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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Lag Ba’omer

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Lag Ba’omer is connected by tradition to the awe-inspiring Tanna, R. Shimon Bar Yochai, (Rashbi), the pillar of the Torah of sod (secrets). Rashbi had an approach of rebellion against the Romans, even after previous ones failed. Lag Ba’omer is also connected to the plague of the disciples of R. Akiva, who supported Bar Kochva’s rebellion.

All of the failed rebellions tried to restore Jewish independence and national prominence. They were not only concerned with the individual Jew’s putting up with tyrants’ decrees but saw independence as an important spiritual value, for which one can and should endanger his life despite the great weight Judaism puts on saving lives.

Let us look at it from a different angle. Chazal teach that one of the first "secrets" was the secret of liberation, which Yosef revealed to his brothers before his death. He told them that Hashem will "pakod yifkod etchem" (remember you) and take you from Egypt to Israel. He used the same double language of pakod as a reason to take his remains with them (Bereishit 50:24-25). The midrash (Sechel Tov, Vayechi 50:24) learns from here that Yosef’s talk with his brothers was like a father’s last will and testament. The fact that he said "etchem" in the plural showed that he made the "liberation connected to the masses (rabbim)" because he knew that the crying out of the masses would hasten the appointed time. The language of pakod was a sign to the people – only a savior who knew to use this word would be believed. Indeed, Moshe used this word (Shemot 3:16 & 4:31).

Was this a technical secret password? What if the secret leaked out to someone else? Also, how did the midrash learn from the plural "etchem," which is the normal word, considering he was addressing multiple people?

We propose that the whole idea of a double pakod teaches us that the purpose of the exile in Egypt and the eventual liberation was for it to be one of the rabbim. The Exodus could not be limited to ending slavery. It is a much more noble cause. The nation must be a community of independent people living in a fully independent state. There must be a government with an army and a variety of practical ministries. It is critical that it will not just be a group of individual tzaddikim serving Hashem, but to have an independent society which implements the legacy of the patriarchs of becoming a great nation and following the ways of Hashem by doing justice and charity, which will bring blessing to all the nations, who should be inspired to copy it (see Bereishit 18:18-19).

"Pakod" after all is used in connection with the joining together of the masses. Yosef thus taught that if the liberation would be just to solve the individuals’ problems, it would not be a liberation. Yonatan would later use this word in reference to David (Shmuel I, 20:18) because David would be the first one to run an independent nation in Eretz Yisrael. This secret of Yosef and Moshe also motivated Rashbi to unite the people to rebel against the Romans, even if it was not the time for it to succeed.

Let us pray that we will be able to maintain our state, the State of Israel, our greatest present of the last thousands of years. Let us show that we know it belongs to the masses and not individuals and that it be guided by justice and charity in a way that brings blessing to all nations.
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