23 Kislev 5782 / Saturday, November 27, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeishev
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Praising the Chef - Lag B'Omer    

Praising the Chef - Lag B'Omer

Lag B'Omer has the power of Yom Kippur in wiping away our spiritual debts, yet today, we can eat, drink and rejoice as well, thanks to the Master Chef...


Zohar, Idra Zuta: "Rebbe Shimon opened his eyes, and saw what he saw, and a tremendous flame encircled him."
Lag B'Omer is the yahrtzeit, or anniversary of the death of the famed Tannaic scholar and tzaddik, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, affectionately known by the initials of his name as "Rashbi", author of the holy Zohar.
In several places throughout the Zohar, Rashbi's disciples say, "Woe to the generation that loses Rebbe Shimon." They compare a generation without a tzaddik of Rashbi's stature as orphans. The Gemorra uses even stronger terms when it laments, "The death of a tzaddik is comparable to the burning of the House of Hashem," (Rosh Hashonna, 18b). In light of such expressions from the holy mouths of our people's greatest sages, what are we all so happy about on Lag B'Omer? Why all the singing, dancing, and bonfires?
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains (Likutei Moharan I:66, citing the Zohar, Noach 59), that every tzaddik has a double spirit, one in this world and one in the next world. In essence, the upper spirit can't stand the coarse impurity of the material world. But, right before the tzaddik's death, the upper spirit descends to greet the lower spirit, bringing with it the loftiest wisdom of the upper worlds. The lower spirit happily clings to the upper spirit, for she is part of it. Like the flame of a candle melding with a great flame, the lower spirit merges with the upper spirit. As part of the upper spirit, she can no longer remain in this world, and she must leave the tzaddik's body and ascend to the upper worlds; such is the death of a tzaddik.
Rebbe Nachman explains that at the time of death, a tzaddik reaches a lofty level of spiritual cognizance and understanding, much greater than during his lifetime, by virtue of the upper spirit's magnificent illumination. Under the influence of the upper spirit and only momentarily before his departure from the flesh, Rashbi revealed the secrets of the Idra Zuta.
Not only do we benefit from the fantastic spiritual wealth that we inherit from the tzaddik, we gain a double portion of his wonderful influences on the day that he leaves this world, as the prophet said emphatically (Elisha to Eliahu, before Eliahu's departure from this world, see Kings II, 2:9), "A double portion of your spirit." Therefore, we're limitlessly happy on Lag B'Omer, and we try our best to reach Rashbi's place of eternal rest in Meron, where the festivities are the liveliest. According to tradition, the spirit of Rashbi is among us on this very special day.
Even though we're deeply saddened by the death of a tzaddik, the wonderful legacy of his teachings is a source of eternal joy and guidance. Moreover, our sages promise that the death of a tzaddik atones for all of Israel's sins (Yoma 42a). As such, Lag B'Omer has all the benefits of Yom Kippur, with eating, singing, dancing, and merriment to boot. We therefore praise the Master Chef - Hashem - for providing us with a delicious day for body and soul...
Even though we don't have Rashbi in the flesh, we have him in spirit. His teachings are a source of spiritual wealth for posterity, as explained by the following parable:
Grisha rented the kretchma, or local inn, from the Graf of Yanov, the Russian nobleman that owned most of the lands in Podolia, the southern Ukraine. The beautiful centuries-old stonehouse kretchma contained a pub and guestrooms together with living quarters for Grisha's own family. Accordingly, it was Grisha's lifeline.
One day, the Graf summoned Grisha with shocking news: The Czar wants to be construct a road through Yanov that will pass directly through the kretchma. The innkeeper and his family will have to vacate. Grisha tried to protest, but to no avail; as it was, he owed the Graf hundreds of rubles in overdue debts. What could he do? Needless to say, he and his family shed a river of tears in prayer.
The day the Czar's wrecking crew arrived to level the kretchma, Grisha and his family solemnly loaded their possessions on a wagon they hired, not yet knowing where they'd find a place to live or a means of livelihood. Suddenly, the Graf galloped toward them on his majestic black steed. "Where are you going, Grisha?"
Grisha, with glistening eyes, turned to the Graf: "Sir, you yourself told me to vacate. I obviously can't stay here!" In the background, the Czar's workers were already smashing through the stone walls.
"Of course, silly Jew! I said you must vacate the inn, but I didn't order you to vacate my lands. The Czar has given me the franchise to a tollhouse on the road. You shall run that tollhouse for me, and collect the tolls from the travelers. Where else will I find such a trustworthy person as you, Grisha? And, to help ease your transition, I've wiped your old debts clean. As a toll collector instead of an innkeeper, you'll make a fresh start!"
The stone kretchma is symbolic of the tzaddik. Just as Grisha's loss of home and income was tragic, so is the loss of the tzaddik – who by bringing us closer to Hashem, is literally our lifeline. But, as Hashem does everything for the best, the tzaddik leaves us with the spiritual sustenance of his teachings – as represented by Grisha's new house and income. Also, his death atones for our sins, just as Grisha's old debts were wiped clean.
Happy are the people of Israel that can bask in the beautiful light of the Zohar and Rashbi's other teachings. May his saintly and beloved memory be a supplicant for us always, amen.
Reprinted from Chassidic Pearls by Rabbi Lazer Brody

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