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Friday, 8 May, 2015 - 11:47 am

The passengers were seated on the commercial airliner, waiting for the cockpit crew to show up so they could take off. The pilot and co-pilot finally appeared in the rear of the plane, and began walking up to the cockpit through the center aisle. Both appeared to be blind.

The pilot was using a white cane, bumping into passengers right and left as he stumbled down the aisle, and the co-pilot was using a guide dog. Both had their eyes covered with huge sunglasses. At first the passengers didn't react, thinking it was all a practical joke. However, after a few minutes the engines revved up and the airplane started moving.

The passengers looked at each other uneasily, whispering among themselves and looking desperately to the stewardesses for reassurance. Then the airplane started accelerating rapidly down the runway and people panicked. Some were praying, and as the plane got closer and closer to the end of the runway, the voices became louder and more hysterical. Finally, when the airplane was less than 20 feet from the end of the runway, and about to plunge into the water, there was a sudden change in the pitch of the shouts as everyone screamed at once, and at the very last moment the airplane lifted off and was airborne.

Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the pilot: "You know, one of these days the passengers aren't going to scream, and we're gonna go straight into the water and get killed!"

Which Jewish event today attracts many Jews?

Each year on Lag B'Omer, close to half-a-million Jews make their way to the town of Meron, Israel. There is the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who lived 1,800 years ago, in the second century BCE, and passed away on this special date. This year, Lag B'Omer occurred yesterday, Thursday, May 7th. 
There is something strange about this day: It is called the “wedding” day of Rabbi Shimon. Never before has a yartzeit (date of passing) ever been described as a wedding, and for good reason: Death and marriage are opposites. How can a yartzeit be called a “wedding”?

A woman once remarked: “Before I got married I was incomplete; now that I am married, I am finished.”

In the Talmud, the sage Shmuel said to his student Rabbi Yehudah: "Grab and eat, grab and drink! The world that we are passing through is like a wedding."

What was the point of this advice? Rashi explains:

Shmuel's point was to warn his student not to wait until tomorrow to use his money, because a person has no assurance that he will be alive tomorrow to enjoy his money. Life is similar to a wedding which swiftly passes. We forget to live in the now.

But why, to illustrate the brevity of life, does Shmuel give the example of a wedding? There are many other events that pass swiftly. Clearly, Shmuel was conveying a deeper message to his student than “life is short, live today!”

At the heart of marriage lies a paradox. A wedding is when woman and man unite to build a life together. By definition, it is a restrictive experience. Compromise becomes the name of the game. People are different. Men and women are very different, sometimes opposites. Yet, on the other extreme, G-d created our world in a way that without the mating of opposite genders, male and female, reproduction is not possible. This is true in the human race, in the animal kingdom and even in the botanic world. Only through the intimacy between woman and man can a child be created. All of us are mortal. Our creations, too, are mortal. They all come to an end. There is only one exception: Children. They outlive us and their children outlive them. Your children link you to infinity and eternity. When you spend an extra 3 hours at the office, building your company, you are investing in something temporary at best. When you spend that time with your children—reading them stories, playing games, bonding with them—you are investing in eternity.

This is the paradox: marriage is a limiting experience. Yet in this very process we also grow and reach our deepest potentials. The very need to live with another person makes us deeper, stronger, more mature, kinder, and greater people. What is more, through a marriage you can become limitless and infinite through the children you bring to the world. By choosing to become finite we become infinite; by choosing to become limited, we access infinity and achieve eternity.

This paradox is not only in marriage; it constitutes the very essence of life. Marriage to our spouses is really a second marriage. All of us experience a first marriage at the moment of birth—when our souls “marry” our bodies and they “move in” together for life. The soul and the body are two opposite realities: one is physical and concrete; the other is spiritual and sublime. One enjoys material pleasure; the other pines for transcendence. One craves self gratification; the other yearns for truth. One sees the objective of life as self gratification; the other—to become one with G-d.

A farmer once married a princess and she moved onto his farm. He was a nice man and treated her respectfully. The first day he taught her how to milk the cows; the second day—how to feed the mules, the third day—how to clean the horses. He gave her a comfortable bed near the stable, teaching her about the crow of the rooster that would awaken her.

Yet his wife was miserable and anxious. He consulted his father in law, the king. “I am trying so hard to satisfy your daughter, to no avail. She is miserable. What am I to do?” The king responded, "You’re a nice and sincere young man. But you must understand: Your wife grew in up in royalty; the life of the farm does not speak to her."

Ditto with our lives. Our bodies are nice guys. They mean well. Our souls are feeling anxious and lonely. The bodies give the souls the most delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. But the souls still feel the void, because the souls grew up in royalty. The delights of the “farm” will not do the trick. The souls need transcendence, G-dliness, Torah, Mitzvot.

In this world, through its arduous work with the body, the soul can fulfill G-d’s Mitzvot—the “children” created by the marriage of body and soul—and then it can experience transformation, completely going out of its fixed limitations and becoming a new human being. In heaven, we are what we are. In earth, we can transform ourselves.

Now we will appreciate what the sage Shmuel said to his student Rabbi Yehudah: "Grab and eat, grab and drink! The world that we are passing through is like a wedding." A wedding may seem like a limiting experience, but it is precisely through it that you can reach your deepest potentials, and what is more, you can reach beyond your potential and achieve eternity. Our journeys in this world may seem limiting and stressful, with so much agony, hardship and pain. Even the most blessed life is filled with the anxiety of the soul confined in a material body. Yet you have to know, said the sage, that it is through the work in this world that the soul reaches its deepest potential and experiences radical, infinite growth. Hence, “Grab and eat! Grab and drink!” Seize the moment! Grab every mitzvah that you can do. Cherish every moment you have to study Torah and do good deeds. What may look like a single fleeting moment to you, is really like a wedding, it is a gateway to eternity. Every moment carries within it the potential to become infinite!

This is why it was the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that came to be defined as a wedding. He was the one who gave us the gift of Kabbalah, later morphing into Chassidism.

What is Kabbalah? What is Chassidism?

At the surface, Judaism is all about structure—performing fixed laws at certain times, in certain places, in certain ways. Each mitzvah has its detailed, fixed structure etched in stone. Kabbalah came and revealed how each of these mitzvot is, on a deeper level, a portal to infinity, to transcend structure and touch the Divine. On Lag B'Omer, we celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s life and the revelation of the esoteric soul of Torah. We dance with the soul who showed us how life is a wedding, an opportunity to merge paradoxes and thus connect to eternity. 
Every moment, every opportunity, every mitzvah, grab and eat! Grab and drink!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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