Rabbi's Blog: Thoughts and Conversations With Rabbi Levi Shemtov

Lag B'Omer: Unity Coupled With Diversity

 Last Sunday, over 500 people attended our community Lag B'Omer celebrations at Seton Park. The crowds were made up of young and old, from all different walks of life, religious levels, and backgrounds. There was ONE common denominator, however, among everyone there that day. Each person was there in a display of Jewish pride, proving that the strength of our people lies in diversity coupled with unity._70A4743.jpg Chabad-Lubavitch, the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world, hosted thousands of similar Lag B'Omer celebrations in cities across the globe. 

What does Lag B'Omer truly represent?   

Lag B'Omer marks the passing nearly two thousand years ago of the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He is best known as the author of the Zohar, the fundamental text of the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as "the day of my joy." 

How could the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing possibly be joyous?

On the day of a person‘s passing, his or her entire lifework, good deeds and teachings ascend to higher spiritual realms. It is a time when one’s soul reconnects to higher levels of G dliness, the source of life, The Lubavitcher Rebbe of of righteous memory, explains that this is the reason Rabbi Shimon asked that this day be remembered as a joyous day; to mark the elevation of his soul to higher spiritual levels.  

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was an example of someone who, despite his own difficult circumstances, put other people's needs in front of his own and exemplified the concept of ahavat yisrael, loving one's fellow Jew.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was forced to hide in a cave for 13 years due to Roman persecution. One of the first things that Rabbi Shimon did after leaving the cave was to help a community. There was a road in the city that ran through an unmarked cemetery. Consequently, the Kohanim (priests) were unable to use that road and had to travel a long distance around it. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai came and marked the places under which were graves, enabling the Kohanim to use the road.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai made it his life mission to go out of his way to help other people. 

Lag B'Omer was particularly meaningful this year for the Riverdale community because we derived pleasure not only from the festivities of the day, but from a double celebration: the upsherin (hair-cutting of a Jewish boy) of three-year-old Aharon Brock and an impromptu bar mitzvah of an elderly gentleman as he donned tefillin (phylacteries) for the first time. 

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True pleasure in life can only be achieved when the happiness and well-being of our fellow Jew is just as important as our own. When we can share in others' good times, and lift up and support each other through trials - that is the true meaning of a community. Sorah and I are blessed to be a part of a community that prides itself both on its diversity and unity.




























My Powerful Memories of Learning From the Rebbe

When I found out the topic for next Sunday's JLI course - the transformational teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory - it struck a deep and emotional chord with me.

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Rebbe, is respected as one of the wisest and most prolific religious leaders of recent history. His revolutionary vision and activism inspired a revival of Judaism in the post-Holocaust era.

The Rebbe was also my teacher. As he was and is to hundreds of thousands of others.


My most powerful and vivid childhood and adult memories involve attending the Rebbe's farbrengens (spiritual gatherings) and learning from him directly. The Rebbe's teachings became the pivotal guiding force of my life, driving my every perception, thought, and decision.

So what is it about the Rebbe's philosophy on life that is so revolutionary?

The Rebbe, through his transformational teachings and profound insight, gave each and every one of his students a unique outlook on life. We learn that God is good, but how we do reconcile that knowledge with the fact that we often seem to be surrounded by negative people and situations? The Rebbe shared a perspective that allowed us to stand outside of our current situation and view the world and its occupants with a fresh perspective. One that allowed us to navigate the tumultuous and often harsh world that we live in, and still experience inner peace.

This philosophy of being able to see the good in everyone and everything is central to the approach of each and every Chabad emissary, as s/he encounters different personality types and situations in their respective communities.

Friend, I am inviting you to join me on an amazing journey of self-discovery, one that can lead YOU to deeper insights and greater understanding of your life, and your relationships with yourself, with others, and with God.

You will see life through a new set of lenses - a change in perspective through which a radically more meaningful world will emerge.

Join me for Paradigm Shift, a revolutionary new six-week JLI course, that I have the honor and privilege of teaching. It begins on Sunday, May 11-June 22 from 9:45-11:15 am (no class on May 18), and the first class is free of charge with no obligation to continue.

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