Lag B’Omer Night
To my dear and precious Beit Midrash community, wherever you happen to be:
….I just came back from the sweetest LaG B’Omer gathering in Gan Sakher in Jerusalem. It was a joint effort between my women’s seminary, Shirat Devorah, and it’s brother men’s yeshiva, Sulam Yaakov. I cannot even begin to tell you the thrill to be here during this time…during all times. Gan Sakher, for that matter all of Jerusalem, all of Israel, is all aglow with bonfires everywhere, every few feet.
Our particular gathering was not about eating and drinking anything, it was about learning, singing, and meditating together. The bonfire looked professionally made, just the right teepee shape, and it burned so amazingly well for hours (of course the guys were totally continually feeding the fire with just the right amounts of wood that had been so carefully stockpiled for a week or so). There were a few guitars, a few drums.
There was a very small gathering at first (beginning at 10 pm), and then more and more and more people came. There was some gentle tentative singing at first, and then more and more spirited. Rav Aaron spoke about “hod” (Rebbe Shimons yartzeit is hod shebahod) and fire and humility. I told a favorite story of mine from The Heavenly City, a true story from a hundred years ago about a young boy whose blindness is cured when he goes to the kever of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. But we were just the warm-up act for the main speaker, Rav Daniel Cohen, Rav of the yishuv Bat Ayin, and maggid shiur for Sulam Yaakov, who spoke and played clarinet.
There is no one quite like Rav Daniel. Gentle and soft spoken, he gives over the feeling that he is having an intimate conversation just with you, rather than addressing a large gathering with a microphne. And there is no mind quite like Rav Daniel’s. His thinking is quite evolved, his knowledge both very deep and broad, his “chidushim” constant. He spoke of mayaan (spring) and chruv (carob ), the two things that sustained Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Reb Elazar while they hid in the cave for 13 years. He spoke of each of us needing to enter our own caves to grow and develop, especially without worrying what anyone else is thinking about us, to find our own spring, our own chruv. I am not doing it justice of course, just trying to give a feeling.
The spring of course is light and life, inspiration (though what he really termed it I am not remembering), but the chruv is desolation, the root of desolation. He spoke of the need for both, there no rising or depth without the desolation and of course there is no hope to move on from the desolation without the spring. Either one by itself will take you to a very incomplete place. Ultimately, it is about turning the chruv into chaver, like the chevraya of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Ultimately it is about sharing yourself with another, yourself, not your words, or the vehicle of your words. The you that comes having been in the cave and from your maayan and your chruv.
He spoke of the individuality of hair… and how Rabbi Akiva who understood mounds and mounds of halacha from each individual ‘hair’ on top of the letters (the crowns), understood about the individuality of each hair, and each hair having its own source. He played his haunting clarinet music for us to meditate and contemplate by, and he chanted from the Tikkunei Zohar and translated as if in conversation. Then he played and played and the guitars and drums joined in and there was such sweet dancing of men around the bonfire, a holy chevraya. You wouldn’t believe how sweet and light their movements, and all highlighted by this bonfire whose embers were dancing and moving and rising. It was such a special scene, maybe you can imagine it in your mind’s eye.
Yet what also really made it special was that we were just one blip on the landscape. Every few foot was another group, and another group, and another group (of course we were the coolest), all celebrating Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s Hillula. And the sky lit up with fireworks several times, so many and most amazing, and always amazingly timed in the speech. When Rav Aaron was speaking of the crowns on the Torah letters all of a sudden the fireworks display began, like crowns in the sky. And when Rav Daniel was speaking of how each of us is a star, a point of light that spreads outward, the fireworks began anew.
(I can’t imagine what the fire department in America would do with all these fires, and fire works right in the middle of a green and wooded park. It would of course never be allowed. And yet not a single tree caught fire, not a single casualty nor spread of fire. I don’t even know how that is possible, but somehow it is. As if this is not a land that could burn on LaG B’Omer. How they do play with fire here! )….
I want to tell you how special it is to be here at this time of one national holiday after the other. Never mind I am not so sure about how I feel about many of them. But they come at you one after the other, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, Pesach Sheni, Lag B’Omer, Yom Yerushalayim, and all culminating of course with Shavuot. Shirat Devorah and Sulam Yaakov have created events this year around these holidays, branded with the thoughtful, creative, open thinking/questioning/ genuinely exploring style of these institutions to give anglos a way to tap into these days and this culture. It has been an amazing process…. In general, it is just so special and heartening to draw together as a Jewish nation…over anything.
I am just in love at the moment with being a Jew in a Jewish land. I am in love with Jewish minds that run every sphere of life (and crazed by it too!). The Jewish mind, the Jewish soul, is such an amazing thing….and to be surrounded by it all the time is a “wow” experience for me…..
…there is a special feeling to be in a place where your culture is everybody’s culture, where your calendar is everybody’s calendar. Now after two years here, I begin to feel the expansiveness of filling up the space– the whole space, not some little corner that is allowed me as a Jew whether consciously or unconsciously. The old image comes to mind of being planted finally in soil that has all the nutrients that your particular kind of plant needs to grow in the best way possible. Sure you could make do elsewhere, or you can even work very, very hard and “mach du eretz yisrael” as the Lubovitcher Rebbe (ztz”l) said, ‘Make where you are Eretz Yisrael.’ Yet there really is something about just breathing the air here. It is Jewish air. It makes you wise. You feel it.
It is true, everyone has their special job to do, their “tafkid,” their “yay-ud” so to speak, and their special place where it is needed. Yet I can’t help but say to you: My friends, if I were you, I would pack up my belongings, and head on over here. Or I would think about how to make that possible. What would it take. There is no better place for a Jew. As crazy and harsh and bureaucratically ridiculous as Israel can be, there is no better place for a Jew. Judaism is alive here. In every way. A Jewish life has the potential to be so full here. And while maybe money doesn’t grow on trees here either, it is almost as if Torah learning does. The air of Jerusalem is suffused with it. All over. In the open, and not in the open. When you know it and when you don’t. When you can see and hear it and when you can’t. It doesn’t matter, you can taste it.
And money doesn’t rule here (just witness the lack of customer service). Something else much more real does.
Of course there are problems here too. Big ones. But your know how can actually be used to solve them. The country is only 64 years old. Nothing is etched in stone. It is waiting for your mind, and your belief system, and your emunah to come and fix it. To come and build it.
As the song goes (Country Yossie is it?) “G-d is alive and well in Jerusalem.” In Israel. Everywhere in the world of course too. But it is different here. It really is. And it is really possible to feel the light of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. Today. On LaG B’Omer. Here. And I am not even in Meron!
So to all my friends in Berkeley and in America I send you a hearty “Lag” sameach and “Hod” esh tov (my little attempt at pun humor).
I love and miss you all and can’t wait to see you here!