Parsha: Behar (2024)

There have been many Jewish leaders throughout our long and rich history. Most leaders appeal to a group or community that identifies with their unique contribution. The scholar will be an admirer of the Jewish leader who contributed to Jewish Scholarship. The activist will be inspired by the leader who excelled in philanthropy and community building.
The very pious and religious person will look for the leader who shows how to live a life of piety and righteousness.

Rare is the leader that has admirers from all different walks of Jewish life.

This week we celebrate Lag Baomer. A day where we celebrate the life of a great Jewish leader Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (100-160 CE). It is celebrated with outings (on which children traditionally play with bows and arrows), bonfires, parades and other joyous events.

While he was a great scholar, leader and source of inspiration in times of persecution, he gained the admiration of all the Jewish people.
Even today, thousands of years after his passing Jews from all walks of life celebrate his day of Lag Ba’omer.

What is it about him that attracts the wide spectrum of followers?

I think the following story may give us some insight.

One of Rabbi Shimon’s students once went abroad and returned with great riches. The other students were filled with envy and also wanted to go abroad to make their fortunes. This made Rabbi Shimon sad, and he told them that they could have the choice of gold or the Torah. In fact, he took them to a valley, and prayed to G‑d to fill it with gold. The next moment the valley was filled with gold. Rabbi Shimon then said, “Whoever wants it, may have as much as he likes; but know that whoever takes this gold, will lose his share in the World to Come.” No one took any of it.

What is so special about this story is that, Rabbi Shimon was able to show a physical manifestation of their spiritual achievement. While we may naturally think that the spiritual domain is separate from the physical reality, Rabbi Shimon underscores its inherent connection.

If we would see a real concrete effect of our spiritual efforts, we would be doing Mitzvot every spare moment.
Rabbi Shimon saw this with his own eyes, and tried to share this with us.

Perhaps this great power is what resonated with the masses. People long to see spiritual inspiration in day-to-day living. Only someone with such great spiritual heights would be able to demonstrate this for others.