Today is Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the count of the Omer and the rules of mourning we keep during Sefirah do not apply. We listen to music, cut hair, and light this big bonfire. Why?
- The students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying on this day, hence the cessation of mourning.
- Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on this day, hence the bonfire.
Hillulah – to make a bonfire in honor of the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He taught us the Zohar (Kabbalah) — bringing light to the world through his Torah teachings. So we light up a big fire to symbolize the brightness of Torah he brought to us.
To play with bows and arrows. Why? Because during the times of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai no rainbow was seen (rainbows are the sign that the world deserves a flood and when there is a very righteous person living in the world, there is never a rainbow because that person’s merit means G-d thinks the world is worth it just for that righteous person).
Who was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai? He was one of the premier students of Rabbi Akiva who expounded on the mystical Kabbalistic aspect of Torah.
At one point someone in a conversation said the Roman conquerors were good people because they built roads in Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Shimon retorted, “They only do good for their own good; they don’t mean us.” An informer overheard and went to tell the Romans, which brought a price on Rabbi Shimon’s head. The Romans would sorely have loved to kill him. However, Rabbi Shimon had more to do in life and wasn’t out to oblige the Romans by being caught. He fled town with his son. They found a cave in the hills, and what was good for King David was good for them…the cave became a place of refuge.
A carob tree grew right outside of the cave and a river ran through it and for years Rabbi Shimon and his son sat and learned Torah, the highest mystical parts of it, there in the cave. Eventually a messenger came and told them the decree against them was taken away; the Romans had lifted the death warrant. At that welcome news, Rabbi Shimon and his son left the cave and reentered the world population.
As they were walking around outside for the first time, they saw a man busy with plowing his field. The many years Rabbi Shimon and his son had been wrapped up in only spirituality made it hard for them to understand how people could waste their time on physical needs. They, therefore, looked askance at the world, their gaze accusing. From that look, they set fire to the field. A voice came out from Heavens saying, “Did you come out of the cave to destroy My world – turn around and go back to the cave.”
Pronto – the two great mystics returned to the cave and learned for another few years. After a few more years immersed in Torah study non-stop, they decided to emerge again from the cave. This time it was Erev Shabbos when they re-entered civilization. The first thing they saw was a man with two sprigs of sweet smelling flowers. They asked him what it was for – and he said he was taking those sprigs home L’Kavod Shabbos. Ah, that was the key, physicality was there to serve spirituality. Now they could look at the world, with all its inherent physicality and still find favor in it, for all that physicality is just latent spirituality.
And as my holy father taught us, “If you can’t look at the world in the right light and find favor with it…or if you are too farfrumt to the point that you don’t have a handle on being a normal person in a functioning, physical world, get ye’self into a cave until you learn how to work that issue out.”
Light up the bonfires, sing and dance, and find favor in this wonderful world of ours which is full of physical blessings which we can use for the worship of our Creator.