Lag BaOmer: Profit Sharing
On Lag Ba’omer we celebrate the great, cherished legacy of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the saintly Tanna who authored the Zohar.
One aspect of Rabbi Shimon’s sacred legacy which might not receive as much attention as it should is his strong emphasis on Ahabat Yisrael – love for all our fellow Jews. In the Idra, one of the treasured works which he authored, Rabbi Shimon says to his disciples, "Anan Ba’habibuta Talya Milta" – "for us, it all depends on mutual affection." He taught his students that their spiritual success and achievements in Torah depended upon their bonds of friendship and harmony. Throughout the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon refers to his group of students as "Hebraya Kadisha" – "the sacred group of friends." He consistently emphasized the need for friendship.
There is little doubt that this aspect of Rabbi Shimon’s teaching came from his esteemed mentor – Rabbi Akiba. The Gemara in Masechet Yebamot tells that Rabbi Akiba had an enormous yeshiva, numbering 24,000 students, who all perished one year during the weeks after Pesach. After this unimaginable tragedy, Rabbi Akiba did not despair, but instead went to a different region where he found five outstanding scholars, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, and he began teaching them. These five scholars, the Gemara states, were the ones through whom Torah tradition continued after the devastating loss of all of Rabbi Akiba’s previous students. The Talmud Yerushalmi relates that when Rabbi Akiba first began teaching these five new students, he revealed to them that his 24,000 students had perished because they did not treat each other respectfully. He warned his new students not to repeat this mistake, to ensure to treat one another with respect, courtesy and sensitivity, as this is a vital prerequisite for their success in Torah. Following his revered Rabbi’s lead, Rabbi Shimon, too, repeatedly emphasized to his students the importance of unity and harmonious relations between them.
Further insight into this concept can be gleaned from Rabbi Shimon’s teaching in the Zohar that each Jew’s soul contains 613 "lights" which we are to kindle through the performance of the 613 Misvot. Each time we perform a Misva, we help illuminate the corresponding "lamp" in our souls. The problem is, no Jew can perform all the Misvot. Some Misvot apply only to particular individuals, and some Misvot apply only under very specific circumstances. For example, somebody who never has a son can never fulfill the Misva of Berit Mila. If somebody’s first child is a girl, he can never perform the Misva of Pidyon Ha’ben. Only Kohanim perform the Misva of blessing the congregation. How, then, can we illuminate all the "lamps" in our souls?
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria, 1534-1572) explained that we achieve this through unity. The Jewish People are like partners in a company, who share the profits. The partners all put in the work, and they share the profits. The same is true of Am Yisrael. We must all try to perform all the Misvot we can, seizing every opportunity to fulfill a Misva, and then we all share the "profits." But this system of "profit sharing" is dependent upon our mutual love and respect. "Anan Ba’habibuta Talya Milta." If we do not get along and do not work together harmoniously, then the "company" is disbanded. We are no longer a single entity that allows for our "profit sharing."
This is why Rabbi Akiba famously taught that the command of "Ve’ahabta Le’re’acha Kamocha" ("You shall love your fellow as yourself") is the "Kelal Gadol Ba’Torah" – "the great principle of the Torah." This is the key for fulfilling the entire Torah – because unity and harmony are necessary for our "profit sharing," to receive credit for fulfilling all the Misvot.
King Shlomo teaches us in the Book of Mishleh (27:19), "Ka’mayim Ha’panim La’panim, Ken Leb Ha’adam La’adam" – "Like the face towards the face in water, so is a person’s heart to another person." This means that love and respect are, generally, reciprocal. Just as we see our reflection in water, we will receive from our fellow the kind of feelings we harbor towards him. If we treat others with kindness and respect, this is how they will treat us. The question has been asked, however, as to why King Shlomo used the analogy of water, instead of a mirror. Isn’t a mirror the more natural choice of something that shows a person’s reflection? The answer is given that one looks at a mirror while standing, whereas to see one’s reflection in water, he needs to bend. King Shlomo wanted to indicate to us that in order to truly show love and respect, we need to "bend," we need to be flexible. If we always insist on what we want and on what we think is right, we will never achieve peace and harmony. The way we engender the kind of love and affection that we need to keep our "company" intact is through flexibility, by yielding to other people’s wishes. This is the key to achieving true Ahabat Yisrael and allowing us all to receive our share in the "profits" of the Misvot we perform as a joint, unified nation working together to serve our Creator.