Vayikra - Behar:
More Precious than Gold
Dr. Chaim Ehrman
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This week's Parsha addresses the laws of a Jewish slave. Meaning, a person who sells himself voluntarily because of a financial crisis. He is penniless and would face starvation if he would not sell himself as a slave.
The Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin (20a) states that this financial crisis was a result of greed. The Torah prohibits business dealings with the fruits of the seventh year, Shemittah. This particular individual violated the admonition not to do business with Shemittah fruit in order to increase his wealth and financial security. However, we know that Hashem punishes to fit the crime. If one violates the Torah to increase his wealth, then the punishment will result in a total loss of one's wealth. The Talmud explains that from the sequence of events described in the Parsha, we see that this person who made profits from Shemitta fruits will eventually need to sell his movable goods, then his fields, his home, his daughter, he will borrow with interest, and finally he will sell himself as a slave.
It is known that any slave, who wants to stay after his allotted time as a slave, may do so. However, his ear is pierced because he wants to remain a slave to another human being. He should be a slave to Hashem!
At the conclusion of the slavery, the Torah says that he must return to his original position. The Talmud learns (21b) that a priest, a Kohain, who wants to remain a slave after the allotted time, cannot have his ear pierced. A blemish reders him unfit to serve in the Bais Hamikdosh the way he did before, and the Torah tells us that the freed slave must assume his position prior to slavery. His position as a Kohain, his reputation must remain intact.
It would seem that one who violated the laws of Shemittah is not entitled to retain his former position, his former status. We see from the Torah otherwise. On the contrary, the obligation rests on the Bais Din, on the community to preserve his position in life.
A person's reputation is very, very precious. The Gaon Rav Dessler zt"l compared the need to preserve one's reputation with the need to hold a very precious crystal, teetering on the edge of a table. If you stop holding that crystal for one second, the crystal is smashed and cannot be repaired. In Mishlei, we are told "a single sin can destroy a lot of good." If you do not watch out for your reputation and do a simple solitary inappropriate act, your reputation and standing in the community can become shattered and smashed for good. In the Tefilla "Hin'ni" that is recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur before Mussaf, the Chazzan asks Hashem that He should consider him as a well integrated person with his peers and a good reputation! This request will enhance the likelihood that the Tefillos will be answered.
To conclude; May Hashem Yisborach give us energy, strength and foresight to preserve and protect our good reputation.
Rabbi Ari Friedman
Lag Ba'omer is a day in the Jewish calendar which often passes by leaving some us groping to appreciate its significance and scrambling for its laws and customs. This week we will attempt to explore the meaning of Lag Ba'omer and discuss some of its practices.
Two of the most well known reasons for the "yom tov" of Lag Ba'omer are the cessation of the death of Rabbi Akiva's Talmidim and the yahrzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Many express amazement that these are reasons for celebration. After all, the Gemara (Yevamos 62B) describes the world as being desolate as a result of the death of Rabbi Akiva's Talmidim. The Pri Chadash explains that in essence it is the rebirth of Torah that we are celebrating on this day. It was on this day that Rabbi Akiva gathered five new Talmidim, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and began transmitting the Torah anew. We are celebrating the strength and spirit of these great men , who despite their pain and sorrow, rose up and rebuilt the Torah.
The celebration of the yahrzheit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is another subject with which some express wonder. As mentioned above our usual feelings on a yahrzheit are feelings of loss (see Chasam Sofer YD 233). In addressing this difficulty, one must first appreciate the significance of Rabbi Shimon. The seforim teach us that Rabbi Shimon brought the hidden light of Torah down to the world, and compare his greatness with none other than Moshe Rabbeinu. His teachings, referred to as Toras Hanistar or Kabbalah, are considered the true secrets of the Torah and on the day of his death some of the most esoteric and profound secrets were revealed. Indeed Rabbi Shimon himself referred to the day of his death as a day of celebration. The seforim write that the aura of his soul visits the world on Lag Ba'omer and it is an auspicious time for understanding the depths of the Torah and for one's prayers to be answered. Admittedly, these ideas are more appreciated by those involved in the study of Kabbalah.
The Suspension of Mourning
The day of Lag Ba'omer brings a suspension or an end (depending on the particular custom) to the mourning period observed during Sefirah. Although normally observance of holidays begin with the previous night, on Lag Ba'omer the laws of mourning are not suspended until the following morning. Therefore, haircuts and shaving should be postponed until the morning (but there is no need to wait until midday). The reason for this is that since Lag Ba'omer is counted as one of the 33 days of mourning, we must partially observe mourning on this day. We then apply the principle of "Miktzas HaYom Kichulo" (part of the day is counted as the whole day). However, HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l did permit weddings on the eve of Lag Ba'omer and many follow this ruling (Igros Moshe OC1-159). Although many do not observe mourning after Lag Ba'omer, the custom is not to make weddings until Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Thus weddings held on Lag Ba'omer day must start before nightfall. The music and festivities may continue even after dark (Taz OC 493-2, Igros Moshe EH1-97, and OC 1-159).
The above opinions not withstanding, the prevalent minhag in Klal Yisroel is to light bonfires and rejoice in singing and dancing even on Lag Ba'omer evening.
Tachanun is not recited on Lag Ba'omer, nor by Minchah the day before. Regarding Lamenatzeach by Shacharis, there is a difference of customs (see PRMG 493-3 and Pri Chadash 131-1).
Aside from the celebrations held at Meiron (the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), there are customs to visit graves of other Tzadikim. Such places include the kever of the Rema in Krakow, whose yahrzheit is on Lag Ba'omer, as well.
The poskim tell us that on the evening of Lag Ba'omer, one should be cautious not to mention the day "by name" prior to having counted Sefira. By saying "It's Lag Ba'omer" or the like, one may have unwittingly fulfilled his mitzvah of counting that night's Omer and may not be able to count that night with a bracha. [See Nit'ei Gavriel]
One of the more well known customs is to give a boy his first haircut on Lag Ba'omer. In Eretz Yisrael thousands bring their boys to the Kever of Rabbi Shimon in Meiron and many bring their boys to the Kever of Shimon Hatzadik in East Yerushalayim.
As Lag Ba'omer is a day when we celebrate the greatness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, there are different customs which relate to the Kabalistic nature of his teachings. One such custom is to light bonfires and candles, which represent the hidden light of the Torah. It is also customary to sing songs composed in honor of Rabbi Shimon, which are replete with Kabalistic references.
Bows and Arrows
In Chasidic circles, many great leaders would go outdoors and make use of a bow and arrow. This symbolized the tradition that as long as Rabbi Shimon lived, rainbows, which are a symbol of Hashem's oath of restraint in destroying the world, were not seen. This, according to the Zohar, is a sign of a truly righteous person since his merit alone was enough to save the world, thereby not needing to rely on Hashem's restraint. The bow and arrow also symbolizes that Rabbi Shimon's merit took the place of the bow in protecting Bnei Yisrael.
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