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It’s Always Shabbos in Meron

Aryeh Erlich

Rav Yechezkel Roth, the Karlsburger Rav of New York, leads a venerated beis hora’ah in Boro Park, but his heart is attached to Meron, where he spends weeks secluded in the holy tziyun of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. He doesn’t divulge too many of his mystical secrets, except to hint at the cryptic blessings all Jews can attain. “When a Jew leaves here, he’ll take with him the blessings of Shabbos — the blessings of Rabi Shimon — and all entreaties will be accepted.”

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

dancing around a fire in meronRav Yechezkel Roth, the Karlsburger Rav of New York, leads a venerated  beis hora’ah in Boro Park, but his heart is attached to Meron, where he spends weeks secluded in the holy tziyun of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. He doesn’t divulge too many of his mystical secrets, except to hint at the cryptic blessings all Jews can attain. “When a Jew leaves here, he’ll take with him the blessings of Shabbos — the blessings of Rabi Shimon — and all entreaties will be accepted.”

 

The regulars in Meron are used to the scene. It’s only Tuesday, yet the elderly rav is bedecked in his Shabbos finery, his head crowned with a shtreimel, as he’s bent over the text of the Idra Zuta. Jews of all stripes approach him reverently, whispering their full names in request of a brachah or a yeshuah in the merit of the holy Tanna whose body lies in this sacred place.

From dawn until long after the sky has filled with stars, the rav sits in the tomb and toils in the Torah of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Between davening and learning, he approaches the large stone monument in the center of the tziyun — adorned in its ornamental velvet paroches — and murmurs chapters of Tehillim, as he invokes the names of his many brothers and sisters in need of heavenly salvation.

This is Rav Yechezkel Roth of Boro Park, gaavad of Karlsburg, eminent posek. His venerated beis din in Boro Park is already cultivating its third generation of dayanim, and, as the author of the eight-volume set Emek HaTeshuvah, he stands at the helm of an impressive system of batei hora’ah that respond to intricate sh’eilos from around the globe.

Yet three times a year — during the months of Elul, in Shvat during the weeks of Shovavim, and on Lag B’Omer — the Karlsburger Rav bids farewell to his fellow dayanim, talmidim, and the piles of sh’eilos accumulating on his desk, to embark on an open-ended journey to Eretz Yisrael. He purchases an open ticket without a return date, and heads to the mountains of the Upper Galilee and Mount Meron, burial place of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Throughout his trip, he seldom departs the sacred mountain. In fact, many of his chiddushim and halachic responsa were written in Meron, as he notes at the beginning of his seforim — which, in addition to Emek HaTeshuvah, include Chezkas Taharah, Emek Shmaatsa, Chazon Yechezkel, Mishpat Ha’aretz, and Keren HaTorah.

“Rabi Shimon is everyone’s rebbe; he accepts each and every Jew as he is, even the simplest of the simple,” he said as he alighted the plane on his most recent trip. “It’s worthwhile to come here from anywhere in the world, to this place where salvation is promised.”

 

A Secret Bond

The reason for the Karlsburg Rav’s intense bond with Meron remains a secret, even to his son Rav Moshe Roth, who has been escorting his holy father on his frequent trips to Meron since 1980.  As a rare privilege, we too escort the Rav, together with his rebbetzin, son, and daughter-in-law, from Ben-Gurion Airport up the winding mountains to Meron in honor of Lag B’Omer.

“We learn from the Zohar HaKadosh that the passing of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was like the passing of Moshe Rabbeinu. It occurred at the same hour, Minchah of Shabbos Kodesh. However, his bed was held fast by the wings of the Shechinah, and his death was delayed until Motzaei Shabbos, Lag B’Omer night.”

The Karlsburger Rav falls silent; his eyes close and he strokes his beard thoughtfully.

“It is written in halachah that one is obligated to fast on the day that one’s father or rebbi passes away. So I would like to ask: Why do we celebrate a hilula on the day Rabi Shimon bar Yochai returned his soul to the heavens? Should we not fast instead?

“It must mean that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai never really perished! He was, and he remains, the messenger who speaks the merits of Klal Yisrael. Indeed, it is written that in his generation, never was the sign of the rainbow seen in the clouds.

“The Zohar relates that as Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was niftar, he was speaking divrei Torah, and his soul departed as he recited the pasuk, ‘Ki sham tzivah Hashem es habrachah — For there, Hashem commanded the blessing.’ Rabi Shimon was the conduit for all bounty and blessing to Klal Yisrael. He was the messenger who conveyed blessing and goodness to the world; and it is fitting to rejoice on the day of his celebration. This day, the day of Lag B’Omer, forever remains the day upon which Hashem commands blessing via Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Just as he commanded blessing during his lifetime; so too, he transmits blessing and salvation to Klal Yisrael on this day as well. His day and his place are auspicious for all kinds of salvation.”

 

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