Friday, January 10, 2014

#206 - A Taste of Lag BaOmer and Purim

This week's Parshat Beshalach, is no doubt, one of the happiest Parshiyot of the Torah, between the deliverance of the Jewish people from the Egyptians via the crossing of the Reed Sea to begin granted the manna, the heavenly food that sustained us for 40 years in the desert.  In fact, the Shabbat in which we read this Parsha is always good Shabbat Shira, for it is named after the Shira (song) that the Jews sang following their deliverance, which is also part of our daily morning prayers.

There is another very significant thing that took place this week; meaning, our present week in which we read this Parshat Beshalach, and is somehow connected.

Let us rewind to like a couple of years ago.  Aside from the Daf Yomi, there are many other study programs, some of which may be more famous than others.  But when you have two Torah study programs in which many Jews in Israel and around the globe study that begin the same time, it is hard to deny the Hashgacha Peratit (Divine Providence) in the matter.  And so, exactly 23 months ago, on 9 Adar 5772 ('12), cycles of two different Torah study programs began on the very same day, actually three to be exact.  It's like this. First, there is the daily study of either one or three chapters of the Rambam's Mishne Torah, a composite of the Halachot from the entire Torah, the study of which was implemented on 27 Nissan 5744 (1984).  Now, for those who study only one chapter a day as opposed to three, wind up finishing the whole Mishne Torah in three cycles of the daily study of three chapters.  In any case, on this date of 9 Adar two years ago, both the 31st cycle of three chapters a day and the 11th cycle of one chapter a day of the Rambam's work began anew.  However, the amazing thing that I am referring to here is that another Torah study program cycle began on this very date - the eighth cycle of the daily study of one chapter of Mishna, which is the original composite of the Halachot of the Torah and root of the Torah She'B'Al Peh!  I have a feeling that virtually nobody, if anybody, noticed this at the time, but I don't believe that this was mere coincidence, especially when it comes to the greatest Mitzva of the Torah - the learning and teaching of Torah.  (Accordingly, it could be said that the Siyum (completion) of the respective previous cycles of these works occurred the day before, but I am here to focus on the beginning of the new cycle for good reason).

Now, moving foward in this same Hebrew year, the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi of the daily study of a Daf of the Babylonian Talmud began on 15 Av, which is also known as Tu B'Av, a most happy day in the Jewish calendar due to various happy things having occurred on this date, as well as being a time to start increasing our Torah study at nights as the night starts increasing its time around this time of the year.  Now, it was on this day that within the 8th cycle of the daily Mishna chapter, that day marked the learning of the first chapter of Tractate Megilla, which is based on the Mitzva of reading the Megilla (Book of Esther) on Purim, at it begins with Megilla Nikreit "We begin the READING of the Megilla...", just as the beginning of the Mishna/Talmud starts with Tractate Berachot that begins with Mei'ei'matai Korin Et Shema B'Arvit "When do we begin READING the Shema in the evening?", both Mitzvot which involve the very concept of READING, and these respective Mitzvot are performed twice in the day - once in the evening, and the second in the daytime; although the Shema reading is performed daily while the Megilla reading is performed on Purim, one day in the year.

Now, let's fastforward to today.  Today - the 9th of Shevat - marks the BEGINNING of the 33rd cycle of the daily Rambam study of three chapters, and...the learning of the first Mishna chapter of Tractate Megilla - THE VERY CHAPTER of the 525 chapters of the Mishna - that was learned on the BEGINNING of the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi!  In any case, we see that there must be some special significance to Tractate Megilla in relationship to the general concept of Torah learning, especially its first chapter.

Actually, we don't have to go too far as far as numbers are concerned.  You see, Tractate Megilla consists of 33 Mishnayot, which will be learned in this study program in the course of FOUR DAYS, just as the beginning of this Rambam three chapter study includes the introduction and Mitzvot, before the main body of the Mishne Torah, during the course of the first FOUR DAYS, the beginning of the 33rd cycle.  So as you can see, the number 33 is very prominent here.

But this is not the end of the connection of the number 33 in this week's Parsha, or the concept of Purim for that matter.  You see, in the section of this week's Parsha about the manna, called Parshat Haman, in consists of 33 verses (Exodus 16:4-36), and the very end of this Parshat Beshalach, it consists of nine verses about Amalek attacking the Jews and us retaliating, which is read on Purim, the very day on which we also read the Megilla.  And when the 31st cycle of the daily study of three chapters of Rambam began exactly 23 months ago (which was also on the ninth of a month) on 9 Adar, it fell out on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim, in which we read the special Torah portion that is at the end of Parshat Ki Teitze consisting of three verses which includes three Mitzvot pertaining to what Amalek did to us.

As far as the connection of Amalek in terms of Torah study is concerned, Rashi points out that when the hands of the Jews were weak from Torah study, as implied in the name of the place that they were at in Refidim, based on the word in Hebrew for weak, Amalek came and attacked the Jews.  And on a more positive note, the lesson to be learned here is that just as we are excited when it comes to Purim, feeling the special holiday spirit in the air as we hear the Megilla reading, so too, we are supposed to be excited when a new cycle of Torah learning begins - but not just for the first day as the Megilla reading is on one day a year, but just as the Mitzva of the daily recital of the Shema, the very first Mitzva mentioned in the Mishna and the Mitzva that begins the life of the Bar Mitzva boy (or man), to have the same enthusiasm in Torah learning, and reciting the Shema - each and every day as though it was the first time that we are learning any given piece of Torah or saying the Shema.

And as for the number 33, the 33rd day of the Omer is called Lag BaOmer, which is considered a happy day in the 7 week Sephira period, for it was on this day that the students of Rabbi Akiva no longer were dying in a plague as well as being the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the teaching of the Zohar, who declared the day of his passing as an annual day of rejoicing.  To note, the 33rd and final verse about the manna mentions the word Omer, no doubt hinting to this special day of Lag B'Omer.  Moreover, in any given calendar year, Lag Baomer falls out on the same day of the week as the previous Purim in the year falls out on.

It's shortly before Shabbat, so have a Shabbat Shalom.

9 Shevat, 5774

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