What Rabbi Wagner Shared After the Meron Tragedy

Following the horrific tragedy in Meron, when 45 men and boys lost their lives on the night of Lag B’omer in 5781, Rabbi Akiva Wagner a”h shared personal reflections, one that seems more pertinent than ever after his tragic passing.

By Rabbi Akiva Wagner A”H
Shared on Shabbos Parshas Emor 5781 in his Yeshiva, and transcribed by him afterwards

In the Gemara in Sanhedrin (38A) we learn: A min (a non-believer) questioned Rabbi Avohu; we know that the Eibishter is a kohein (אלקיכם כהן הוא) . And a kohein may not remain impure. So, how did the Eibishter purify himself after becoming tomei through burying Moshe? The answer is – he immersed himself in fire.

Tosefos there asks, if the Eibishter is a kohein, then the min should have questioned how the Eibister was permitted to become tomei to Moshe Rabenu to begin with. And tosefos explains that that was not a question, since Yidden are considered sons of Hashem, בנים אתם לה’ אלקיכם, and a kohen may become tomei from his son, as it says ולבנו ולבתו.

The question is: The Eibishter is not merely a kohein, but a kohein godol. And the rationale for this is twofold: a) The same basis for the assertion that the Eibishter must be a kohein, which is because a kohein is the highest level of holiness amongst yidden, will also lead to the conclusion that amongst kohanim themselves, the Eibishter is represented by the kohein godol (the holiest of the kohanim). b) In addition, the Zohar clearly teaches us that the Eibishter is a kohein godol.

In that case, the question is back: A kohen godol may not even become tomei by his son, so how was Hashem able to bury Moshe?

The Maharsho (in Sanhedrin there) appears to be bothered by this question, and explains that in truth there is no such thing as tumah and taharah when discussing the Eibishter. Tumah, becoming impure, can affect something that is a physical entity, but not Hashem who is a spiritual entity. The question of the min, in the Gemara, was based on his erroneous conception of G-d as a physical entity, and the answer given is also addressing his erroneous conception, however, in truth, there is no question to begin with.

According to the Maharsho, the Tosefos (who points out that the Eibishter was permitted to become tomei since Yidden are his close relative) is merely explaining why the min didn’t ask that question. And although the answer doesn’t answer the fact that Hashem is like a kohein godol, the min was unaware of that. In truth neither question begins, and were only based on the min’s erroneous understanding of G-d.

But this approach is problematic. Besides the difficulty in interpreting the entire discussion in the Gemara as merely refuting the erroneous position of the min, there is a Zohar, on parshas Emor, that asks a similar question and gives a similar answer (negating, seemingly, the possibility that the question could only exist according to the erroneous reasoning of the min). The Zohar asks – we see that in order to redeem the Yidden, when Moshiach comes, Hashem needs to become impure and sullied (as the possuk says מי זה בא מאדום חמוץ בגדים, and says כל מלבושי אגאלתי). But since the Eibishter is a kohein, how is this permissible?

The Zohar answers based on the possuk ולאחותו הבתולה הקרובה אליו אשר לא היתה לאיש לה יטמא, explaining that the Yidden are the single sister of the Eibishter. Which brings back the question: since Hashem is (not merely a regular kohein, but) a kohein godol, who may not become tomei even for his sister, the question remains how will it be permissible for Him to become tomei in order to redeem us?

The Rebbe resolves this problem, by explaining a fundamental concept about mesholim for understanding G-dliness. Hashem wanted us to be able to understand aspects of Elokus with our human intellect. To this end, there are physical mesholim that illustrate and elucidate concepts of Elokus, as it says דע את אלקי אביך and מבשרי אחזה אלקה.

The reason why things in the physical world can increase our understanding of Elokus, despite the fact that physical and spiritual are באין ערוך, are incomparable, is because נשתלשלו מהן – because everything in this physical world has its source and origin in the spiritual realms. Therefore, despite their overall difference (to the point of being incomparable), everything in the world also bears certain similarities to its spiritual origins, which enables it to serve as a moshol.

For example: water evolves from the sefira of chesed. For this reason water retains some of the characteristics of chesed; – of flowing ממקום גבוה למקום נמוך. Thus, although water is a physical entity that is incomparably removed from the spiritual sefira of chesed, still, the characteristics of water give us a glimpse into its source and roots in higher worlds. Of course, we have to be able to differentiate between those aspects of water that are a reflection of the similar, spiritual, characteristics of chesed, and the physical dimensions of water because it is a physical being in a physical world, which, of course, can’t be compared in any way to a spiritual sefira.

The Eibishter Himself is פשוט בתכלית הפשיטות – He is devoid of any definition and any form. Even the spiritual ציור and characteristics of the G-dly sefiros are foreign to Him – לאו מכל אילין מדות איהו כלל! But because He wanted to give us the ability to understand – somewhat – with our human intellect even His abstract “pshitus”’ therefore there are mesholim in gashmiyus (that were nishtalshel from pshitus ho’atzmus), that reflect and illustrate to some degree His aloofness and pshitus.

Here, of course, it is even more tricky. Because even those physical beings that bear certain aspects of pshitus (such as, for example, the colour white), are not genuine examples of pshitus. Rather – being that they are physical entities – their pshitus itself is part of their tziyur and their limitation. We need to take care, therefore, when applying the moshol to the nimshal, to differentiate between those aspects of the moshol that define its pshitus, and those aspects that are a result of its tziyur.

In our case: the moshol of “kohein godol’, which represents the highest level of G-dliness (just as the kohein godol is the holiest category of Yidden), represents a level of Elokus that is ultimate kedusha and purity. The fact that the kohein godol is forbidden from becoming tomei under any circumstances, reflects the level of Elokus that is pure kedusha, that is completely removed from any type of connection with tumah.

But, here, we need to differentiate between the moshol and the nimshal. In the moshol, the kohein godol, despite his increased kedusha, is a human being, and therefore not safe from the possibility of tumah. His higher level of kedusha is reflected in the halacha that he is forbidden from allowing himself to become tomei. In the nimshal, however, with the Eibishter, the level of kohein godol represents a level of Elokus that is so holy as to be above tumah (למעלה מהשתלשלות) and therefore without any possibility of becoming affected by tumah. Therefore with regards to the level of Elokus of regular kohein (who may become tomei for certain relatives, and is therefore reflective of a level of Elokus where there is a possibility of tumah), we have the question and answer about how the Eibishter was permitted to become tomei. However, with regards to the level of Elokus represented by the kohen godol, there is indeed no question to begin with.


Upon hearing of the events in Meron on Lag b’Omer, besides the tremendous pain and shock, we were faced with powerful questions. Every tragedy is horrible and incomprehensible. But, the details of this event just don’t make sense, they don’t fit with anything that we know or that we were taught.

We know that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wanted that everything should be good in an open and revealed way. He said יכולני לפטור כל העולם כולו מן הדין. He was above golus (לפני …רשב”י לא נחרב הבית) and we could always depend on him (כדאי הוא רשב”י לסמוך עליו). He wanted that his day, Lag b’Omer should be a day of rejoicing, and when a talmid of the Arizal mourned to churban of the beis hamikdash on that day he was punished. This is because anything connected with Rabbi Shimon is above golus. There are things (like mourning) that have their place in golus, but not in connection with Rashbi.

How could such a catastrophe, a true expression of the darkness of golus, be able to interfere with the simcha of Rashbi?!

More specifically, there was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in all the 3 areas of עולם, שנה and נפש: In space, it was the place of the holy tziyon of Rashbi. In time, it was his day of Lag b’Omer, yom simchosoi. And, the souls that were taken were all souls that were there for the sole purpose of participating in the simcha of Rashbi in the best possible manner, and where in the midst of that very simcha.

In all 3 areas of olam, shonoh, and nefesh, it should have been higher than golus, and how much more so with the combination of all 3 together. How, then, was such a helem vehester possible?!

There is no answer, nor can there be any answer.

But one point: It is true that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the symbol of pnimiyus hatorah, of geulah, of being completely above – and not reachable by – golus. But even Rabbi Shimon and everything that revolves around him, when they are in the world, in golus, they like the moshol. It’s Moshiach, geulah, the way it is in the tziyur, in the form of golus. With (some) characteristics of golus.

And the characteristics of golus is that יש תמן קושיא, it is a place of questions and challenges and helem vehester. Golus is the epitome of imperfection and impurity. It is blemished and defective. So that even the Rashbi and all that is connected with him, the way they are within the golus, are the perfection of Moshiach, of geulah, in the defective tziyur of golus, where things don’t always add up or make sense despite everything, where we can be left with our questions.

The Rebbe once cried in the middle of a maamar about a chosid who was killed r”l HYD. The Rebbe said that he was on the way to do a mitzva, and this defied the Torah truth that שלוחי מצוה אינן ניזוקין. The question is a powerful question, and yet, that’s what happened. It’s not supposed to happen, the argument of sechel of kedusha is sound and irrefutable. But in this golus packaging we can remain with our questions.

With Moshiach it is the opposite.

The Rebbe spoke many times that even on those times on which Torah says that Moshiach can’t come, still Moshiach can come any way, and he will answer these questions as well. Meaning – in the times of Moshiach, even when logic, when reason and even the reason of Torah, of kedusha says it shouldn’t be good (ch”v), we shouldn’t experience geulah, still, Moshiach means that it can be good anyway, and the question will become resolved.

But the golus tziyur is the opposite, even when logic, when reason and even the reason of Torah, of kedusha says it should be good, that this is a time and place that is above tragedy, still, in golus the opposite can take place, and even though it doesn’t make sense, we are stuck with our questions.

This can only serve to increase our conviction and resolve that we can never in any way come to terms or become comfortable with the golus ch”v. And this can only whet our appetite and increase our desire and our yearning and our awaiting and our anticipation for

באותו הזמן לא יהי’ שם לא רעב ולא מלחמה ולא קנאה ותחרות שהטובה תהי’ מושפעת הרבה וכל המעדנים מצויים כעפר וכו’ ולא יהי’ עסק כל העולם כולו אלא לדעת את ה’ בלבד שנא’ כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה’ כמים לים מכסים!


The Wagner family requests that memories and stories be shared on: Sharetoremember.com/rabbi-akiva-wagner

To support Rabbi Wagner’s wife and children: Raisethon.com/rabbiakiva

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