By Rabbi Shlomo Tenenbaum, Guest Torah Columnist
Torah Portion: Emor (Leviticus 21:1−24:23)
This week, we read Parshas Emor, and we also celebrate Lag b’Omer. The Parsha starts out by describing certain conduct expected of a Kohain, but then says that many of the restrictions are removed regarding the Koahin’s immediate family. This tells us that no matter how important and crucial one’s job is, family is another higher calling. The Parsha then goes on through the full gamut of Jewish holidays, starting from Shabbat and then covering Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, because celebrating the holidays is another platform for celebrating family.
I am writing these words in my mother’s hospital room, grateful to G-d and the wonderful staff of Skokie Hospital for every day we are blessed to have her with us, in light of a sudden and very difficult illness.
This week, along with reading about the celebration of the holidays described in the Parsha, we celebrate Lag b’Omer, which commemorates the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the book comprising the main body of kabbalah, or Jewish mystical teachings. Rabbi Shimon was being pursued by the brutal Roman government. To escape certain execution, he hid in a cave, where he miraculously survived for 13 years until it was safe to emerge. During those long years spent in a dark cave, he climbed to amazing spiritual heights. In his writings, he describes the higher spiritual worlds, different angels, miracles, G-d’s management and emanation in this world, and more. So from darkness came this amazing light of knowledge that entered the world and illuminated it, which he titled “Zohar,” which is Hebrew for shining or illumination, shedding light on G-d’s constant presence in our world. To acknowledge this concept and remember Rabbi Simon’s story, it is customary to light bonfires outdoors on Lag b’Omer.
I’ll end with a story that is small on the surface, but was a big miracle for my family, involving the Chicago Jewish News. As I mentioned, my dear mother became quite ill recently and I wanted to inform an old friend of hers with whom we had lost touch—a former co-worker of hers who, along with his family, had been wonderful friends to her for several decades. They had moved out of state, and their last name is an ethnic name with a spelling which completely eluded my capacity to guess. But just this week, this man happened to come across a months-old copy of a column I had written for the Chicago Jewish News. He sent an e-mail to the editor, who forwarded the message to me. Much more meaningful than his kind words about the story was his email address at the end, which allowed us to inform him of my mother’s situation, and to reconnect. What are the odds that a non-Jewish person living in another state should find an old copy of the Chicago Jewish News and send an e-mail to the editor?
In every dark moment in life, G-d’s light is still shining into our darkened crevice.
Rabbi Shlomo Tenenbaum is Director of The ARK’s Michael E. Schneider Spiritual Enrichment Program.