Keep the Fires Burning

Lag B’Omer does not merely hearken an end to the Omer restrictions and the start of the season of s’machot (celebrations such as weddings); rather, in Meron (in Israel) and beyond, Lag B’Omer is synonymous with fires. That’s right. Building centralized fires on Lag B’Omer is a traditional way of commemorating the hilhulla (day of death) of one of the great Tannaim of the Talmud — Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, also known as Rashbi. Rashbi was a 2nd-century Tannaitic sage in ancient Judea, who famously escaped to a cave with his son after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. He was one of the most prominent disciples of Rabbi Akiva, credited by many with the authorship of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah.

Thousands flock to Meron to celebrate Lag B’Omer and to pay homage to Rashbi. Why? Rav Moshe Weinberger, in Sparks from the Fire explains that Rashbi’s mission was to reveal the intense secrets of the Torah through the Zohar, and that the joy of the Torah revealed by Rashbi overcomes the sadness of the Omer and the mourning of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students.

Parshat Emor highlights the centrality of Torah in our lives and our obligation to transmit the deep learning of Torah from generation to generation. The concept of a legacy passed down from generation to generation is captured in the word l’doroteichem (for generations). In Parshat Emor, the word “L’dorotam/L’doroteichem” is used eight times — significantly more than in any other parsha. The recurrence of the concept emphasizes the importance of transmitting the Torah and our shared values from generation to generation.

The last reference to the concept of transmission is in the context of Ner Tamid — the instruction that a light must be lit continually outside the Mishkan. Aaron is commanded to ensure that the light is lit “lifney Hashem tamid”– before Hashem always — and that the Ner Tamid is “chukat olam l’doroteichem” — an eternal statute (Vayikra 24:2-3).

Why does the light of the menorah need to be lit 24/7? On this point, the Gemara asks: Does Hashem really need the light to stay on continuously? (Shabbat 24b:2) The Gemara answers that the reason for the light is so that anyone who comes to the Mishkan understands that the light of Hashem rests in the Mishkan. Over the arc of Jewish history, that Torah’s fire continues to burn — not in a highly visible way such as outside the Mishkan, but rather inside each and every Jew.

The North American Jewish community is in the throes of a crisis — many families are faced with the increasing burden of day school tuition, and some are forced to educate their children elsewhere. We cannot forget that it is our communal robligation to ensure that the Torah’s fire continues to burn from generation to generation (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madda, Ch. 1). It is our responsibility to strategize, plan, and to attract new investors into the day school system — all with the objective of yielding sustainable day schools and yeshivot for years to come.  We cannot simply focus on this year and next year’s budget — this is the long game. Are we planning for our schools’ long-term future?

Many of us are blessed to live in communities where opportunities for rigorous Jewish and secular education abound. Let’s recommit to making our day schools and yeshivot the best they can be — academically excellent, inspiring, and accessible to all students.  We need to find ways to make day school education more affordable. There is no magic bullet or secret sauce. We need to explore every viable path to strengthening our schools, while devoting our time, resources, intellectual capital and laser focus to ensure that our tradition is transmitted L’doroteichem. It is our responsibility to keep the legacy of the precious fire of Torah burning for generations to come. As we aspire to provide yet one more link in the chain of Torah through the ages, we hope that — as poignantly described by Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik: “This unity of generations, this march of centuries, this conversation of generations, this dialogue between antiquity and present will finally bring the redemption of the Jew.”

About the Author
Chavie N. Kahn is a leader, strategist, fundraiser, educator. Building relationships, developing the strategy, cultivating & securing the resources to make dreams happen-- that is her passion. She is an experienced non-profit development professional, managing campaigns and successfully generating major endowment gifts for metropolitan New York schools in excess of $84M. She is a former litigator at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and in house litigator at Prudential Securities. She currently is focusing on improving Jewish day school education and on leadership.
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