Rashbi and Making the Most of Isolation

Monday evening is the start of Lag b’Omer. This special day commemorates a number of important events in the history of the Jewish people. One of these is the revelation of Jewish mystical teachings (Kabbalah) by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Recall that Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students during the days of the Omer, then managed to instruct five new students before being executed by the Romans. Those five students—Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, Rabbi Yose, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi)—transmitted the bulk of the teachings in the Mishnah. In other words, it is these five rabbis that kept the Oral Torah alive. Of the five, Rashbi is by far the most famous, and the only one that has a holiday in his honour. What was it that made him so special, and distinguished him from the others? Continue reading

The Kabbalah of Yom Ha‘Atzmaut

This Wednesday, the 5th of Iyar, is Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha‘Atzmaut. That the State of Israel was born on this date in particular is no coincidence. On the surface, the reason it happened on this date is because that was when the British Mandate expired, and was the earliest opportunity for the Zionist leadership to declare independence. Behind this, however, there is a far deeper mystical reason. Continue reading

Are We Actually in the Year 6000?

The Torah portion that we read on the first day of Passover tells us that “the habitation of the children of Israel, that they dwelled in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.” (Exodus 12:40) The Torah makes it quite clear that the Israelites spent a total of 430 years residing in Egypt. However, the accepted tradition is that the Israelites only spent 210 years there. This is the number derived by counting up the ages of all the people from one generation to the next. However, it contradicts the peshat reading of the Torah. To make sense of this, the Sages offered various explanations. Continue reading