A famous poem we sing on Lag B’Omer, composed one hundred and forty years ago by the Ben Ish Chai, begins with the phrase, ואמרתם כה לחי רבי שמעון בר יוחאי — And you shall say, ‘so shall you be living’, Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
These first three words are a quote from King David who instructed his soldiers to greet Naval, a detractor of his, with these opening words, ostensibly initiating a friendly greeting, wishing Naval that his personal successes should sustain.
This sentiment seems totally unrelated to the celebration of the life of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
There are two verses in this week’s reading of Behar, that utilize the word חי in the context of ‘living’.
The verse discussing a ‘resident’, an impoverished non-Jew who formally accepted the seven Noahide commandments, instructs us וחַי עמך — so that he can ‘live’ with you, obligating us to support him in regaining his prosperity.
In the next verse it speaks of a needy fellow Jew — a ‘brother’ — commanding וחֵי אחיך עמך — and let your brother ‘live’ with you — supporting him in his needs.
The great sage, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, renowned as the Meshech Chochma, ponders the oddity of these two identical words being vowelized differently.
When the subject is the ‘resident’, חַי has a patach beneath it, yet when mentioning the predicament of a Jew, the vowel is a tzeirei, חֵי.
He directs us to the words of Maimonides in Yesodei HaTorah (2 10) that observes how whenever the Torah describes the life of a mortal, as in חֵי פרעה — by Pharaoh’s life, it vowelizes with a tzeirei , but anytime there is a reference to חַי השם — Hashem lives!, it places a patach.
The Rambam explains that when we talk of a human’s ‘life’ in this world it is an aspect of his being. The word חֵי is a contraction of two words, חיים של — the life of. But when speaking about G-d, life is not a component of G-d, for G-d is One, rather G-d is life itself. חי השם then translates more accurately as Hashem is life, a life of spirit and eternity.
Rav Meir Simcha suggests that it is for this very reason the Torah reflects on the life of the non-Jew in the proximity of his neighbor the Jew as attaining ‘essential life’, not merely support. A non-Jew has no inherent spiritual essence until he comes in the realm of Jews and experiences ‘life’ itself.
A fellow Jew possesses innate life per force his eternal Jewish neshamah — soul. He merely needs at times material support to survive this temporal world. He is thus described as וחֵי עמך — indicating the need to provide for a physical life that is distinct from his essence, through the support of his brother.
There are situations when even Jews need the influence of their brethren to ‘live’ a spiritual life. When the lack of indoctrination prevents them from discovering their inner essence, the interaction with fellow inspired Jews, can provide the catalyst for self-discovery and the resulting awareness of true and eternal life.
I recently received on behalf of the entire Shul the following letter that speaks for itself.
Dear Rabbi Teichman and Congregation Ohel Moshe,
It is with great gratitude that I write this letter. My name is Leonard Rubin, and on October 12, 2021 I received a kidney transplant from one of your congregants, Shmuly Abramson.
I wanted to write this letter to let you know this young man is the most caring, giving and amazing human being I have had the privilege of knowing. What he did for me, a 65-year-old man whom he never met, was save my life. Who does something like this for a stranger? We were fortunate enough to actually meet the day he was leaving the hospital. The moment we met; I knew what kind of person Shmuly was. As soon as we looked into each other's eyes, I saw and felt sincere love and compassion for somebody in need.
Shmuly and his wife, Hindy, are people you only meet maybe, and thatעs a big maybe, once in your lifetime. I cannot say enough about these two remarkable people. He was genuinely thrilled to donate a kidney to me, to allow me to be here for my wife, daughters and grandson. We exchanged contact information and have continued to stay in touch.
Your congregation is truly blessed to have congregants, who in todayעs chaotic world of such hatred and turmoil, can make a profound difference. They were my light at the end of a tunnel in many ways; not only to be so selfless, but to inspire me to be the very best Jewish man I could be.
I thank God from the bottom of my grateful heart, to have put Shmuly in my path. After this experience I am forever changed and indebted to my faith, and genuinely now know what it means to be one of the chosen people.
I send my sincere love and gratitude to Shmuly, Hindy and your congregation for allowing me to share my story and for providing me the gift of my life, the life I intend to live as a grateful Jewish man, with my new ‘family’. I will always think of Shmuly and his family’s sacrifice and remember that a part of him lives in me; something I will NEVER take for granted.
With love and respect,
Leonard Rubin and Family
The Zohar explains that when King David directed his men to greet Naval, he already knew of his corrupt nature and wickedness. When he told them to state on his behalf 'כה לחי' seemingly wishing him continued success, it was merely a ruse, for it is forbidden to wish a wicked one success. His actual intent was an appeal to the Divine Presence, often referred to as 'כה' to merge with 'חי' the absolute unity of G-d — the source of ‘life’ itself. It was Rosh Hashana and King David appealed for the Divine Presence to manifest itself in its full glory leaving no room for doubt.
But wasn’t King David still guilty of deception since Naval thought he wished him well?
Perhaps the Zohar is intimating that the failure of man to perceive ‘real life’ stems from man’s entrenchment in the gravitational pull of earthliness. King David thus sincerely prayed that with a renewed perception of the heightened reality of genuine ‘life’, Naval might grasp the error of his ways, repent and indeed merit continued success deservedly.
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai perceived the world with a perfect vision. He sought to reveal the deeper levels of Torah that if comprehended properly would compel us to ‘live’ a life of eternity, rather than scramble for morsels of ephemeral existence.
May we strive for that consciousness realizing that when we promote that unity by the deeds we do, we can unleash a fountain of blessing that will literally transform people’s lives!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן