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The Simchah of Lag B’omer

Hashem has a plan for the world, and through everything He does, He imperceptibly guides the world toward its purpose

Lag B’omer is a day of great joy, but it’s shrouded in mystery. Many of us take our children to sing and dance in honor of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. But if they ask us what exactly we’re celebrating, we have a hard time answering. Rabi Shimon revealed the sodos — the secret teachings — of Torah. To the vast majority of us, that esoteric realm of Torah is as foreign as outer space. Not only are we unfamiliar with those teachings, we don’t even understand their nature. What are the sodos of Torah, and is there any way for us to relate to them?

The first thing we need to understand is that sodos of Torah are not a separate branch of Torah wisdom. The Torah contains different areas that, though intrinsically linked, can be more or less studied separately. One may study the prohibitions of Shabbos, another may focus on monetary laws, while another may learn Kodshim. We ordinarily think that the sodos of Torah are another such field of Torah study. But the truth is that they are not a separate area; rather, they form the hidden inner core of every part of Torah.

Simply put, the sodos of Torah are the teachings that reveal Hashem’s underlying intent behind the laws of the Torah. They are not abstract, otherworldly concepts; rather they are the hidden intent behind Hashem’s commandments. The revealed Torah teaches the actions Hashem wants us to do; the sodos of Torah teach us their purpose. There are sodos in every mitzvah, a higher purpose that Hashem designed the mitzvah to accomplish.

Do you know what you’re really doing when you shake a lulav, separate challah, or make Kiddush? Every mitzvah we do has cosmic significance. A mitzvah comes from on High, and when we fulfill it, our actions affect realms way beyond our physical world. Hashem’s commandment is like the string of a kite. When you move the string in your hand, it maneuvers the kite that soars far above you. So too when we perform a mitzvah, our actions have an impact in the Upper Worlds the mitzvah stems from.

The mitzvos of the Torah all have a sod, a purpose. Hashem designed each mitzvah to perform a necessary function in maintaining our world and the worlds above it. That purpose, Hashem’s plan that lies behind the mitzvos, is the subject of the sodos of Torah.

That’s the fundamental difference between this realm of Torah and halachah. Halachah is concerned with determining Hashem’s ratzon for us, what He wants us to do in any given situation. Our business in halachah is to understand His ratzon, not His underlying intent. That intent is the exclusive pursuit of the teachings revealed by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai — the sodos of Torah.

Just as there are sodos in the mitzvos, there are also sodos in Hashem’s providence — the underlying intent behind the ways He conducts world affairs. Hashem has a plan for the world, and through everything He does, He imperceptibly guides the world toward its purpose. That purpose, and how everything Hashem does advances it, is concealed. All we see is how Hashem responds to our actions. We see that He rewards righteous behavior and punishes wrongdoing; we know He relates to us in the manner we relate to Him — middah k’neged middah. But what is His plan, and how does each event bring that plan closer to fruition? That’s the subject of the sodos of Torah.

These teachings are sodos, not because they’re secrets Hashem doesn’t want ordinary folk like us to know, but rather because we won’t understand them. Even if we hear these teachings and comprehend the words, we won’t understand how they are in fact the underlying purpose behind mitzvos or world events.

There are a number of reasons for that. One is that the concepts are much deeper than the simple reality we observe. Just as an illustration: When I look at you, I see a human being. But in deeper terms, one might say he sees a revelation of Hashem’s grandeur. I wouldn’t make the connection and understand that we’re both describing the same thing.

The sodos of Torah are not “something else!” Most people think that the “secrets” of Torah are exciting, mystical ideas that are independent of the revealed Torah. That’s a tremendous mistake. The sodos of Torah are just a deeper understanding of the Torah’s teachings that reveal their underlying intent. That’s why the sodos of Torah never truly contradict the revealed Torah, despite their apparent differences. But only someone at a tremendous level can see that.

Chazal tell us that four sages entered the Pardeis — the uppermost levels of the Torah’s sodos. One died, one was injured, and another became a heretic. Only Rabi Akiva entered the Pardeis in peace and went out in peace. One of the Vilna Gaon’s disciples explains: Rabi Akiva went in and saw the uppermost secrets of Torah, then went out and saw the simple Chumash with Rashi that even children know, and managed to see that they were in essence one and the same.

We are not Rabi Akiva, nor Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. How can we relate to the sodos of Torah? Once we understand that the sodos reveal Hashem’s underlying intent and purpose, we can find a rich parallel in our own experiences. Behind every mitzvah and every event on the world stage, Hashem has a higher purpose in mind. He has a plan, and every mitzvah we do and every event He orchestrates furthers that plan. So too Hashem has a higher purpose for us.

Most of the time, we don’t see that purpose. We often sense Hashem’s Hand in our life, but we only see how He’s helping us weather the storms and surprises life throws our way. But once in a while, if we open our eyes, Hashem’s intent shines through, and we get a glimpse of His plan for us. Everything that happens to us, every step along life’s journey, becomes imbued with a higher purpose. That discovery fills us with joy.

Now we can understand the tremendous simchah of Lag B’omer. On this day, we celebrate the sodos of Torah, which reveal the higher purpose behind every single mitzvah we do, and every event in history. We’re not just celebrating the esoteric wisdom Rabi Shimon brought to the world; we’re celebrating the discovery of Hashem’s hidden plan which those teachings revealed.

This Lag B’omer, let’s try to connect to the simchah in a genuine way. Try to identify at least one moment when you felt that Hashem was showing you the greater purpose of your life, and let that discovery fill you with joy. Then think about how Rabi Shimon revealed to Klal Yisrael the hidden purpose and meaning behind every mitzvah we do and every world event. The teachings of Rabi Shimon may be secret, but the simchah they inspire need not be.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

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