Happy Lag L’aomer, or Lag B’aomer?

I seem to have unanswered questions on the 33rd day of the Omer. The Gemora in Yevamos tells us that on this day the Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva ceased to die. I haven’t yet understood why that should be a happy day. Why? Well, if they started dying again the next day (assuming the Ashkenazi tradition) then who would be “happy” that there was a day of remission to the extent that it has morphed to. Note: this is, to my knowledge, the only source in Torah Sh’Baal Peh (Gemora) describing this day. Someone sent me a page of the Chidushei Agados of the Maharal on this Gemora. I have it at home, but can’t recall ever looking that up. The Maharal has a really nice explanation. He says that on this day the decree was lifted. Yes, it’s true that those for whom the decree had already been decided continued dying until presumably Shavuos, but I still had problems with this answer. Firstly, assuming that it is the reason, I would have thought that it would have been really hard to “get happy” knowing people would continue dying? Secondly, all but a handful died. It was a potential disaster for Torah She’Baal Peh.

Tradition has it amongst some that this is also the Yohr Tzeit/Hillula of the Rashbi. The Rashbi, is considered to be the author of the Zohar (or if you follow some views, most of the Zohar, but let’s not go there). The Zohar is Toras HaNistar, the hidden Torah, or perhaps the more esoteric metaphysically modelled face of Torah. The Zohar wasn’t and isn’t anathema to Misnagdim or Litvaks (most), but is of course anathema to the DarDaim (of which Rav Yosef Kapach was prominent) who believe to this day that it’s not part of Torah. Either way, the issue of it being associated with Toras HaNistar is agreed, and yet, the Ari Zal, for example, never wrote that on this day Rashbi passed away.

The Aruch Hashulchan and others note that this is the day that the Rashbi emerged from the Cave he had been hidden in for 13 years. That was a day of Simcha because with his emergence, so did the emergence of the Zohar, and the continuation of the chain of Torah SheBaal Peh.

Even assuming it wasn’t his Yohr Tzeit, I understand happiness at his emergence. (The Chasam Sofer mentions that on this day the Manna in the desert started to fall). I also understand that being morose for long periods without a break isn’t the best thing, especially today where the importance of positive thinking and talking is stressed even by secular psychologists. The glass is always “Half Full”. I’m not getting into that topic because like anything, if one over-does this approach in educating their children, I feel it shields them from reality, although I do accept that it should be, especially today, the de jure approach to education.

The Eidot HaMizrach have a different understanding. Yes, according to that Gemora in Yevamos 62B, the students stopped to die. They therefore cut off all Sefira mourning on midday of the next day (although this year being Erev Shabbos is likely more lenient — note, I’m writing this blog without looking things up, which is a bad thing, so remember that! Do your own checking up on what I claim 🙂 That approach makes sense to me, and always did. It’s also not as if the Beis Yosef as a father of Eidot HaMizrach wasn’t a Mekubal. He definitely was. Whether the Rambam was is an issue of contention. I have a book by Professor Menachem Kellner on this general topic, and I know (but haven’t seen) that the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a piece proving that the Rambam had access to the Zohar. Again, I digress.

Another question is why we don’t call it Lag Laomer, consonant with the way we count every night. A Rav pointed to a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe where he says that we say Lag Baomer is because the numerical value of Lag Baomer is the same as Moshe, and just as Moshe Rabennu revealed the Torah Shebiksav, and Torah Shebaal Peh (Halocho LeMoshe MiSinai) the Rashbi was permitted to reveal the secrets of the Zohar, and the Rashbi was a spark (Nitzutz) of Moshe Rabennu, if you will.

Artists rendering of the Remo

In Shiur today, I made another observation. Tonight, Lag BaOmer, is the Yohr Tzeit of the great Remoh (רמ’’א) who is known to have written 33 Seforim (but it is contentious that he died at the age of 33 as well). The Remoh’s name was MOSHE and he was the greatest Posek Rishon for Ashkenazi Jewry through his glosses on the Tur in Darkei Moshe, but more importantly his glosses on the Shulchan Aruch proper, adding the Ashkenazi view where he disagreed with Rav Yosef Karo. Nu, I suggested that his name was Moshe, and it is fitting that also in PSAK, that perhaps a Nitzutz of Moshe who had the same name, passed on high on this day.

My father ע’’ה in the Remoh's Kloiz in Kracow
My father ע’’ה in the Remoh’s Kloiz in Kracow

Food for thought. Happy for anyone to shred what I have written to ribbons as I have not opened a few Seforim which might help me and make this a better post.

If you haven’t noticed. These are Pitputim. No more.

Are they transgressing Lifnei Iver?

This has been brought up before, but I noticed it on Dov Ber’s blog. Have the Rabonim investigated this issue? Are they comfortable simply because there are those who go to Meron L’Kavod the Rashbi (the date of Lag B’aomer is also questionable as his Yom Hillula but we won’t go there).

The holidays invented by Zionist Rabbis (Yom Hazicharon and Yom Haatzmaut) were postponed this year because everyone understands that a national Yom Hazicharon ceremony can’t be produced on Saturday night without causing some Sabbath desecration.

In other news, the holiday invented by Hasidic Rabbis (Lag B’omer) falls on Sunday this year, and the national bonfire celebrations on Saturday night in Meron will also be impossible to prepare without causing some Sabbath desecration. At the very least, police and soldiers need to be put into position. Has the holiday been postponed? Of course not! (The lighting of the bonfire has been delayed, but its unclear how that delay eliminates the Sabbath desecration.)

Fun Fact to Know and Tell: The Sages canceled a biblical obligation (blowing the shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashana) out of fear of Sabbath desecration!

Lag Ba’omer the most mysterious day of simcha?

I’m not the wiser from year to year (no smart cracks please). Let’s look at the reasons for this pause in the Aveylus of S’fira and the Simcha attached to it.

It’s the day that R’ Akiva’s students stopped dying.

I don’t get it. As I recall this is a Gemora in Yevamos. If they stopped on Lag Ba’omer and then started again on Lamed Daled, I am unable to understand  why anyone would be happy. If they stopped dying on Lag Ba’omer and didn’t die thereafter (this is one Girsa in that Gemora), I do understand suspending Aveylus, but I don’t understand the day of happiness.

It is the Yohr Tzeit of the Rashbi

I don’t understand. If it was his Yohr Tzeit and that was such an auspicious event, then why oh why isn’t this mentioned by Chazal. You won’t find it in the Gemora or Medrash. Why not? I don’t think you even find it mentioned in the writings of the Geonim. As I recall, the first Rishon who mentioned it was the Meiri. The others didn’t mention it, including the Rambam. Did the Rambam have a Mesora for Rashbi’s Yohr Tzeit? Sure, we know that much later R’ Chaim Vital related that the Ari went to the Kever and suggested that his Talmid not say Nachem on this day, the “simcha of the Rashbi”.

The day that five students of R’ Akiva got Smicha (including Rashbi) and continued his legacy.

I think this is quoted in the Tshuvos of the Chasam Sofer. Again, we know that R’ Akiva re-established Torah again, this time in the South of Israel and that is surely good, but to suspend Aveylus and then have these big shindigs in the middle of S’fira when in fact his 24,000 students from the North and centrally were dying?

About 35 years ago, when I had to “decide” how to act in S’fira given that my father’s Mesora was not transmitted, I chose the S’fardi practice of having 33 days of mourning, and then ceasing mourning on the 34th day. The assumption was that this was the end of the plague, and therefore the mourning period terminated. I’m not even getting into the opinions of those (like the Chida) who say that it wasn’t Rashbi’s Yom Simcha (Hillula).

I don’t get it. Someone enlighten me please?

Whatever the case, I am lucky to always play at a wedding on Lag Ba’omer, and last night was no different. It was a beautiful wedding with lots of genuine Simcha and that’s good enough for me to have a special night 🙂

What a cutie