"And you shall count for yourselves"
Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar - the new month of Iyar. It is also the sixteenth day of the counting of the Omer. The Passover festival ended just over two weeks ago. This past Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Next Monday is Israel's Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror. The following day is Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel Independence Day. This is soon followed by Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, a day once actively celebrated by only a very few, which, since the reemergence of Israel as an independent nation, has become one of the most popular days on the Hebrew calendar. Lag B'Omer is, in turn, followed by Jerusalem Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem and the retaking of the Temple Mount. Just days later we complete the forty-nine days of the counting of the Omer and celebrate the festival of Shavuot - marking the bringing of the first fruits in Temple times and the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai by all Israel. It would be fair to say that the fifty-one days beginning with the first day of Passover and concluding with Shavuot are the busiest, most event-filled days in the modern Hebrew calendar.
What does all this hyper-spiritual-activity point to? There are common themes that inform each of the various celebrations and observances of these fifty-one spiritually-laden days. The most basic of these themes is that of the passage from bondage to freedom, from slavery to liberation, from exile and homelessness to statehood and independence. These themes are most boldly embodied by Passover, by the three days marking Holocaust Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, and of course by the one day observance of Jerusalem Day. But Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, which marks the passing of the great sage and founder of the kabbalistic tradition, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai also is immersed in these same themes.
Firstly, Lag B'Omer draws to a conclusion the thirty-two day period of semi-mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who perished some 1900 years ago. Although, for various reasons their sudden and traumatic demise has been traditionally attributed to a plague, there is strong evidence that these 24,000 students all died as combatants in the 132 CE uprising led by Bar Kochba against the Roman imperialists who had occupied and subjugated Judea and destroyed the Holy Temple some sixty two years earlier. Rabbi Akiva, perhaps the greatest sage in Israel's history was a supporter and participant in Bar Kochba's uprising. No doubt his students made up a part of Bar Kochba's army.
Secondly, Shimon bar Yochai, who is honored on the 33rd day of the Omer, himself had to flee for his life from the Roman authorities for expressing his thoughts concerning Roman oppression and decadence. He escaped them by hiding for thirteen years in a Galilee cave. It was there that he and his son were introduced into the esoteric teachings of Torah. And, in fact, the promulgation of these teachings, which is taking place today throughout the world, has long been thought to be a prerequisite to the final redemption.
And, of course, the forty-nine days of the counting of the Omer, itself is understood as being a step-by-step, day-by-day spiritual upgrade, designed to help us to personally incorporate the revelatory light of the exodus from Egypt into our spiritual beings in order to be prepared for the upcoming receiving of Torah marked by the Shavuot holiday.
In this fashion, the counting of the Omer serves as a sort of steady, smooth counterbalance to all of the surrounding upheavals we are observing. While we are used to seeing this in the context of the Passover-Shavuot, bondage to Torah liberation paradigm, today it is essential that we expand our understanding of the significance of the days of the Omer. The modern nation of Israel, the newly liberated people of Israel who have returned home and reunited as a single community in the land of Israel, is very much located at this particular moment in our history somewhere along the post-Sea of Reeds and pre-receiving of Torah at Sinai timeline. That is, our escape from slavery, from exile, has been secured, but our true liberation through the re-acceptance of Torah and the reemergence of a Torah-centric society in the land of Israel has yet to be completed.
In light of the unique historical moment for Israel and for all mankind that we now find ourselves in, it would appear to be quite clear that the vision and dream of the Holy Temple is an essential and non-negotiable aspect of the long haul from Egypt to Jerusalem via Sinai. That is, if the vision is to become a reality. To many, it may still seem far fetched or fantastical. The work of the Temple Institute could be said to parallel the step-by-step, day-by-day constant upgrade of the days of the Omer. People often ask, how close are we to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple? The irrefutable answer is, we are one day closer than we were just one day ago. This is not a chronological fact, for there are no guarantees. It is a reflection of the determined efforts being made by the Temple Institute and others who work in the certainty that the building of the Holy Temple is both attainable and imperative.
All those who attach themselves to the G-d of Israel and to the rebuilding of His holy house can take comfort that while the world is being violently and cataclysmically buffeted about by events on a cosmic level, they can take refuge in the knowledge of the certainty that the redemptive process is moving apace, and most importantly, that it is upon each and every one of us to play our part in order that G-d's great plan is fulfilled speedily in our days.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven ponder whether America has not, in fact, validated Israel's policy of targeted assassinations by executing Bin Laden... or is a different standard applied to Israel? You guessed it. But don't forget that we know that G-d most definitely applies a different standard to Israel; that's what the Torah portions we've been reading the past few weeks are all about. This week's edition of Temple Talk finds Rabbi Richman and Yitzchak Reuven exploring G-d's standards, man's standards, and the reality of holiness to which Israel is called, all within the framework of the Bin Laden execution, the book of Leviticus and the counting of the Omer.