who was a descendant of Amalek. In turn, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau. So, Haman’s hatred of Mordechai, went beyond his refusal to bow to him: rather, this was an ancient hatred that manifested in Haman’s ire, and insistence as well as determination to destroy all of Mordechai’s people.
Yet, as mentioned in the Talmud, the remedy precedes the sickness, specifically, “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand” ( Megillah 13b, Soncino edition). Therefore, when Mordechai learns of Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people, he sends word to Esther, requesting that she appeal to the king on behalf of her people. “Who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). Her response is one of mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice). “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
Additionally, on a night that King Ahasueros is not able to sleep, he decides to peruse through the chronicles of the king: here he finds mention of Mordechai’s good deed, whereby a plot against the king was thwarted. In the morning, when Haman happens to be in the King’s court, Ahasueros asks him, what shall be done for the man whom the king would like to honor. Haman, in his self conceit, thinks that king wants to honor him, so he replies:
“Let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delighteth to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city.” The king responds, “‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew” (Esther 6:8-10). So, there is a reversal of fortune, whereby Mordechai is now honored, while Haman is humiliated.
At Esther’s second banquet for the King, of which Haman is also invited, when reveals the plot to the king: “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish” (Esther 7:4). He asks, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Esther 7:5). She responds, An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman” (Ester 7:6). Additionally, the kings servant points out that this Haman had made a gallows “for Mordecai, who spoke good for the king” (Esther 7:9). Thus, Haman’s fate is sealed, and the decree against the destruction of the Jewish people is countermanded by a second decree.
Esther petitioned King Ahasuerus to spare her people. She, her maidens, and the Jewish people fasted for three days, before she approached the King. She was risking her life, in doing so, because, no one could approach the king without permission. Therefore, she was only emboldened to approach him, after fasting, with all of her people in support of her.
Additionally, Mordechai, her uncle, encouraged her, saying, “‘Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“There is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place” (Pirkei Avos 4:3). Queen Esther, was given her moment in time: “who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?” According to the Talmud, H’Shem arranges the remedy, before the sickness (anti-semitism). We have Him to thank for our safety then and now.
Furthermore, we should not take that shield of protection for granted. It would be good to renew our appeal and seek Him for refuge in all of our trials and tribulations, keeping in mind that He is the Source of our well-being, and continuance as a people. Let us remember Him for the good that is bestowed upon us during the entire year. And celebrate Purim with joy.