The day of Lag B’Omer, when I get of the bus at the bottom of the hill in Meiron, the burial place of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar and simultaneously a brilliant Talmudic scholar I am no longer just in the present. The past and future don’t cower in the corners in Meiron. They are both bigger than life!
Lag B’Omer is a potentially both a dream and a nightmare. Massive crowds are wherever you look. In fact, a significant proportion of Israel’s population comes for the day. Whatever you think when you hear the word, “mobbed” doesn’t begin to describe the barely controlled chaos. No more!
From the moment you get of your bus (which leaves on time) you are in good hands as the ads say. The sound system informs you in English, Hebrew and Yiddish of the color-coded parking lots in which you will find your bus home. The Yiddish one concluded with a heartfelt blessing that your prayers bring good results. There were large poles every few yards. Each one had a number on its top so that it was easy to describe where you are if you find a lost child. It also could tell a medic where to head in case of emergency. The best part was that once you entered the actually tomb of Rabi Shimon, there were metal separators, similar to those at the airport keeping people far enough from each other to be able to pray without being pushed by other people who want to pray just as much as you do. The effect is that the trip back to the 21st century was less of a contrast than it used to be.
There is still an otherworldly aura in spite of the technical changes. The hill you climb was probably climbed by Rabi Shimon, and probably looks much the same. On the one hand being there is incredibly NOW. On the other hand, it is untouched by the passage of thousands of years. It inspires you and makes you want to be in the past and the present at the same moment. Staying in two places at the same time is far easier than it sounds. There are people out there who do it all the time.
One of the names that resonate in the observant community here in Yerushalaim is Rav Yitzchak Weiss, the famous rabbinic judge. His book of halahcic decisions, called “Minchas Yitzchak” is a classic. He told his students the following story about himself. It is one that makes you see how connected Now, Then and Tomorrow really are.
“When I was young, things were very different. When I was old enough to marry, my parents took the initiative in finding me a suitable wife. After they put out feelers, a shadchan called with a proposal. The families matched like a pair of gloves, and everything they heard about the girl was unbelievably wonderful. Because of the distance between the two cities, my parents hired a representative to actually meet her. He came back with rave reviews and the shidduch was concluded. As was arranged, the entire family travelled to the girl’s home town to finally meet her in person just a short time before the wedding was scheduled. It became clear that we had been fooled. My father had a talk with me that night. He told me that since our ‘representative” apparently deceived us and turned out to be a “misrepresentative” we are not bound by any agreement that was made. I am free to return home without any obligations. I thought about it and told him, “I can’t do this to the girl. It’s too much. I can’t humiliate her this way. Everyone will know what happened and why. I’ll marry her. If the situation is unbearable, I will divorce her. Even divorce would be kinder than this.” We got married, and had a child, my son Berish. Tragically my wife was killed in the war. I remarried and eventually she too passed away. My final marriage was to the daughter of the VIshnitzer Rebbe. No children were born in the course of either marriage. We went through all of the usual medical procedures. The doctors were of one opinion. I would never father a child. Berish’s birth was a miracle.”
Seeing Hashem’s providence demands your being two places at once. You have to be in NOW, questioning what life really is presenting you with, and what Hashem wants of you by way of response. You also have to have a sense of eternity, and of being part of something bigger than yourself. That sensitivity to the ultimate future that awaits all of us is going to affect the way that you see NOW. You also have to be able to see the past, and all of the complex configurations that took you to standing where you are this moment.
If I were Rav Weiss, I am not sure that I would have had enough of a sense of what the bigger picture demands. Would I have the courage and sense of Hashem’s providence to weigh my own immediate feelings of vulnerability, anger and fear of spiraling into a black pit against my sensitivity to the the feelings of rejection, worthlessness and shame that a woman I never wanted to marry would feel on what would be a farce of a wedding day. I don’t even feel sure that I would see that the same coin has two sides. I am also not sure that decades later I would look at my only child and see “miracle” and not just “great stroke of luck”. Are you?
Present. Past. Future.
Whatever else Meiron teaches you, it teaches you how close you are to the world of Rabi Shimon who certainly knew how to make NOW an extension of the ultimate Source and Creator of the bigger picture. He also knew that his life and his teachings would touch generations and make it possible for them to see what he saw, but from a much greater distance. He invited us, you me and the rest of the crowd, to be with him on his yearly “hilulah” – his celebration. He knew that we will always have the capacity to be connected to Hashem, and he was willing to be our tour guide through the jungles that we all pass through on our way to the future.
Every shidduch is its own hashgachah story, one in which past present and future come together. On that note, I will end by wishing mazal tov to Brachah Meyers on her engagement!