Lag BeOmer Stories

This week's Parasha is Bechukotai, it contains forty nine curses that will befall the Jews if they abandon the Torah.

The word 'Torah' means 'Teaching'. What is the Torah trying to teach us with all this gory detail? Why 49 curses? Why not just write 'If you don't keep my Torah you'll get cursed? or receive chaos Chas V'Shalom.

Also, interestingly all of the curses are mundane, no mention of heaven or hell. Why isn't hell mentioned here? Judaism certainly believes it exists.

chanoch's Commentary

The Academic Philosophers teach that Hell is a construct from outside Judaism.

On the other hand we see it probably wouldn't have helped to mention hell. Throughout history the Jews weren't deterred by these curses: both of our Temples were destroyed and today most Jews totally ignore the Torah, curses and all.

chanoch's commentary

This is not a true statement in my opinion. It comes from a writer who perceives the Orthodox approach to be the only correct approach. Do not be misled by these kind of statements.

So what is the purpose of writing so many threats if they were (chanoch adds: going to be) ignored anyway?

Also this coming Saturday eventing and Sunday will be the holiday of Lag B'Omer (33rd day after Passover) the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (nicknamed Rashb'i) who passed away almost two thousand years ago.

Some 500,000 citizens of the modern state of Israel (Jews) will flock to his grave as every year because he wrote a mystical book called The Zohar (the basis of Cabbalistic Judaism) which G-d promised would bring Moshiach and fill the world with joy, meaning, blessing and the awareness of the Creator.

Is there a connection between this and the 49 curses?

Perhaps we can explain with the following two stories about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The Talmud (Moed Katan 9b) tells us that once Rabbi Shimon met some other Rabbis whose holiness so impressed him that he sent his young son, Rabbi Elazar, to ask for their blessing.

His son obeyed, but returned almost in tears.

"Not only did they not bless me" he said obviously shocked, "but…… perhaps I did something wrong, maybe I disturbed them…. they cursed me!!

"Cursed you?" asked his father. "Exactly what did they tell you? What did they say? Perhaps you didn't hear properly, perhaps you didn't understand? Just repeat what they said"

His son tried to calm down as he answered.

"They said:

'May it be G-d's will: that you plant and do not reap,

That you bring in merchandise and not sell it,

That you invest and bring nothing home,

That your house be destroyed and your guests live in it.

That your table be confused,

and that you not see a new year.'

"Do those sound like blessings? He moaned.

Rabbi Shimon smiled and answered. "They are blessings of the highest order. Listen and I will explain.

'Planting and not reaping' means your wife will have children and their lives will not be cut short.

chanoch adds: The greatest pain is that of a parent who has lost a child. May all of you always have your children, grandchildren, and great grand children and even more generations available to bury you if necessary.

'Bringing in merchandise that doesn't sell' means your sons will take in wives and their lives together will be long and happy so their wives will never leave.

chanoch adds: May all of you merit to teach your sons and daughters the difference between merchandise and son/daughter in laws.

'Investing with no return' means your daughters will marry and will never have to return home for support.

chanoch adds: May you realize that the investments of time and energy you make in your daughters are truly your Blessings.

'Your house will be destroyed' means your grave will not see your presence for a long time but rather your 'guests', namely your earthly desires, will be buried.

May you transform your earthly desires into the manifestation of the will of HaShem so nothing needs to be placed in your future unnecessary grave.

'Your table will be disordered' with children and grandchildren

chanoch adds: And may we all say Amen.

And 'you won't see a new year', means your wife will have a long life and you won't have to marry another.

chanoch adds: since your current wife is your cosmic soul mate.

The curses were really blessings in disguise but it took Rabbi Shimon to reveal it.

The second story: Once there was a couple that had been married for ten years without children and the husband decided that it was time for him to divorce and remarry.

He brought his wife before Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and asked if he would preside over the divorce; according to the Torah if a woman does not bear children in ten years it is a sign that they should divorce and find different spouses.

"Aha!" Said Rabbi Shimon, "a wise decision! But may I suggest that just as you got married amidst festivities so you should separate. After all this will be a new beginning for the both of you. I take it that you still love your wife, am I not correct?"

"Yes" said the man, "Of course I have nothing against her, she is a wonderful woman. But we want children and, well, according to the Torah… "

"Of course, of course!" said the Rashb"i. "Very good then, you will make the festivities according to my directions and afterwards I will write the bill of divorce."

Sure enough in a week's time their home was filled with chattering guests and lively music while they sat at the head table forcing smiles and occasionally making a le'chiam (toast) on their new separate futures at his wife's suggestion.

In fact his good hearted wife poured her husband so many "le'chiams" that after an hour he almost couldn't lift his cup at which point she requested that he give a farewell speech. Soon thereafter he was out cold on the table.....

The next morning he woke up in a strange house.

"Ehh? Where am I?" He had a throbbing headache and the morning light didn't help matters. He squinted and looked around again. He recognized the place; it was his father-in-law's house and his smiling wife was standing at his bedside with a bowl for washing his hands. "Where am I?" he asked her again. "What am I doing here… in your father's house?"

"Well" she answered. "Rebbe Shimon told me to do it. Maybe you don't remember but last night at the divorce party after we made toasts you gave a great speech and good-naturedly said that I could take anything I want from our house, regardless of its value, and return to my father's house to start a new life? Do you remember?"

"Ehh? Toasts? Speech? Ahh, yes I do remember something like that." he said as he sat up in bed, washed his hands, dried them, and took the cup of tea. "But what am I doing here? Oh yes, I remember now. I said you could take valuables when you leave. I mean I have no hard feelings or anything. I want that you should never lack anything so I meant you should take money or jewels or something valuable."

"Well, that's exactly what I did" She answered. "The most valuable thing in the house to me is …. You!

Mazal Tov!! Now you are mine and have to do as I say. Let's go back to Rabbi Shimon as new people.

They returned to Rebbe Shimon, he gave his blessing and it wasn't long before she became pregnant and gave birth to their first child." (Midrash Shir HaShirim Raba 1)

At first glance both of these stories are strange. In the first story if the Rabbis wanted to bless Rashbi's son why did they have to disguise it in curses? And in the second; if Rebbe Shimon wanted to bless the couple what was the purpose of that semi-divorce party?

The answer to both questions is the same: It's not difficult for G-d or His Tzadikim to give blessings, the difficulty is for us to RECEIVE them.

For instance, G-d gave the Jews the Torah, the land of Israel, prophets and two Holy Temples. But each time they turned to idolatry and other egoistic pursuits because they couldn't accept the blessings.

So in our stories; in order for Rebbe Shimon's son and the childless couple to receive blessings they had to first undergo a 'shock' in order to become new, open people that can accept them.

So too the curses in our section.

The reason there have to be so many is in order to shock us and 'divorce' us from our selfish traits so we can open ourselves to the blessings, revelations and powers hidden within them.

And this is what Moshiach will do … in the biggest way.

Just as the people in our stories needed Rabbi Shimon to translate curses into blessings and barrenness into joy, so to, the ideas of the Zohar as explained by the Baal Shem Tov and his followers will reveal the blessings of the Moshiach in our generation.

But it all depends on us. We Jewish people have undergone enough 'shocks. Now only a little is lacking; just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales, all the curses will transform to blessings and in just one INSTANT we will open our eyes and SEE....

So, how do we expose the sweet good that’s entangled in a bad wrap?

chanoch adds: Did you stop and ask "How can there by a bad wrapping?" There is no bad. There is only good. So even the "bad" wrap is actually good.

The chassidic masters teach that by merely trusting that there is a potent kernel of good hidden in the pain, we begin to disassemble the screen that veils it.

“Why did this happen to me?” There are two ways to ask this same question. One is rhetorical, a proclamation: “This is wrong and shouldn’t have happened to me.”

chanoch adds: That consciousness of asking this question is actually saying i know better than you God. For me to say this is wrong says i must be able to know everything just like you God and i am able to judge the judges and the judgment. Can this ever be true?

The second way to ask the question "Why did this happen to me?" is authentic: “I wonder why this is happening to me. How can this be good for me?” And just exploring the possibility of good draws it to the surface.

To ask the second type of question, we need to train ourselves to look through the external trappings of an experience and capture its depth.

Yet drawing the good to the surface does not in and of itself remove the pain and the suffering. Sometimes that must be experienced. Yet actually all it takes is to ask one other question as a Dream Question: (If you don't know what a dream question is write me an email or call me. It is a Kabbalistic tool that needs to be explained one on one with a teacher.)

HaShem, i know that your Judgments are perfect therefore this pain and suffering is correct for me. i know that it is sent to me to wake me up....Now that i am awake. Please HaShem tell me what i did that i need to perform the Mitzvah of Teshuvah? I ask this not to remove the pain but to cleanse myself in a more expeditious manner so that i can get closer to you more rapidly than experiencing this process called pain and suffering.

More on Rabbi Shimon

What we perceive as bad is in truth the higher expression of G‑d’s kindness

Remember the Tribe of Shimon is representative of strict judgment. Rabbi Shimon must have that aspect as well. Yet He is the corrected aspect. This means the judgments as expressed in the Zohar have been sweetened and have aspects of Mercy always.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was clearly a man of unparalleled depth. He authored the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism. That’s why it was so natural for him to see the curse as a blessing. He didn’t need to reconcile the shell of the words with their inner meaning—to him the shell was completely transparent.

Studying Torah at the level of Zohar allows us to perceive the outer shell of physicality as surrounding the inner aspect of the depth of the Torah’s wisdom. It trains our eyes and other senses, both physical and spiritual, with incredible depth perception, and sensitizes us to see the good even when we’re disappointed and feeling something else.

it makes us realize why HaShem created emotions, and senses that change. It makes us realize that our emotions are actually part of the illusion. Let me tell you a story that is told in the Kabbalah Center. In my opinion it is not fully understood in the Center yet.

In the early 1960's Rabbi Berg met his teacher Rabbi Brandwine. In order to study with Rabbi Brandwine, since he did not have access to the incredible modern technology of today, Rabbi Berg would go to Israel for a few weeks at a time and then return to the states to continue his earning a living. In one of those visits he spent the full Shabbat with Rabbi Brandwine.

After Havdala as they were sitting down to participate in the Melavah Malka - The Queens meal, Rabbi Berg said to Rabbi Brandwine with an expression of awe and wonder, "i have been participating with and in Shabbat since i am 3 years old. I have never experienced a Shabbat like what we experienced today. It was amazing. Thank you for letting me experience this with you."

Rabbi Brandwine said to Rabbi Berg in respones, "Oh, i did not realize how little you desired."

No one in the Kabbalah Center explains any more than that. Now what Rabbi Brandwine was teaching is made clear through a mashall - a metaphorical teaching.

One has two teapots. One is 10 gallons and one is 50 gallons. Take 9 gallons of water and pour it into the the 10 gallon teapot. What do you think the teapot feels? Does it feel full? Does it feel amazed? Does it feel overwhelmed? Does it feel a little like what Rabbi Berg felt that Shabbat? Does it feel a little like what you feel when you have an amazing dream or an out of body experience? "

Actually the 10 gallon teapot feels all of those things. Now pour the 10 gallon teapot into the 50 gallon teapot. What does this larger teapot feel? It actually feels nothing - Not even empty since it has to get to 20% to feel anything and 9 gallons of water is not 20% of its capacity. This teapot feel a little like what most people feel when they go into most synagogues (Reform and others) and listen to the Torah on Friday night. The energy of the universe does not support the Torah reading Friday night so people can not even get to 20% of their capacity. Sometimes they feel "something" since they get up to 26% of their capacity. Usually they just feel empty since nothing changed within them and the purpose of prayer is to change ourselves.

What all of these stories are teaching is to realize that our feelings are limited and not real. Our feelings are an illusion and the purpose of the Mitzvot is to draw the light to change ourselves. The purpose of the Torah and the Halacha is to teach us the proper path to keep the Light flowing.

What is real? what is illusion?

Only by judging ourselves can we learn the answer to these two questions. When we judge our actions not by human standards but by the Halacha of the Torah we can evaluate if our intuition is lying to us. Or it is telling us the truth. It is only this combination of Binah and Chochmah used with our intuition can we determine for ourselves what is the right path for us at that moment.

Even if we are not doing this totally properly but are trying to achieve this goal then:

And nevertheless, let’s bless each other that we all be recipients of only good—and good that we perceive as good! Good that we will share with others, in order to constantly grow our vessels to receive more good to share with others.