As long as he can remember, he has seen them standing alert and at attention, appearing to him like iron statues. He was a child and they were adults and one question filled his entire world – how do they do it? Where do they get the strength from, to stand for so many hours, to march back and forth, to run and to train. Do they never tire? It seemed as if the pangs of exhaustion had been forever banished from their eyes.
As he grew and developed into a young man, so too did his question sprout and evolve, taking on a new form and deepening its roots. Now he understood, that in truth these people have nothing else in their worlds – neither family nor friends. Their lives revolve around one thing only, it is called in their words “His Majesty”. He is a servant boy and not a minister nor a soldier. These people seem so way above his perception – how can he possibly understand them?
Then, one day it happened, he understood. No one knows how his legs found their way to the threshold of the splendid room. In any event, he was there, and even the door itself came to his aid. The small gap between the slightly open door and its frame revealed to him the entire secret. The vision lasted only a few moments, until the door was shut tightly, but for him it was enough to last the rest of his life. He will never forget the look in the eyes of those strong and usually stoic men. The king’s face he did not see, but their faces he surely did, and what he perceived in their glowing eyes had never before appeared in the thousands of pairs of eyes he had glanced at in the past.
The mystery no longer bothered him. If such a thing exists, if his eyes too would ever perceive whatever otherworldly thing they saw, then sleep would surely never find its place in them either. Of this he has no doubt. ■
How can it be that as we enter the heart of the scorching summer, amidst the days of the Sefirah, when we have just taken leave of the month of Nissan and set foot upon the highway that escalates all the way to the chag of Shavu’os, that suddenly we find in the torah portion – Yom Ha’Kippurim. It is quite startling to abruptly find the holiest day of the year six months after we left it behind together with the days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos.
If we have already begun with the topic of time periods and dates, we discover that we always, for some reason, read the parsha of Acharei Mos – Kedoshim somewhere in the vicinity of Lag B’Omer and the Hillulas Rashbi (The Yartzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai). Presumably there is some deeper meaning in this…
All of us, we can safely assume, count the Sefiras Ha’Omer each night. The Sefirah is not merely a bracha and short sentence said in addition to Ma’ariv, it holds a very important, even essential role, so much so that these days have even warranted their very own name and have been crowned with the title “Yimei Ha’Sfirah” (The days of the counting), meaning – days which their very chiyus (life-force) is drawn from the mitzvos of the Sefiras Ha’Omer. What is it that we say in the prayer before the counting ‘Ribboino Shel Olam… (Master of the Universe…)’ that makes every bachur with a heart scream with all his strength, ‘…May we be purified and sanctified’, yes, we are simply requesting exactly this, purity and holiness.
When we were young we also screamed out: ‘today’, maybe at the beginning, around where we say ‘one day’ or ‘two days’, but when we continue to: ‘…… which are one week’, many voices fade out. Honestly, how much can we push ourselves; and just between us, why should we scream out so intensely, what are we missing in life, what’s the big commotion about? Did something happen on Pesach that we have some urgent need to be purified? Were we not okay until now? What was, still is, a wonderful Jewish life; there is no doubt that there are things that need to be rectified, but what’s the big rush? Why does it specifically need to be “be’kedushah shel ma’alah (with heavenly holiness)”, can we not be satisfied with simple, good and flowing Judaism … as it has been until today?
It’s true that we have heard of great people who live in a different atmosphere, we have even seen them at various opportunities. We followed them with staring eyes, and a subtle desire was sparked in the depths of our hearts. ‘Ahh…this is what I would have wanted, to serve Hashem with my entire being and with such passion. It is wondrous to live with an inseparable connection to something so very alive, to invest all one’s capabilities and effort for someone whom one would sacrifice everything for. To approach tefillah without thinking about what one will be doing after he concludes “Oseh Shalom…”, to sink into the words and to forget all of existence.
But then we caught ourselves: ‘Oops, don’t get swept away, take a step back, you’re not built for that’. Since then those holy people have remained in a golden frame on the wall. They even hold an honored place in our hearts. We respect them and their ways – perhaps in our next gilgul (reincarnation) we’ll try too…
This feeling returns when the first sentence of Parshas Kedoshim appears from amidst the torah reading: “…be holy…”. With Rashi’s explanation (that we should stay clear of sin) we can manage, but when we see the Rambam’s explanation: ‘be holy in that which is permissible to you’, things get a little more complicated. How is it even possible? I’m not there; I have a home, a family, work and a life. How could I ever do it?
One moment, someone already dealt with this, he was called Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, yes, the one from the holy Zohar. He screamed out and exclaimed: “it (the torah) will not be forgotten from the mouths of his offspring” – the Sefer Ha’Zohar is the surety for this. By inference we understand what would happen without it, Rebbi Shimon told us something new, something that no one else could say, and the others were no simpletons, they were holy Tana’im. The Gemorah tells us about the sages who sat in a vineyard in Yavneh evaluating the situation, and they came to the conclusion that within a few generations, the Torah would become forgotten in a world without the Beis Hamikdash. Rebbi Shimon was very young at the time; he was only “a certain student”. Yet a few years later, on a separate occasion, he declared that without that which he revealed, the Torah truly would be forgotten – but that after the Zohar had come into the world this would not happen – “for it will not be forgotten from his offspring” (in Hebrew the last letters of this verse spell ‘Yochai’, see the introduction to Likutey Moharan).
But why prophesize such a dark and gloomy future in the fist place? Why were the Tana’im in Yavneh so worried. Are we little children, can we not manage on our own? Look at what we have achieved; there was never a generation in which there were so many holy books in so many splendid editions. When in all of history were there so many learned people in Klal Yisroel. Today every child can deliver a most impressive Dvar Torah. There are even computer programs for accelerated Torah learning and one can get smichah by correspondence. What’s so bad? We’re managing just fine. We can relax.
Yes, it’s true, there is no need to worry – with regard to this no one has any problems, the holy Tana’im knew very well how smart and intelligent we would be in the future, they were not concerned that we would forget or loose information … we can even make a ‘backup’. They were alarmed about a much more dangerous situation, in which the Sefer Torah has long since disappeared and all that remains is the beautiful cover that can be embraced with the arms. They prophesized of a situation in which it is possible to preach and expound the laws of Shabbos and to completely forget that it IS Shabbos today.
They worried about a Judaism that can be intellectually explained but that is empty of fiery Emunah. They worried about a splendid Esrog that costs a fortune yet its owner has a heart that is cold and apathetic, together with a mind that is elsewhere. They knew that only a Beis Hamikdash is what can bring the soul of a Jew to dwell in his body. From there, where the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwelled in a structure made of stone, were sent forth veins of life to the heart of every Jew. It was these that fixed in their minds and hearts the living Zicharon (memory/awareness) and vitality of the Torah. Without the Beis Hamikdash where could this awareness possibly come from?
Rashbi, in his tremendous holiness and tremendously powerful soul, knew something else. He knew that there is a Tzaddik that is so great, that the very Beis Hamikdash itself draws its holiness from Him and that a Tzaddik of this caliber is able to guarantee that indeed, the Torah will not be forgotten. For he already prepared a solution to the problem, he built an ark that can save us from the flood – it is called the ‘Zohar’ and all who have even the slightest contact with it, immediately remember.
This is also what the torah reading does to us; it is not for nothing that they sent us, in the heat of the summer, a pure breeze of Yom Ha-Kippurim. When the soul is absorbed into the scent of Kedusha and Tahara (purity), when a person finds himself, even for a few moments, in the king’s chamber; when he sees, feels and tastes the sweetness of forgiveness and pardon, when he receives a smile that radiates nothing but love and closeness, then he begins to understand how it is possible to enter into a life of Kedusha. For he who sees the face of the king – even once a year – and is therefore able to toil three hundred and sixty four days without fatigue and tiredness, to bear the ‘burden’ of the taryag (613) mitzvos and to cling constantly to the holy Emunah.
We count the days every evening and remember that I too left Mitzrayim. I am not just some unholy Jew – I am something else entirely. We also remember that the Mitzvos do have an effect on us, the Torah makes us holy, and it is not something dead but rather entirely alive.
Then, in the middle of the days of the Omer we ascend together to Meiron, to the place from where this awareness is spread across the entire globe. This celebration that casts aside even the most stringent customs of mourning, reminds us that Judaism takes form around the ‘living’ Tzaddikim. It reminds us that even in a world of forgetfulness and confusion, there is a Beis HaMikdash – a true Tzaddik who’s teachings are in our midst.
One need only open a Likutei Moharan, ‘go over’ a piece of Likutei Halachos and talk with good friends who are searching together for true guidance and advice. When one tastes even a tiny spoonful of this, one instantly understands how there can be those for whom the king is their entire lives, and that we too can be like them; even within our simple and quiet lives we can live with the king at literally every moment.