Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Stone vandalism an old tradition in Chabad:-)

By the grace of G-d
Shalom uBrocha!
(See the end of this story to see what I mean:-)
It Once Happened
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known by his acronym, Rashbi), was one the Jewish people's greatest Sages. He was a student of Rabbi Akiva and lived at the height of the Roman persecutions. Even among the greatest of our people, he was widely recognized as exceptional in piety and holiness. It was said of him that every woman should pray that her son emulate him, and that so exceptional was he, that his merit alone sufficed to protect his entire generation.
When it was decreed by the Romans that Rabbi Shimon be put to death for his anti-government remarks, he went into hiding together with his son, Elazar. They concealed themselves in a cave for twelve years, spending all their time learning Torah. When, at long last, the death sentence expired and they emerged from the cave, they had risen to such heights of holiness and divine comprehension that they saw the world in a different light from average person. Although Rabbi Shimon was great before his concealment, when he emerged from the cave he was greater by far. Before his stay in the cave he could respond to every question of his father-in-law Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair with twelve answers; when the twelve years of study had concluded, he could supply twenty-four answers.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai composed many volumes of Torah commentary, but he is probably best known for the Zohar, which is the basic work of Kabala. In accordance with Rabbi Shimon's wishes, the anniversary of his death (yarzeit), which is on the thirty-third day of the Omer, is marked by great celebrations, particularly at the site of his tomb in Meron in Northern Israel, where huge crowds gather from every part of the world.

It is somewhat unusual to celebrate on a yarzeit. One possible source for this ancient custom at Rashbi's tomb is based upon the fact that the Roman death sentence against Rabbi Shimon was annulled through a miracle. Since those killed by the Romans were denied burial, the celebration is marked at his tomb, indicating that Rabbi Shimon died a natural death.

The unusual custom of burning costly items at his gravesite has been practiced over the centuries. The holy Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (known as the Or Hachaim) observed this custom when he went to Meron on Lag B'Omer. When he reached the tomb he declared, "How can such a lowly creature as I enter into this place of fire that issues forth with tongues of flame?" He is said to have burned a number of expensive items of clothing in honor of Rashbi. (Some say that the value of the clothing was then donated to charity as a holy offering in honor of the tzadik.)

The antiquity and continuity of these customs are evidenced by records in the diary of a traveler dating from 1522, "...On the fifteenth of Iyar a great caravan was formed in Meron; more than one thousand souls were there, for many came from Damascus with their wives and children, and most of the community of Safed, and the whole community of Levukim, which is a village near the cave where Rashbi and his son were hidden... and there we passed two days and two nights [coinciding with Lag B'Omer] celebrating and rejoicing."

In a later account by Rav Asher Zelig Margolies (1941) the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rashbi was described in detail: "It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day of joy and exultation with trembling which takes place in Meron on Lag B'Omer-one can actually see that it is a day of simcha for the upper worlds and the is actually a simcha like that of the world-to-come. Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of holiness, with the joy of singing 'Bar Yochai' and other holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls in unceasing streams of tears near the holy burial sites of Rashbi and his son Rabbi Elazer...Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders and giving the [three-year old boys] their first hair-cuts. Distributing wine and cakes, calling out l'chaim and exchanging blessings - and the crowds dub these little children 'the bridegrooms of Rashbi...' "

In times gone by it was customary in many places in Europe for people to visit cemeteries on Lag B'Omer led by members of the local burial society who would check the condition of all the graves, noting which needed repairs. After the survey of the graveyard was completed, the townsfolk enjoyed some boiled eggs, cakes and liquor.

The town of Homil, which was famous as the home of the tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac (a Chasid of Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch), was a place which honored this custom. In Homil, only when the tables were arranged and piled with food would a carriage would be sent for the Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, who would first visit the cemetery and after deliver some words of Torah.

One year on Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac passed through the cemetery and paused to read a certain tombstone. For several moments he stood deep in thought. Then he turned to one of the officials of the burial society and said, "In the Heavenly Court, they are demanding an accounting of all the marvelous things which are written about the deceased on this stone!" Then he added, "Go at once and bring me an ax!"

When the man returned with the ax, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac ordered him to demolish the inscription on the stone. When the writing was no longer legible the rabbi returned to the waiting townspeople with the explanation: "I was delayed because I was doing a favor for a fellow Jew."

In the description bellow on COL they call bochurim vandals I bet they would have called Rav Yitzhok Homiller a vandal too...

With respect and blessing
Ariel Sokolovsky
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