L’ag B’omer elicits many different reactions from many different people. Here in Israel, it is the national day of children gathering around bonfires late into the night, or of incredible traffic in the entire North of Israel as thousands flock to Mt. Meron. For many others, it is a blip in the calendar that has something to do with fire and mysticism, and for others still, it is not even on their radar.
Thoughts from our Director on Lag B’Omer
But what is this day really about?
It is a day that celebrates the wisdom and teachings of Rebi Shimon Bar Yochai, to whom some attribute the authorship of the Zohar–the foundational book of Jewish Mysticism. This is the day that is recognized as his yahrzeit–the anniversary of his passing almost 2000 years ago. The Zohar teaches that just before he passed away, he taught his disciples the inner and secret meanings of the Torah, and the world was filled with a supernal Light–this is why many have the tradition of lighting fires.
But who was Rebi Shimon, and what does he represent?
In a recent conversation I had with Talmud scholar Rachel Rosenthal (Nesiya 2001), she shared with me part of her theory about Rebi Shimon and his love and trust of his fellow human beings to rely on their gut-feelings to do good–as evidenced in a number of passages in the Talmud where Rebi Shimon trusts that people will do good. This struck me as adding a dimension to the incredible statement that Rebi Shimon makes in the Misha of masechet Shabbat (14:4), Rebi Shimon teaches that all of the Israelites are the princes and princesses as they are the children of the King.
Perhaps Rebi Shimon can teach halacha based on an assumption that people are inherently good and will naturally gravitate towards doing the right thing because he sees the potential manifest in all! By deeply believing that all Israelites are in fact, royalty, that causes an affect in them, leading them to fulfill that role and behave accordingly.
Like Rebi Nahman (who is deeply connected to Rebi Shimon–see the introduction to Likutei Moharan) teaches in 262–when you believe in someone else, you can help them to become better.
In the merit of Rebi Shimon, may we be blessed to see and believe in the ability of others!