Behar-Bechukosai: Three Layers of Comfort

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השיעור לפ’ בהר בחוקותי

 

מוקדש לחיזוק ההתקשרות לכ”ק אדמו”ר זצוקלל”ה נבג”מ זי”ע. ע”י הרב לוי יצחק הלוי וזוגתו מרת חנה שיחיו רייטשיק

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, his son Rabbi Elazar, and the Rebbe each provide a message of encouragement to the Jewish people. The inspiration begins with the Talmud, continues through the Zohar, and receives a new layer of insight through the teachings of Chassidism.

Rabbi Shimon’s Teaching and its Message

“Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Come see how precious the Jewish people are to G-d: Wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them…The Divine Presence went with them to Babylon…”

When the Jewish people are in exile, G-d does not merely gaze down from His “palace” to watch His people and send them His blessings. Rather, “the Divine Presence went with them,” G-d goes into exile with them as well — “Wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them.”

Moreover: G-d feels their pain, “In their suffering, He suffers.” G-d puts Himself in a state, so to speak, where the non-Jews begin to ask, “Where is your G-d?”

And Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai continues: “And likewise, when they will be redeemed in the future, the Divine Presence will be with them, as it says: The L-rd your G-d will return with your captivity. It doesn’t say, ‘He will bring them back,’ rather, ‘He will return.’ This teaches that G-d will return together with them from the exiles.”

Even with the knowledge that G-d remains with us in exile, we might assume that at the moment of redemption, G-d will go out ahead of us, even if only for a single moment. In this regard, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai tells every single Jew: You can rest assured that G-d will remain with you during every moment of exile, and He will not leave even a moment early. He will leave only when the entire Jewish people leave as well. 

This teaches us that even when we are exiled, we have G-d’s full support and He provides us with everything we need to fulfill Torah and its commandments to its utmost; in the words of Rabbi Shimon, “Wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them.”

Rabbi Elazar’s Teaching and its Message

In addition to the teaching of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, there is also a teaching from his son, Rabbi Elazar. [He was also a lofty individual, as Rabbi Shimon personally attested to]. His teaching adds meaning and understanding to the teaching of Rabbi Shimon:

The Zohar cites a teaching from Rabbi Eliezer on the verse, “Despite all this, while they are in their enemies’ land, I will not be revolted by them nor will I reject them to obliterate them.” He explains it with a parable about a bride in a tanner’s market. The market has a foul smell, but because of the groom’s great love for his bride, the odors don’t bother him. To the contrary, they seem to him as the world’s finest aromas.  

This means as follows: Exile is compared to a tanner’s market. In spiritual terms, a market is a public property which is open and susceptible to influences that obstruct G-d’s singular presence. And, being a tanner’s market, it has a terrible odor which is a far cry from the G-dly scent of the offerings and the incense in the Holy Temple (and, in our day, from our prayers). 

When the People of Israel are in exile, they are like a bride in a tanner’s market. She might be tainted by the stench, but on the other hand, it is only an odor. The exile doesn’t impact us internally like food and drink which is ingested into the body [because, from the day we left Egypt, every Jew was declared a free man who can never truly be subjugated, and furthermore, “there is no freedom like the study of Torah,” our sages said.] The exile is merely a “scent,” its impact is external.

This is the beauty of the Jewish people, says Rabbi Elazar. Not only is G-d always with them (as his father Rabbi Shimon taught), moreover, even when they are associated with the bad odor of the tanner’s market, G-d still loves them so much that it smells to Him like the best aromas in the universe.

A Deeper Understanding in Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar

On a deeper level: G-d sees that despite the Jewish people being in exile in the tanner’s market, surrounded by “negative” odors, they continue to observe the Torah and its commandments and raise their children in the spirit of Torah.

In other words, He sees that the bad odor of exile didn’t weaken their connection to Torah and its commandments, but to the contrary, it helped awaken their deepest resolve to strengthen their connection to holiness and to Judaism, and their example inspired other Jews to strengthen their own Torah and mitzvot and to raise their own children in this spirit, illuminating the exile with the light of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot.

This brings G-d the greatest sense of nachas; it is the world’s finest aroma, because it emerged from a place of adversity.

The Son Who Honors the Father

In light of Rabbi Elazar’s expansion upon his father’s teaching, the Zohar concludes, “A son who honors his father—an example is Rabbi Elazar who honors his father in this world and in the next.” In other words, Rabbi Elazar delivered his teaching after his father’s passing (on Lag Ba’omer), when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was already in “the next world,” and nonetheless, Rabbi Elazar continued to honor him (“although he died, you must honor him even more”) by revealing and explaining the depth and profundity of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s teaching (that the Jewish people are so precious to G-d that he accompanies them into exile), strengthening Rabbi Shimon’s prestige. 

The message from all the above is that we have immense power during times of exile, and we therefore have the ability and the responsibility to add in matters of Torah and its commandments. We will thereby merit the fulfillment of the verse, “G-d will return with your captivity”; G-d will take the entire Jewish people out of exile and leave the exile together with us for the true and complete redemption. 

Lag Ba’omer Parade 5744-1984
(Toras Menachem 5744, vol. 3 pg. 1767)

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