What is Lag b’Omer

Lag b’Omer is the best Jewish Holiday you never heard of! Outside of Israel, it is rarely celebrated, but in the Land of Israel, it is an ecstatic celebration of joy with deep Kabbalistic themes. Join Mottle and Batya to explore this amazing holiday.

roaring campfire

 

Holy Cow! The Death of Death

I get the question a lot. There are things in the Torah that just don’t make sense. Why would you choose to live a lifestyle where you must commit to doing things that just don’t make sense?

The paradigm of “the things that don’t make sense” is this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chukat, which is about, well, Torah laws that just don’t make any sense. A chok is defined as a Torah law that is beyond all human understanding. It is the type of law that there is no reason that we do this besides the fact that the Master of the Worldcommanded us to.

There are many Chukim in the Torah. Kashrut, shatnez (the laws prohibiting the wearing of wool and linen in the same garment), the laws of family purity, just to name a few. These are laws where no rational reason is given for them. We are just expected to accept them and do them.

The great Chassidic master, the Kedushas Levi takes it a step further. He says do not read the verse the first verse of this week’s parsha as “This is the ‘unknowable decree’ of the Torah, but he points out that the same verse can really be read, “This Torah is an ‘unknowable decree’.” The Kedushas Levi is really saying at the end of the day really all of life is unknowable.

We fool ourselves all the time with delusion that we are in control, that some how through my climate controlled house and car, my good job and my 401k, I have wrestled my life from the jaws of the unknowable.

And what is the Torah’s paradigm of the unknowable decree? The red hefer. G-d commands the Jewish People to take a perfectly red cow and to slaughter it and burn it, and to use its ashes to purify us. Purify
us from what? From the experience of coming into direct contact with death. No matter how much we try to control and comprehend life, death will always be the ultimate unfathomable decree.

If death is the ultimate reminder that in the end all of life is really unknowable, Then the Torah is the life line that makes that situation livable.

The Izbitser Rebb says that this is one of the things that separates the Jewish People from the rest of the world. Says the Izbitser, “…death doesn’t really befall them. For death among the children of Israel is not like death is perceived by the rest of the world. To the rest of the world death is like a vessel that is shattered and beyond repair, but to the Jewish people, death is like a vessel that is merely taken apart (to be put back together later)”. This, says the Izbitser, is why the parshah of the red hefer comes now before the death of the “three shepherds” Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe, to let the Jewish people know, that in actuality, there is no such thing as death.

Anyone who has lost someone close knows, death is just too big to really wrap your head around, everybody agrees to that, but the Torah is teaching us something so much deeper. The Torah is teaching us that not only is death to big for us to wrap our heads around, but you know what? So is life.

So what are we left with? Chukim. Surrendering to the fact that there is so much I do not know than I do, and there is so much that I can not control, and life is so beyond death, and G-d is bigger than everything.

Copyright © 2014 • Stuff Jews Should Know