Tonight, in the neighborhood in which I now live, there will be bonfires to celebrate the Hilula Derashbi.
As children, we never heard about the Rabi Shimon element of Lag BeOmer. It was all about the talmidei Rabi Akiva and the bow & arrow games.
Today ideas of kabbalah and chasidus have become more widely known and as we will become aware of them- we need to know how to align with them!
It is not easy.
Dancing at a bonfire means listening to live music and the Rema and Mishnah Berurah seem to suggest waiting until tomorrow morning with all of this.
I like to quote Rav Breuer’s words as I heard from a friend regarding minhogim of other communities:
When asked about the minhag for the Kallah to circle the Choson under the Chupah, the Rav nodded his head and said: “It is a very nice Minhog….but it is not OUR Minhog!”
But not to be a spoilsport, since I enjoy the ‘Toyras’ about the various Gemaras and mystical hints about this holy Tanna, I want to take a second and point out that the teachings of this great Tanna overlap with our own Mesorah of TIDE.
Now, on the surface- it doesn’t. Because, Rashbi said, “I leave all trades in the world aside, and I will only teach my son Torah!”
Rabi Yishmael, on the other hand, teaches that “Hinhog Bahem Minhag Derech Eretz”, act with the Torah in the way of the land. Whereby, Rabi Shimon counters: If a man shall plow in the times of plow, and rea in the times of reaping…what will be with the Torah?!
We see that the Holy RASHBI is the voice that stands in contradistinction to the ways we were taught?! He literally is coming to oppose the words “Hinhog Bahem Derech Eretz”!!
In truth, like all true things, it is not that simple.
Firstly, the Gemara concludes that “many have followed the path of RASHBI and were not successful”.
This would imply that it cannot be the way prescribed for the masses.
Additionally, even those of us who learn in Kolel – full or part-time- cannot honestly claim to have chosen the path of Rashbi. When I learned in Lakewood, Rav Matisyahu (may he have refuah shleima) once said, “We think we are Rashbi, but we are really pruste’ (blatant) rabi Yishma’el-nikkers (followers)!”
Because Rashbi is not talking about learning or college. He is talking about not even worrying about anything other than the Torah- in perfect faith. One who would learn without any of the common “safety nets” and accept adverse poverty on themselves would be an actual RASHBI-talmid according to Rav Mattisyahu.
Finally, there is another side to Rashbi. Famously the question is asked how Rashbi could demand total dedication to learning – ignoring the plow and the sickle- yet be of the opinion in Nedarim that the mere recital of Shema in the morning and eve is enough to satisfy the mitzvah to “contemplate in them day and night.”
One homiletical answer is that when he and his son emerged from the cave the second time they were enlightened to see the value in the working class, whereas the terminology of “If one plow in the plowing season…” was said when he was of his original mind (first exit from the cave). When he was “burning things up” with his gaze. When he was too strong for the world.
Now, this pshat was said by the Sdei Chemed. I strongly question it. Because the Gemara does not seem to imply that he left the cave on the first occasion long enough to have had an argument with Rabi Yishmael. Nevertheless, as an answer it has value.
When I subsequently heard and read this same answer from a very well-known- infamous- speech given by the president of YU- where he replied that Yeshivahs that are not like YU, but encourage full-time Torah scholarship are producing “cave men”. There I take great exception to this claim that Rashbi had a revelation that brought him up to the ideals of a YU president. (For the record, the said president and his students claim he never said that full-time learners are cavemen. It is hard to verify because YU has not allowed access to a recording of this. I am told that the recording would prove otherwise and that a copy of it exists in Lakewood. Rav Svei famously made a public objection to this speech at a ate 1990s Agudah convention.)
Leaving all this aside, let us for a moment analyze the second exit of Rashbi from the cave. He sees upon exit a man running to make ready for Shabbos holding two Hadass branches. He asks him why he needs two. The man replies that one is for “Shamor” and the other for “Zachor”. Rabi Shimon is placated with this. What did he see in this man?
The answer, I think, is that he sees the ability for a person to be engaged in this world and its pursuits and responsibility- but still to be able to use his heart and his mind to live a spiritual life. He never gives prominence to worldly affairs. He merely seeks to master them under the Torah.
Let me paint a picture of how this looks.
Rabbi Klugmann who wrote the book on Rav Hirsch told me that (and he said this in the eulogy for) Dr. Mordechai Breuer- although he was a university professor- was so medakdek bemitzvos, that he would not allow himself to sleep on a plane- since he could not ascertain if the blessing of “Hamapil” is necessary.
Rabi Yishmael says, “Hinhog Bahem Derech Eretz”- which means do what you need to. (For our purposes here). But Rabi Shimon, who now sees value in the mundane- he sees the value not because you “need” to engage in the mundane, but because you can seek to master it as well.
So while we may not be dancing around a bonfire, we will celebrate the great leaders who taught us the secrets of the Torah, and taught us that they can be found among those that engage in the mundane as well.
I have another perush on Lag BeOmer that was said many years ago- tongue in cheek. It revolves around the fact that Rav Schwab zt’l has the same acronym as Rabi Shimon. That his Yahrzeit is on Purim most years- which is always the same day of the week as Lag BeOmer. Rav Schwab zt’l certainly taught this lesson as well. To be unbending in service of Hashem and that no situation is truly mundane.
Happy Lag BeOmer.