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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Who Wrote That Song?

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I once got a call from a friend. I had just made a decision. He wasn’t really involved in the decision, but he called me.

“Rabbi Haber”, He said, “let me tell you a story”.

One day a boy and his father took a day off to go flying in a small airplane. There were some clouds in the sky and there was a storm coming in so the boy and his son decided not to fly that day. A few hours later the sky cleared up. It hadn’t rained, the wind had settled down, and the son was very disappointed.

The man turned to his son and said:

“Son, I’d rather be down here wishing I was up there, than up there wishing I was down here”.

The point is that we choose a path for ourselves. We choose the wisest path, the holiest path, and the path that the Torah shows us. Sometimes there are moments of indecision. We look at the “Road not Taken” and wonder. Sometimes we are jealous, curious, or just unsure. That’s when we thank Hashem for giving us so many rules and so many guidelines and telling us how to live.

That is not to say that we can’t make our own decisions. The Talmud tells us that just as no two people look exactly the same, so too no two people think in exactly the same way. Each and every one of us is unique. There is room for that in the Torah.

But there is one thing that is not open for negotiation: each and every decision we make must be rooted in the will of Hashem. Every time we look back at life it will be with the confidence of “I’m glad I’m here wishing I was there, rather than there wishing I was here.”

The Torah says, “Im Bechukosai Teleichu – If you will walk in the way of my laws.” We need to walk in the way of Hashem. If we do the right thing, good things will happen. Maybe not immediately, maybe not in the next decade, but they will happen. Satisfaction is guaranteed.

Tonight is Lag B’omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. On it we celebrate several events and people, including the great Tanna Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai. Tonight and tomorrow half a million people will converge on the tiny mountain top of Meron in Northern Israel. They will light fires and dance and sing in honor of the Holy Sage Rabban Shimon bar Yochai. And they will all be singing the same song. It is one of the few songs that are owned by both Sefardim and Ashkenazim and it is the unmistakable anthem of Lag B’omer.

Who wrote that song?

Back in 1492 there was a little boy in Spain by the name of Shimon ibn Lavi. His family left when the Jews were expelled and eventually settled in Fez, Morroco. Shimon grew up and became a doctor. He also began studying Kabbala and Zohar and became a great Kabbalist. He became obsessed with Rav Shimon bar Yochai and his teachings about the holiness of every single Jew. The Zohar brings out the idea that all of us and all of those around us possess a very holy spark that with the proper care and education can be cultivated and ignited. After many years of yearning, he decided that he would travel by foot to the land of Israel. He was not headed for Jerusalem or Chevron. All he wanted in life was to visit the grave of Rav Shimon bar Yochai.

It was a rough journey and at one point he was kidnapped and ransomed, but he kept on trucking toward Meiron. At one point he stopped in Tripoli, in what we now call Libya, and discovered that there were no Torah scholars there. They didn’t know the Friday night prayers, they didn’t know how to welcome Shabbos and they didn’t know how to live their lives as Jews. Rav Shimon Lavi decided to stay and teach Torah to the people. He never left Tripoli and he never made it to Meron.

As we walk our path through life we don’t really know where it will lead. Rav Shimon Lavi didn’t make it to Meiron but he did inspire a generation of Jews in a city that had no teachers. And his song did make it to Meiron. All of that emotion and dedication and enthusiasm for Rav Shimon Bar Yochai wasn’t lost. He wrote the theme song for Lag B’omer.

As we go through life, our paths will also take twists and turns. We are very fortunate to have role models to guide us along the way. By making sure that every twist and turn in our paths is dictated by the will of Hashem we can be confident that we will always be able to look back on life with a feeling of satisfaction.

“I’m glad I’m here wondering what it’s like over there; and not over there wondering what it’s like over here”.

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