Yesterday I heard a radio program about the upcoming holiday, on Saturday night and Sunday, Lag B’Omer. Part of the traditional celebration includes singing and Torah-talk around large bonfires. A question was posed as to why we light these bonfires.
Again, traditionally, this is supposedly the day that the great Rabbi, Shimon Bar Yochai died, some 2,000 years ago. He is buried in the northern city of Meron, and tens and hundreds of thousands of people flock to that site for this event.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rashbi, as he is known, was the author of the Zohar, the source of what is called ‘Jewish mysticism.’ Actually, the word is misleading. People don’t learn this, wiggle their noses and make people disappear. These teachings deal with the inner workings of Torah, and includes very holy thoughts and ideas. There are those who think that ‘Kabbalah’ as it is called, is very easy and an open subject to study. In reality, it is very deep and very sacred, and also very difficult to comprehend, in an authentic manner.
Rashbi was a very holy man, and the revelations he brought to us, thousands of years ago, are still studied today. On Lag B’Omer, we celebrate Rashbi and his teachings.
However, there are those who say that this day is not when Rashbi died. Rather, the story is more like this.
His primary teacher was perhaps the greatest scholar who lived, that being Rabbi Akiva. He is well-known as a person, who, up to the age of 40 did not know how to read or write. Only after marrying did he leave to study Torah, and after 24 years, was known as a Torah sage par excellence. He lived during the time of the Roman conquest, and was a primary backer of the Bar Kochva revolt, which failed, and left tens of thousands dead. Rabbi Akiva himself was put to death for teaching Torah to the masses.
It’s written that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students, all of whom were killed during the revolt. Only five remained. One of them was the renowned Rashbi, who was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. That ordination took place, most likely, on Lag B’Omer. In other words, on this day, we celebrate the continuation of Torah, the flame which the Romans tried to extinguish, but were not able to.
In other words, actually Lag b’Omer is a celebration of light, a celebration of Torah, of renewal, of continuation, of success against all odds, a celebration of sanctity.
This is why, I believe, we light bonfires on this special day, to radiate light.
In a week and a half, Hebron will celebrate another festive event, very much related to all of the above. On Thursday, the 29th day of Iyar (9/5) Rabbi Moshe Levinger will be presented with the Lion of Zion Moskowitz Prize for life achievement.
Rabbi Moshe Levinger fits all of the expressions of celebration just conveyed.
First, and foremost, Rav Levinger is a true Torah scholar. As a principal student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l, Rav Levinger studied and later disseminated the teachings of this teachers’ father, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, one of the most profound and important teachers of the past century.
Following the Six-Day War, Rabbi Levinger was sent to undertake a project only dreamt about, that being the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron. Together with his wife Miriam, who has stood by him as his ‘right-hand man’ for decades, the Levingers arrived in Hebron for Passover in 1968. And they’ve been here ever since.
At the forefront of the ‘settlement movement’ Gush Emunim, bringing Jews back to Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and the undisputed leader of the newly established Kiryat Arba, and later in the city of Hebron itself, Rabbi Levinger succeeded against all odds. The 1979 move of women and children into Beit Hadassah was led by the Levingers, and together with other very courageous and holy souls, brought Jews back to the city of Abraham.
In the space of a short article, it isn’t possible to enumerate all the trials and tribulations, as well as all the accomplishments of Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger. But what is overtly clear is that their fortitude, their faith, and their actions, have unalterably changed Jewish history. Their unadulterated love for Israel, all facets of Israel: Torah, the people of Israel, and perhaps first and foremost, Eretz Yisrael, can only be described as a beacon, not of light, but of a laser beam, penetrating the hearts and souls of millions around the world, and bringing people back home, to the heartland of our nation, to Hebron.
In recent years Rabbi Levinger’s health hasn’t been great. A stroke left him partially paralyzed. But, the giant that he is, such medical issues do not prevent him from continuing to study and teach Torah. Every day, despite the difficulty, he walks up the long stairs to pray morning prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
When Rabbi Akiva came home, after 24 years of Torah study, his wife Rachel ran to him and fell at his feet. The Rabbi’s students, seeing an impoverished woman at their master’s feet, tried to move her away. Rabbi Akiva stopped them, saying to them, ‘this is Rachel, my wife. All that is mine and yours, is hers.
So too we can say about Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger: Without their dedication, example, and dauntless endurance, where would we be today?