Sunday, May 06, 2007

Um,...Hello?! RaShB"I Didn't Die on Lag b'Omer

18 of the Second Month 5767

Last year in a set of courageous newpaper interviews, Rav Avraham Kosman revealed his research demonstrating that Rabbi Shimon Bar-YoHai [RaShB"I] did not actually die on 18 Iyyar, the 33rd day of S'firath haOmer (counting of the Omer, See Lev. 23:15-16).

The article in the Shofar newspaper is in Hebrew, so I will give you the highlights:


1. One of the bases for believing that RaShB"I died on "Lag b'Omer" comes from a manuscript of Rabbi Hayim Vital. Rabbi Vital ZTz"L, talmid muvhaq of Rabbi Yitzhaq Luria ZTz"L, the AR"I, supposedly mentions this date as the day of death of RaShB"I. Yet, an examination of the original reveals the abbreviation "shin-mem" for "shemeth" haRaShB"I (died), to be a scribal error. The original reads "simhath" haRaShB"I (happiness, festive day).

2. Leading Qabbalist of modern times, Rabbi Yosef Hayim meBagdad, the Ben Ish Hai, confirms this notion that RaShB"I did not die on this date,...

3. ...as does Rabbi Hayim Yosef David Azulai ZTz"L, the "HID"A."

4. And, even if this were the anniversary of death of RaShB"I, the Hatham Sofer was very much against the idea of celebrating on such a day. "Do we celebrate on Moshe Rabbeinu's anniversary of death?"

5. A little known event also occurred on this date in the year 4123 (363 CE). The Byzantine emperor of the time had granted permission for Jews to rebuild the Temple and to re-institute the sacrificial service. Yet the night they were to lay the foundation, Jerusalem was hit by an earthquake, a day of sorrow.

Many (not all) Jews go through S'firath haOmer, looking horrible with hair and beards (those that normally trim or shave) out of control, completely ignoring the precedence of honoring Shabbath over aveluth (mourning practices), in commemoration of the fall of Rabbi Aqiva's talmidim during this time period.

Before the standardization of the calendar of Hillel, when Tisha b'Av, the date of the destruction of of the first and Second Temples, among other things (Mishnah , would fall on a Friday, men would cut their hair on the preceding Thursday, in honor of the coming Shabbath (Mishnah Ta'anith 4:7)! Yet, heaven forbid they should cut their hair kavod Shabbath (in honor of Shabbath).

However, whatever the Simhath RaShB"I was, it seems to take precedence over the expression of aveluth during S'firath haOmer.

Huh?

Now I'm really confused.

The case here appears to be that the humra of the minhag of the inyan takes precedence over the hallachah.

Unfortunately, "Lag b'Omer" is not the only manifestation of confused priorities amongst the Jewish People.

I supposed that is because, as we learn in Megilath Esther, everything is hafukh before Ge'ulah (time of redemption).

9 comments:

doodlehead said...

Yup.I had a great time. Its all about the party.

Nahthan said...

Great post, B.Y. - just a little late. Next year, post it a week earlier to save all of those hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from making an erroneous pilgrimage. Unless they're really going to experience "simchath" HaRashbi!

Rav Bar-Hayim (machonshilo.org) theorizes that the minhag started because people stopped at qever HaRashbi in Meron on their way south to Yerushalayim for 'aliyath haregel (going up for the three festivals - they got to Meron 2-1/2 weeks before Shavuoth). After the Beth HaMiqdash was no more (for now), they turned Meron into their final destination, forgetting about the original reason.

It IS a great thing to be together with lots of Jews, even if it's not for the right reason. I went to Uman about 12 years ago when I was still a bachur, when it was much less crowded (only 3,000 people). I think that it's worthwhile for everyone to do once - just to be in one place with thousands of Jews doing some sort of 'avodath H-shem (although maybe they're yotzi going to the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim...)

Lurker said...

FYI:

Article on R. Kosman's Lag B'Omer research in Makor Rishon:
אפשר לכבות

Summary of above by Jameel @ The Muqata:
Lag BaOmer - One Big Mistake?

R. Kosman's apology three weeks later, after being viciously attacked and villified:
נא לא לכבות

Summary of above by Jameel @ The Muqata:
Lag BaOmer [Critical Analysis] Kefira - Extinguished. sigh.
Revenge of the Kannoim

Rafael V. Rabinovich said...

Jews don't look "horrible" when they grow beards! Did you read the parashah of last week? We need to not cut or damage the point of our beard hair.
Looks aren't the most important thing, but you can't tell me that a Jew doing a mitzva doesn't look good. Chas ve chalilah!

As of mourning, we do it to realize what living without the Beit Hamikdash is like. Because if we feel to comfortable, we might come to think that the "status quo" of galut is just OK.

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H ((Jews don't look "horrible" when they grow beards!))

Didn't say that. Look again: "Those whom normally trim or shave." Those that don't touch their beard, great!

((Did you read the parashah of last week? We need to not cut or damage the point of our beard hair.))

First of all, what are you accusing me of? Not reviewing the relavent sources?


((Looks aren't the most important thing,))

Agreed. But, please review Mishnah Torah, Hil. Shabbath, Ch. 30.

((....but you can't tell me that a Jew doing a mitzva doesn't look good.))

There no misswah not to touch your beard. It is a humrah and minhag for some. If one trims/cuts, he must leave something. Personally, I believe that Jews should have beards, and not shave.

There is no misswath to look like crap on Shabbath,...quite the opposite.

((As of mourning, we do it to realize what living without the Beit Hamikdash is like.))

What's the connection to s'firath haOmer? Why not mourn year round? And what are you doing to bring about the building a HaBayith HaShlishi?

((Because if we feel to comfortable, we might come to think that the "status quo" of galut is just OK.))

Ends: I agree; Means: I disagree.

Yonathan Ben Shimshon said...

If the Rashbi was one of R. Akiva's students, then maybe he was saved from death on this day. Pure conjecture, but it could make sense. I can't remember which gadol of yesteryear has a yom simcha for his family and their generations on the day he was saved... it might have even been in the shelling of Akko by Napolean... sorry for not more fully developing this half-thought.

Ben-Yehudah said...

;-) So far, the most reliable source seems to be Rav Shmu'el [ben Hayim] Vital, who I believe said they weren't sure why this was a day of simhah for RaShB"I. However, he also said, like many others, that he also did not die on this day.

Kalashnikover Rebbe said...

That's hardly a reason to spoil a good party!!!!

But I have a few comments...

1. It is different because Rashbi TOLD us to celebrate on this day. (whether or not he died on it), we didn't just decide to do it of our own accord (and whether is it appropriate to celebrate or mourn on yartzeits has been a disagreement for centuries so the chasam sofer is really not a solid riyah)...

2. It is brought down in the commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch that there was someone who had the custom of saying "nachem" every day of the year zeicher l'churban, and he said it also on Lag B'Omer and was punished for it... (this is not some "cute" story, it is brought l'halacha)

3. It is worthy to be a day of simcha if only because the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying, the Rashbi thing is secondary, in fact if you look in Halacha, Rashbi isn't mentioned at all, it's all about determining which 33 days we should mourn....

4.It wasn't "confused people" that decided to observe mourning practices during sefira, but a well established minhag codified in the Shulchan Aruch and all latter day poskim. The Shulchan Aruch says something, Jews do it.

Now there are some people today, that would choose to reject and ignore the past 2000 years of Jewish Tradition, law and custom and decide to turn back the clock and do things like they did back in the days of the Gemara which THEY decided is more "authentic" than the current practice. But I think this is a completely illegitimate derech, and an extremely dangerous one. If anything is "hafukh", it is such a position and school of thought. Because it is "hofech" the entire mesorah and chain of halacha.

We don't poskin halacha from stories in the Gemara, or even individual shitos of the Rishonim. If the SA and modern day poskim bring something l'halacha WE have to follow it. Halacha is all about a CHAIN and tradition. You can't just decide to hook into a link far back in the chain, you need to link into the END of it...
The shulchan Aruch, the Rama, the Magen Avraham, the SA HaRav and the Mishne Brurah all were pretty well versed in halacha and gemara. They also KNEW about the case you cited above, but nevertheless they said you don't cut your hair "l'kvod Shabbos" during sefira... Are you really saying that THEY, all the gedolim for the past 400 years and all the holy Jews that followed them have "confused priorities" and are ignorant of simple halachic principles of precedence???

5. You mention Tisha B'av as an example, and although it is rare today, there are documented minhagim mentioned in the poskim of people mourning EVEN on Shabbos Chazon, including not wearing Shabbos clothes, and severely limiting the enjoyment of food. Many Ashkenazi shuls still sing Lecha Dodi to the tune of Eli Tzion although others frown on the practice. So if people would mourn on Shabbos ITSELF, kal v'chomer that it isn't so outlandish not to get a haricut for 33 days including erev Shabbos.....

Greek-PersianJew said...

אמרו לך דברי הבל ושקר, היום הזה הוא יום שמחה כנזכר בגמרא
שבו פסקו למות תלמידי רבי עקיבא, רבי שמעון יצא מהמערה, ירד לישראל מן במדבר.
Many great things happened to Rabi Shimon and ISRAEL on this day - like: the heavenly MANN came down in the desert -
he exited the cave - students stopped dying - he became a RABBI, member of Sanhedrin... - check out Sanhedrin 14a

On Lag BaOmer R' Akiva appointed RashBi (Bar Yohai) to be a codifier of Law.
On another occasion, R' Yehuda ben Baba appointed him to judge
fines - meaning, to be in the SANHEDRIN.

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