Rabbi Yair Hoffman: Shalom Aleichem and thanks for the interview. Generally, Knesset members are very busy but with the coronavirus isolations, I imagine you have a bit more time. You are the Knesset member in charge?
HaRav Menachem Eliezer Moses: Yes
YH: And you are a Boyaner chassid?
MEM: No, Vizhnitz, but Boyan and Vizhnitz are closely connected and related. Rav Menachem Mendel, the author of the Tzemach Tzaddik, was the son-in-law of Reb Yisroel of Rizhin who established Boyan Chassidus.
YH: Generally speaking, the Meron lighting is Eretz Yisrael’s largest attended event — in the past there have been 350,000 people attending and a huge air-conditioned tent. Will there still be a hadlakah in Meron this year during Lag B’Omer?
MEM: Yes. There are actually three hadlakos that are scheduled.
YH: But are there going to be a large amount of people in attendance?
MEM: No. The Boyaner Rebbe and others are well aware of the need for social distancing. There will only be ten people at each of the lightings.
YH: How many are there during, say, pre-corona times? And b’ezras Hashem when this mageifah will be over?
MEM: Generally there are 19 hadlakos.
YH: And these are lit at the kever of Rav Shimon bar Yochai in Meron?
MEM: Yes, of course.
YH: Usually, the Boyaner Rebbe was always first. How did it come about that the Boyaner Rebbe is in charge?
MEM: The z’chus hadlakah was purchased 180 years ago by Rav Avrohom Yaakov Friedman from the Sephardim who were in charge of the kevarim in Tzfas and in Meron. He built the Tiferes Yisroel Shul in the Old City and earned much favor with everyone in Eretz Yisrael at the time. It was then that he purchased the z’chus. They were very amenable. He handed the z’chus down to Rav Yitzchok, his eldest son and the first Rebbe of Boyan — who handed it down to his descendants.
YH: What year did that purchase happen?
MEM: About 180 years ago, I do not know the exact year.
YH: So when will the three hadlakos be?
MEM: The Boyaner Rebbe will light at 8 p.m. Then Rav Shlomo Amar the Rav haRashi will light at 10 p.m., and HaRav Shlomo Eliyahu will light at midnight. It will disperse at 1 a.m.
YH: And that is it? There will be no other hadlakos?
MEM: Generally, there are hadlakos in Bnei Brak and Sanz but this year everyone wanted to stop them and just do this limited system. At first they wanted to do all 19, but the Toldos Aharon Rebbe, Harav HaTzaddik Rav David Kahn, the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe, HaRav Hatzaddik Rav Shmuel Kahn, and the Karlin Admor Boruch Yaakov Shochat all said that they will not do it because of the danger involved of spreading the corona.
This year the goal was not to bring the gates (she’arim) that are generally brought. [YH: I actually had no idea what he meant but I was too embarrassed to ask.]
YH: Did the government give any problems and try to stop it?
MEM: The memshalah did not make any problems. The impetus not to have it came from the manhigut ha’ruchni. The admorim felt that only the coronavirus was central this year. But one can participate through the oil that will be lit.
YH: So it was lit for 180 years straight without a break?
MEM: Yes, 180 years straight. When the Boyaner Rebbe didn’t arrive for one reason or another, he would appoint a shliach — either Rav Kaplan or Rav Zilberman from Tzfas.
Wait. There was one year that there was an exception. Taf shin chof zayin — during the Six Day War — there was an issur, a prohibition, to light then. There were not enough miklats, bomb shelters, and there could be no lights. They colored the windows so that no light would penetrate.
YH: So what is it like being in Meron next to the kever when the bonfire is lit?
MEM: Whoever stands at the lighting feels the actual light of the Zohar — its lichtikeit — you feel like Rav Shimon bar Yochai is inserting something into your very heart.
YH: How long have you been going?
MEM: I have been attending it since my own chalukah [YH: this was in 1949].
YH: Over the years, what do people feel when they go? What type of inspiration do they get?
MEM: You develop a strong kesher with Toras HaNistar — aside from Toras HaNiglah.
YH: What inspires you most when you go?
MEM: Each year I am so excited when I see the hundreds of thousands of people and all the achdus and ruchniyus in the merit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Also, just seeing the most simple people come. They see. They dance. They connect and ask Rav Shimon bar Yochai to intercede for them and in his z’chus they ask, “Give me a shidduch.” “Please have my son become a gutzgeit.”
Also the singing of “Bar Yochai” of so many people is inspiring! Each year there are new “Bar Yochai” niggunim too. There are chassidim, there are non-chassidim, there are people who come who are not even frum. Men, women, children. All of Klal Yisrael comes.
YH: Were there any cases of outright nissim?
MEM: Yes, of course. With the Imrei Chaim, one person was very ill — in 1968 he was diagnosed with yenem machalah. His wife overturned worlds and she desired a yeshuah. The Rebbe writes in a letter, “I will travel to Meron and daven for a yeshuah and he will have one.” The Rebbe was 80. Usually it took four hours travel time. He davened there. He wrote upon his return: Dovid ben Rachel will have a yeshuah. I was in Meron. I placed a kvittel on his grave.
When he got the letter, back in New York, he walked out of the hospital he had been in.
YH: Historically, what happened in Meron before the Boyaner Rebbe purchased the z’chus hadlakah?
MEM: The Beit Yosef was in Tzfat the last 40 years of his life. His maggid she’arim told him to learn the Sefer HaZohar in a group on chol ha’moed Sukkos. They took the arba’ah minim. At that time they learned the Zohar and did the hakafot in parashas Emor. The clouds began to rain. The Beit Yosef and his group were concerned because the Mishnah says when it rains it is a siman rah on that night.
But the malach who he learned with said that this rain was different. The term “shafach lo kitron al panav” does not apply here. Because the arba’ah minim is a segulah for rain. The Orach Chaim HaKadosh in taf kuf alef (779 years ago) once went to the kever on Lag B’Omer. He began to arise. He asked, “Who can possibly withstand all this kedushah?” What does the Shlah Hakadosh write? He writes how many nissim hayu sham. Learn Zohar b’yirah, without aveilut v’atzvut b’yirah — az zochim l’kol!
YH: This is what we need now.
MEM: Yes, true.
YH: Does the minhag of doing the chalukah, the cutting of the hair, go back to the time of the Arizal as well?
MEM: Yes. The Arizal would do a chalukah there as well. Rav Chaim Vital writes that the Arizal brought his son Rav Moshe.
YH: Will there be any chalukos this year?
MEM: No. Each person should do it at home as if he were there and it will count as if it was done at the kever itself. This is what the admorim say for this year.
YH: What else can you tell me about the traditions of this lighting?
MEM: It is known that this hadlakah brings light for the entire year.
YH: Were there any roshei memshallah ever in attendance?
MEM: Yes, I remember when Bibi Netanyahu was there 15 years ago. Arik Sharon also came.
YH: Who is in charge of Meron, making it a possibility that such a crowd could be held?
MEM: All we see in Meron — the places, the benches, the tent — this was all done by the government.
YH: How does everyone get there?
MEM: With the Likud, the sar hatachburah was Yisrael Katz. [Yisrael Katz is an MK for Likud and has served as Minister of Transportation, Minister of Intelligence, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and as member of the Security Cabinet of Israel.] He is a Yid who puts on tefillin. He arranged for the train to Karmiel.
YH: How old are you, yourself?
MEM: Because of ayin hara, we do not say.
YH: Are you going this year?
YH: What positions did you hold in the Knesset?
MEM: I have been the sgan sar ha’chinuch. For Yahadut HaTorah.
YH: Are you continuing in the new unity government?
MEM: No. I gave 10 years to the Knesset in this position and 30 years altogether and it is time to move on.
YH: Thank you so much for your time. Hatzlachah and berachah!
This year we need our connection with Rabbi Shimon more than ever. The Boyaner kehillah is working to make participation possible for thousands of Yidden from around the world. 5TJT will keep you updated with any new information.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at [email protected].