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Miracle in Meron

by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles

  

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On the eve of 18th of  Iyar, the thirty-third (in gematriah, 33=lamed-gimmel, "lag") night of Counting the Omer in 5683 (1923), as every year, an enormous crowd was assembled on the roof of the building in Meron that enclosed the tomb of  Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. The huge annual bonfire was throwing off heat and smoke, radiating light that could be seen as far away as the streets of Safed and casting shadows on the circle of Chassidim and leading members of the community that danced energetically in front of it. All the other men stood off to the side and sang and clapped enthusiastically to the pulsating beat of the traditional Lag B'Omer songs. Below, in the large courtyard, the women and children also sang and rejoiced, in honor of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai.

Lag B'Omer is the anniversary of the passing-on more than eighteen hundred years ago of the renowned Mishnaic sage and foremost Kabbalist, Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, whose teachings comprise the text of the primary  Kabbalah sourcebook, the  Zohar. (This of course is in addition to its Halachic significance as a cessation in the semi-mourning observances that obtain between Passover and  Shavuot.) The yahrzeit is celebrated with great joy in accordance with the recorded express wishes of Rebbe Shimon himself. Written accounts from more than five hundred years ago cite the tradition and the great virtue of attending the tombsite in the village of Meron, situated in the northern Galilee of Israel. 

a loud bitter wail shattered the shimmering atmosphere of Shabbat joy
Sages and common folk alike attest that anyone who prays to G-d sincerely there on Lag B'Omer will surely be answered in Rebbe Shimon's merit. The barren, the poor, and the critically sick have all made the pilgrimage there and found salvation.

As always, the "stars" of the Lag B'Omer festivities that year were the little three-year-old boys, whose proud parents had brought them to have their first haircuts and peyot-shaping at Rebbe Shimon's tombsite on "his day". As the children were transferred from mothers' arms to fathers' shoulders, the scissors would be passed around to relatives, friends and bystanders, so all could share in the merit of snipping the long strands and curls, while leaving the peyot untouched.

That year Lag B'Omer fell on a Thursday night-Friday. Many of the celebrants elected to stay on for Shabbat, knowing that the holy day emerging out of Lag B'Omer in the presence of Rebbe Shimon would be an extraordinarily exalted occasion.

Friday evening everyone prayed together, and the holiness and joy of the Shabbat spirit was palpable. Then everyone turned to their lodging places, where the pleasure of the holy day continued unabated throughout the evening meals. 

Early Shabbat morning, as soon as the first streaks of light infiltrated the sky, the Sephardim returned to the tombsite for the sunrise Minyan. After them, the "regular" minyanim took place, and finally, the chassidim arrived for the late-morning shift in their own inimitable ecstatic style. Afterwards, when they too returned to the large communal eating area, the happy singing of the earlier arrivals left no doubt that the spirit of Shabbat joy was continuing to expand with each passing moment.

But then, a loud bitter wail shattered the shimmering atmosphere of Shabbat joy. A little boy, who had come with his mother for his first haircut, had unaccountably fallen sick and stopped breathing. Aid was given, but to no avail. He was dead, and his broken mother was screaming uncontrollably. All the women around her were crying too.

The word spread quickly. Almost instantaneously, melancholy gloom replaced the exuberant rejoicing. The singing stopped, the dancers froze; the mother's loud cries pierced every heart.

Before they could recover from their shock, a further development struck. The British Mandate police assigned to keep order suddenly, without any warning, locked the gates of the courtyard. They then announced that they were forced to take this precaution because maybe the disease that had struck down the hapless child was highly contagious, and they were obligated to do everything possible to prevent it from proliferating.


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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Sephardim
(Pl.: Sephardim) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
Chassidim
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) Following the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Shavuot
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Omer
Starting from the second day of Passover, we count forty-nine days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuot. This is called the “Counting of the Omer” because on the second day of Passover the barley “Omer” offering was offered in the Holy Temple, and we count forty-nine days from this offering. [Literally, "Omer" is a certain weight measure; the required amount of barley for this sacrifice.]
Iyar
The second month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to April-May. The 18th of this month is the holiday of Lag b'Omer.
Tzadik
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzadikim). A saint, or righteous person.
Minyan
A quorum consisting of ten adult male Jews. A minyan is necessary to recite the kaddish or to publicly read from the Torah scroll.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.