Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Rav Shim'on Bar Yochai
To dedicate this lesson

The Secrets of Lag BaOmer

The minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, coming up next Thursday, is traditionally associated with the Divine Tannaitic Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) – as well as with the thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, who "stopped dying" on this day. Both of these are connected to each other...


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Iyar 12 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

The minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, coming up next Thursday, is traditionally associated with the Divine Tannaitic Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) – as well as with the thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, who "stopped dying" on this day. Both of these are connected to each other as well: Rashbi supported the anti-Rome approach – even, or especially, after the Romans destroyed the Second Holy Temple; and Rabbi Akiva, too, apparently supported Bar Kochba's actual revolt against the Romans that led to a type of Jewish independence for three years. Some say that the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students occurred when they fought against the Romans.

Rashbi, of course, is also considered the first to teach what we today call Kabbala and the Zohar; in Hebrew, this is Torat HaSod, Teachings of That Which is Secret.

The rebellions against the Romans were for the purpose of reviving Jewish independence and restoring to the Jewish People its national dimension. The rebels had two goals: They not only strongly opposed the Romans' decrees against individual observance of the mitzvot [Torah commandments], but they also could not bear the loss of the absolutely central spiritual value of Jewish independence. They felt that regaining this was worth endangering their lives. This, despite the fact that on the individual level, one must not give his life for any mitzvah in the Torah (except for the three cardinal sins of murder, idol-worship, and immorality such as incest or adultery).

Let us illuminate this topic from an additional angle. 

One of the first "secrets" in the Torah, according to the Sages, was that of the Redemption – a secret code given by Yosef to his brothers in Egypt just before his death, using a unique phrase. He said, "I am about to die, and G-d will assuredly redeem you [plural] and will bring you up to the Land that G-d vowed to our forefathers… G-d will assuredly redeem you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you" (B'reshit 50,24-25).

Twice does Yosef repeat this special phrase, "G-d will assuredly redeem you [plural]," which in Hebrew uses a double form of the verb "redeem:" pakod yifkod. The Midrash attributes special importance to this phrase, saying as follows:

Yosef gathered them all together at his deathbed, and charged them as a father to his sons, saying that G-d will pakod yifkod you [plural]. That is, he made the Redemption dependent on the entire community, not on individuals. For he knew, with prophetic spirit, that G-d would shorten the Redemption process because of the communal outcry of prayers, and this is why he said, "G-d will pakod yifkod you [plural]." And why did Yosef use the p.k.d. verb form [meaning 'remember']?

What he meant was this: "Any leader who arises for you with a promise of salvation and does not use this phraseology
 – do not believe him! And even if he uses the phrase p.k.d. verb form, but does not double it [pakod yifkod], don't believe him either! Only if he uses the double format of p.k.d. should you believe him, as Moshe did [in Exodus 3,16]" – and they in fact believed him [ibid. 4,31], because he used the p.k.d. form of salvation. [Midrash Sechel Tov, Buber edition, B'reshit 50,24]

We must understand: Was this just a technical device by which to identify the Redeemer? And what would happen if someone else would discover and use the secret phrase – would that ruin the entire plan? And also: What does the Midrash mean by saying that Yosef "made the Redemption dependent on the community?" Yes, he spoke to them in plural form, but this could be simply because he was speaking to his group of brothers!

Let us therefore propose the following explanation to answer these questions: The double phrase must be used precisely in order to indicate that the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt, and of the Final Redemption, is to redeem not Israel as an assortment of individuals, but Israel as a collective, as a Nation!

It is not sufficient to quit Egypt simply so that we will no longer be slaves to Pharaoh. The purpose is much more exalted: to become an independent nation, living in its land as a sovereign power, with all that that entails: a government, an army, Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and all the rest. It will not only be individual righteous people who will serve G-d; rather, an entire society will be established that will fulfill the promise given to our Patriarch Abraham, whose descendants "will become a great nation [as occurred during the Exodus], and all the nations of the land will be blessed through him. For I know [Abraham as one who] will command his descendants after him, and they will safeguard G-d's way to do justice…" (B'reshit 18,18-19)

The ultimate objective is to establish a society of kindness and charity, one in which the judicial framework guarantees justice for all. It will be a state whose achievements in all fields will impress and stir all the other nations. Pakod yifkod also implies an abundance of mefakdim [officers] – a hierarchy, not just individuals. Yosef teaches his brothers that a Redemption designed to solve problems of individuals or of individual sectors, is not real Redemption. Only one who guarantees Redemption to the collective, and brings independence to the entire nation, is the true leader sent by G-d.

This is also what Yonatan, son of King Sha'ul, prophesied to the future king, David. Using a different double p.k.d. format [see Samuel I 20,1], we can explain (not in accordance with the plain meaning of the text) that David was being told not only that he would be King, but that he would be the first to establish an independent state for the entire nation in the Land of Israel.

This is the secret of "Redemption for the Collective," the secret that Yosef transmitted to his brothers, and the secret that Moshe Rabbeinu used. It was also the secret for which the heroic fighters during the times of Rashbi and Rabbi Akiva fought against Rome (though their success was not long-range). This is the Secret of Rashbi – and that of Lag BaOmer.

Let us pray that we will merit to preserve and maintain our State, the State of Israel – the most important gift that the Holy One, Blessed be He, has given us over the past thousands of years. Let us understand that the State does not belong to any one individual sector, but is rather the State of the entire Jewish Nation functioning in accordance with G-d's way of justice and kindness, and through which all the nations are blessed.

In order to get articles like this delivered straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the Israel National Torah newsletter here.
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר