Wednesday, December 19, 2018

This is the time we remember Rabbi Akiva and his students and the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar and the fourth most mentioned sage of the Mishnah.

Rabbi Shimon could never forget the terrible sight of his beloved master and teacher, Rabbi Akiva, being tortured to death by the Roman executioners.

According to the Bnei Yissachar, on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon said, “Now it is my desire to reveal secrets... The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain…” Daylight was miraculously extended until he had completed his final teaching and died. As such, the custom of lighting fires on his yahrzeit symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.

In The Ethics of Our Fathers, we find one of Rabbi Shimon’s most famous sayings: “There are three crowns: the crown of the Torah, and crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty; but the crown of a good name excels above them all.”

So here we are on the brink of the special day when weddings are scheduled, haircuts are allowed, picnics are held and we’re certain, weather permitting, celebratory bonfires marking the light of Rabbi Shimon will light up the night.

It’s also a time for reflection. That “chametz” that we talked about at our seder tables, be it the issues of personal growth, the work we have to do on ourselves, or the ways we can show achdut as a community, were parts of our Pesach conversations.

During the counting of this Omer, we have heard news these past weeks that have concerned us, both as Jews and as Americans. As we go to press, our opinions are hanging in the balance as to whether to trust that our US president, who made a campaign promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, has changed his mind. We have no doubt that those with good names, US Ambassador David Friedman, and our friend and favorite West Wing staffer Jason Greenblatt, would like for the President to honor his promise, but we just don’t know now whether this promise will be honored.

“We will get it done,” President Trump said last week, referring to Middle East peace. Really? At what cost?

Our ancestors were not ready when they left Egypt to receive the Torah after their bondage. Chazal tells us that the Jews were at the 49th level of spirituality with 50 being the lowest. The sin of the Golden Calf remains forever a stain on our personal histories. Hashem waited for these 50 days before the Jewish people merited the Torah.

Let’s take a lesson here: Now is not the time to place faith in our US President. It is, rather, more than ever, a time to place our faith in Hashem. The Golden Calf taught us that we must never worship false gods. Hashem can’t fire us and we can’t fire Him. Jerusalem as our eternal capital can’t be fired either, whether the US Embassy is there or not. We’re in this together, and davening to Hashem for the sake of Jerusalem and for all our brothers and sisters in Israel, can be the only advice to give to one another as we approach Yom Yerushalayim on May 24 and Shavuot just six days later, marking the end of the counting of the Omer.

From our families to yours, we wish you a beautiful Lag B’Omer with all the haircuts, bonfires and music you can manage. We must celebrate together, b’simcha, as much as we mourn and pray.