Iyar: Harness your Strength
There’s the joke of the agricultural inspector who goes out to a farm to do inspections. He calls out in the yard upon his arrival, but nobody answers, so he sets about doing his work. He’s reached the first field and is just about to open the gate when a shout from the other side of the field arrests him.
‘You can’t go in there!!!!’
Looking over, he spots the farmer sitting astride an opposite gate, so he shouts back indignantly, ‘I can go anywhere I want, I’m here to carry out an inspection!’
The farmer shakes his head firmly and, getting angry now, the inspector removes his lanyard from his jacket, holds it up and bellows, ‘This badge says I can go anywhere I want on your farm. You can’t stop the authorities from carrying out inspections!’
The farmer shrugs and says no more. Smug at his victory, the inspector pulls open the gate and strides into the field to take some samples. Yet as he gets down on his hands and knees, he hears a terrible bellow, and upon looking up he sees a massive bull charging toward him. He screams and runs towards the farmer, calling frantically for help. The farmer hops onto the gate and shouts, ‘Show him your badge! Show him your badge!’
It’s not for nothing there are so many bull jokes; a decent bull can take out a man pretty quickly. However, every self-respecting farm still lays claim to one, as whilst a bad bull is stubborn, mulish, and always ready to charge, a tamed bull is a huge asset, with its raw strength, patience, and dependability.
This Taurus – the bull, is the Zodiac symbol of the month of Iyar. Whilst our animal soul with all of its dense and raw energy desires material comforts that we can pursue to our own misery, we can also harness the strength, patience, and devotion of a bull to rise above and beyond our earthly selves.
This raw strength with its potential for both good and bad is clearly reflected in the month of Iyar. We enter it in a state of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died during this time period, some 2000 years ago. Yet, whilst it begins with death, we are told that the name Iyar is actually an acronym for ‘Ani Hashem Rofecha’ – ‘I am G-d Your Healer’ - words which were told to the Jews in this very month, shortly after their emergence from Egypt. And in fact, the month of Iyar is also known as ‘Chodesh Ziv’ – the month of Light, and it's not too hard to find the word Ohr – ‘Light’ in the Hebrew letters of the word Iyar.
Indeed, so strong is the healing power of this month that from amidst our mourning, we experience Lag Be’omer, a day which the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai coined ‘The day of my Joy’. Although this great sage passed away on the 18th of the month – on the 33rd day of the sefira, this has nevertheless become a day of celebration for all jews. For it was on this very day that he expounded on the deepest secrets of the Torah to his students, who wrote them down and compiled them in the Zohar, which we learn until today. As we are told;
Rabbi Shimon sat and expounded. Rabbi Abba sat before him and wrote, and his son, Rabbi Elazar repeated. All the disciples listened and were moved. The fire rose in flames around them, and the sun did not set. He revealed secrets of the Torah from the furnace of the hidden secrets, until he came to the verse: ‘For there G-d commanded the blessing: eternal life.’ (Psalms 133:30)
Rabbi Abba said, ‘Our holy teacher did not finish saying the word 'life' before his words grew weak. I, who was writing, wanted to write more, but I could not hear. And I did not lift my head, because the light was so intense, and I was not able to look. When I heard a heavenly voice call out, saying 'They will add length of days and years of life and peace for you…' I was shaken. I heard another voice: 'He asked life of You, You gave it to him, a length of days forever and ever.' The entire day, the house was enveloped in fire, and no one drew close to it, for it was surrounded by fire and light.’
That same day, we fell on the ground and wept. After the fire died down, we saw that our holy teacher, holy of holies, had passed away, wrapped in his garment, lying on his right side, and with a smile on his face. Rabbi Elazar his son and Rabbi Abba rose up and carried his bed out of the house. The bed began to float in the air, a fire flaming before it. And everyone heard the heavenly voice saying: ‘Rise up and come and gather for the festival of Rabbi Shimon.’
When they entered the burial cave, they heard a voice say: ‘This man shook the earth. He made kingdoms tremble. How many evil decrees were revoked this day because of you! You are Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose Creator boasts of him each day. Happy is your lot! How many sublime worlds have been reserved for you! Of you it is said: 'And you, go to your end and repose, and rise to your destiny at the end of days.' (From the Zohar)
So, this month takes us all the way from death and mourning to an explosion of light. From a tragedy that wiped out an entire 24, 000 Torah scholars to a vast unleashing of a wealth of Torah knowledge to be eternally embedded in our nation. And the bridge between these two contrasts? Ultimately, you and me.
We enter the month with our raw potential, straight out of the slavery of Egypt, directly from the narrow confinements of Mitzrayim. Our task over the 7 weeks of the sefirah between Pesach and Shavuot is to transform and transcend, to unleash and harness our true strength. Step by step, day by day, number by number – as we count the days let’s also make the days count, so that we can arrive at Shavuot healed and pure and full of light.