By Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld
We just finished celebrating ל”ג בעומר and I am sure that all of you have noticed that there is something unique about ל”ג בעומר in that is has the incredible ability to draw together Jews from all walks of life. Differences fade away on this day when all sects and types of Jews come together, be it in Meron, somewhere else in Israel, or anywhere in the world to celebrate the yartzheit of R’ Shimon bar Yochai. What is it about this day that brings people together the way it does? And does R’ Shimon have some sort of connection to this unity?
Additionally, there is another event that took place on the day that would become ל”ג בעומר, many years before the קרבן עומר or the counting of 33 days were ever significant. The 33rd day of the עומר falls out on the 18thof Iyar every year. They had left Egypt with food that lasted 30 days, from the 14th of Nissan until the 14th of Iyar, then they complained for 3 days about the lack of food, until the 17th of Iyar, and the 18th in the morning the Mann fell. But what does this mean? And does this have to do with ל”ג בעומר?
To understand the connection, we are going to pull back the zoom lens and learn 3 things about the מן and then tie them back together to R’ Shimon.
1- If you read through פרשת המן, פרק ט”ז in פרשת בשלח, you will notice the words ערב and בקר repeated together over and over. These opposites only appear in sets multiple times in only one other place, and that is in the creation story. Also, at the end of creation we have the Shabbos, and the center focus of the מן is what happened with it on Shabbos.
But it doesn’t end there, Adam was told מכל עץ הגן אכול תאכל, the Jews are told לקטו ממנו איש לפי אכלו, both of these stories have the concepts of eating. But not just eating in general, they both have eating with a clause that places a limitation on that eating. Adam is told ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכלו ממנו, you can eat from trees in any place except for the tree in that one specific place. And the Jews are told אל יותר ממנו עד בקר, you can eat as much of it as you would like, but you have to stop at this particular time. The only difference is that Adam’s was a limitation in space and the nations was a limitation in time (I am not sure what that difference means yet).
So, we see that מן was clearly meant to remind us of the creation process in some way. The מהר”ל in fact writes that Hashem specifically started sending down the מן on a Sunday so that it would mirror the process of the creation of the world. but in what way? How would this have been a creation? We had already been created as a nation, all that was happening here was that we were receiving miraculous food.
The purpose of creation was for humanity to have a unity with Hashem, and at the point that Avraham and his family was chosen, that unity would come by way of the Torah and the Mishkan/בית המקדש. And on that journey to become one with God, we needed to become more spiritual beings, since Hashem is completely spiritual after all. We all know that you are what you eat, but it is also true that what you eat is you, since the food you consume becomes cells and blood in your body. They were elevating their bodies by sustaining them with the food that came directly from Hashem and they were bringing Hashem into the world at the same time.
I think this is why the מן was supposed to remind us of the creation story, since the מן was a crucial step in bringing about the fulfillment of creation.
2- Very few times throughout the Torah does the “Narrator” put His two cents in. It is for the most part told in story form, in third person. There are only a handful of times where Hashem tells us what He is thinking, and switches to second person. Both times the מן is discussed, in פרשת בשלח and בהעלותך, the Narrator gives a description of the מן, and both times it is described as a זרע גד, a certain seed. Rashi says that this is meant to tell us that it was round like that seed, but if all the Torah wanted to tell us was the fact that its round, just say that it was round. And if a comparison was necessary, the sun, a ball, someone’s head, there are hundreds of round objects to compare it to, why some obscure seed?
The answer is that the specific word used was important. A זרע גד, the seed of Gad, there was a שבט גד and his ברכה from Yakov is something that was important for the entire nation to internalize during this time. Yakov said to his son, גד גדוד יגודנו, Gad will expand to become a platoon. The concept of one person being more powerful than just a single individual. שבט גד were the warriors, since each warrior is far more than just one person, they are each a moving piece in a unit of many that acts as one, and there, each individual is qualitatively more than a regular individual can be.
I heard a beautiful pshat that explains how the word גדולה comes from the word גד. We have in halacha concepts called גוד אחית and גוד אסיק, which state that if the walls of a sukkah reach a height of 10 טפחים off the ground they are seen as if they reach up to the sky, or if the wall dips off the top of the sukkah even just a little it is seen as if it stretches to the ground. The concept of גדולה is for a person to be able to look in the mirror or at his adversaries and say, you think I am just one small person?! You are very wrong, I reach up to the sky, and even in my lowest depths I can stretch back to Hashem. I can expand beyond what meets the eye.
As a nation that had just been enslaved and abused, the מן taught us that we each have a unique relationship with Hashem, each person got just the amount that they needed, the מדרש says it was the perfect distance from their tents, and each serving tasted unique to that person’s palate. The מן was teaching us that we are each capable of far more than we can ever imagine. We are pieces of the Infinite Source in this world. And it is through our uniqueness that we can access that capability.
3- It’s interesting to note that all 3 of these things, Hashem, the Jews, and the מן, all partook in the action of שבת. Hashem, in the creation story it says, וישבת ביום השביעי. By the Jewish nation, in פרשת בשלח it says וישבתו העם ביום השביעי. And in ספר יהושע when it says that he מןstopped falling the verb of choice is וישבת המן. So, the מןwhich paralleled the creation story has a trifecta of resting. Hashem rested after a week of creation, we rested after a week of gathering the מן, and the מן itself rested after 40 years of feeding us.
The concept of being able to completely rest in something that belongs in עולם הבא, this is the world of running and that is the world of resting. For 6 days a week we work and create, work and create. Shabbos comes and take a step back and simply exist with our creation and enjoy it as it is. The new nation needed to be imbued with the ability to live in this world with the mindset of the next world.
Let’s come full circle to R’ Shimon. These 3 aspects are all the message of ר’ שמעון בר יוחאי. There is a גמרא in מסכת סנהדרין that says that the midrashim from the different parts of the Torah have default authors. If there is a ספרי that doesn’t have a noted author, then it is assumed that R’ Shimon is the one who said it. Rashi says that ספרי is the מדרש explaining ספר במדבר and ספר דברים. When it comes to understanding these two ספריםof Torah, R’ Shimon is the one to turn to.
In ספר במדבר we have the counting of the בני ישראל, so much so that it is called ספר הפיקודים, or “Numbers”. But if you look throughout ספר במדבר the Jews are only counted twice, once inפרשת במדבר and once in פרשת פנחס. And, the Jews also get counted in שמות. So why is the entire ספר themed after counting if it is seemingly such a minute part of the ספר?
The purpose of counting is to lift the person up to show the power and specialness of each individual. But if counting was merely to show that you are an individual, that should only make you lonely and separated from others. In a world of pure individualism people wouldn’t be able to relate to one another since they are all so different. We have a different type of counting. The point of the type of counting that we do is to count the individuals but specifically with the goal of adding them up to get to the total which tells the number of individuals in the group. This is because the individual’s true power is when they join their uniqueness’ together and help each other reach a common goal together.
Let’s take another look at ספר במדבר as a whole. We begin with the Jews being counted, then we have the description of the way each family and tribe camped within the entire nation, and the rest of the ספר is mostly occupied with stories of individuals. There are 2-3 million people walking through the desert yet we hear about 5 sisters who want a piece of land, 254 people who rebelled against Moshe, and 1 person who chopped wood on Shabbos. Even in a huge nation, each person can make a difference.
It is our specific and unique missions as individuals that allow us to merge into one conglomerate nation and become more capable than we were as a single person. R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, who is the master of ספר במדבר is the one to teach us the power of the individual. And I think that is why in the same week as ל”ג בעומר we have the beginning of our receiving of the מן.
My friend Binyomin Weinrib shared a beautiful thought on his WhatsApp chat this week. He quoted the גמרא in Shabbos that says that the chachamim came to כרם ביבנה after the destruction of the 2nd בית המקדש they realized that he Jewish people were in for a long and hard exile and they said that the Torah is going to be forgotten. R’ Shimon stood up and said chas v’shalom, כי לא תשכח מפי זרעו, quoting the Pasuk from פרשת וילך that the Torah will not be forgotten. This מחלוקת was about whether the Torah would remain a spiritual entity or if it would become a physical one. Spiritual things done take up any space, but physical things do. The chachamim knew that the Jews will always learn, but if they learn something physical then there is only so much space in the mind. R’ Shimon rebutted them and said that the Torah, and specifically פנימיות התורה, will always be spiritual, and therefore will never be forgotten. R’ Shimon understood the concept of resting, of living in the next world while being in this world.
And it is for those reasons that I think it was no accident that the yartzeit of R’ Shimon was also the birthday of the מן. May we all be zoche to internalize the messages of ל”ג בעומר and of the מן.