Today we celebrated Lag B’Omer. For the past week, bonfires have lit the night around the country as the citizens of Israel commemorated the passing of 2nd century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (whether they realize it or not).
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) is best known as a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and as the author of the Zohar (The Book of Splendor). He was also a rebel in his time. He lived during the time of the Romans and rebelled against everything they stood for – publicly. When one of his colleagues praised the Romans for building up the Land of Israel, Rashbi slandered them by stating that they did it for themselves and not for the Jews. When word reached the Roman governor, he was forced to flee for his life. He and his son, Rabbi Eleazer, took refuge in a cave.
They lived in this cave for 12 years, receiving sustenance from a fresh spring and carob tree, and studying the Torah. After 12 years, they emerged from the cave to find the Jewish people farming and working the fields. Unable to understand or communicate with these people, a voice from heaven directed Rashbi to return to the cave until he was ready to rejoin the community and teach them his secrets.
Rashbi and Rabbi Eleazer returned to the cave for another year, successfully emerging to become a teacher of the torah. Sadly, the Romans had become powerful in the land of milk and honey and destroyed the 2nd temple, conquering Jerusalem. Rashbi and his colleagues, out of necessity, developed a method for the Jewish people to survive in exile.
It wasn’t until 1550 CE when Rabbi Yitzchak Luria appeared on the scene teaching the words of the Zohar and mysticism found it’s home in Safed. Rabbi Luria instituted Lag B’Omer, the day that marks the passing of Rashbi as a day of celebration, celebrating the victory of his war against the Romans 1500 years later. Rabbi Luria saw that victory was at hand — the Jews will return to the land and the true Torah will be studied once again.
Indeed, the victory of the Jewish idea is celebrated on Lag B’Omer. It neatly fits between Israeli Independence Day and Yom Yerushalayim. These three days together all have the same spirit which drives them:
- the liberation of Jewish peoplehood,
- the return to the land, and
- the reemergence of authentic Jewish culture which the Romans sought to suppress.
Our fire burns bright in the night, it shall not be extinguished. They sought to extinguish our flame in Rome as in Auschwitz. But we persevered. On Lag B’Omer we celebrate the victory, and we honor the great Jewish fighters who fought for liberation and lost, who hid away our the precious cargo of our holy Torah, who passed it hidden through generations, and who pined away for the great day when we could once again live on our land as proud Jews.
Click here to learn more about Rashbi and Lag B’Omer