Lag BaOmer. That’s the name of the holiday celebrated in Israel today (and mainly last night.)
My kids stayed up all night around their bonfires. For the last month, they’ve been dragging branches, tree trunks, broken furniture and wooden legs (only joking) to prepare for this all night fire alert.
What’s it all about?
It’s all about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a wise man who lived during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.
When the Romans outlawed Torah study, Rabbi Shimon dared to oppose them. And so they promptly issued a price for his head.
Rabbi Shimon and his son Elazar fled to a cave. They had no food but miraculously a carob tree grew nearby, along with a stream of fresh water.
They spent their entire days deep in Torah study.
For 12 years.
Then one day, Elijah the prophet visited them and told them that Caesar had died and the decree against Rabbi Shimon had been annulled.
However, since they had been exclusively involved in lofty spiritual matters for 12 years, when they left the cave they vaporized everything they saw, Harry Potter-style.
At which point a Heavenly voice ordered them back into the cave to learn how to control their spiritual powers.
Rabbi Shimon became the greatest teacher of his generation.
One of his students, Rabbi Abba, described the day of his master’s death:
“I couldn’t even lift my head due to the intense light emanating from Rabbi Shimon. The entire day the house was filled with fire, and nobody could get close due to the wall of fire and light...”
Indeed, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the archetypal Kabbalistic treatise, the Zohar, which literally means “shining light.”
So that’s why Israeli children build bonfires 20 and 30 feet high on Lag BaOmer – to celebrate The great light and fire that was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
What’s all that got to do with you and me?
At least three things I think:
1. An ideal leader will illuminate the path for his/her followers. He will not use his power to burn and destroy.
2. Although we are sad at the death of someone we cherish, we should always be encouraged by their good deeds and their impact on the world.
3. We should learn about perseverance and enthusiasm from our children. It’s certainly not my idea of a good time to get splinters in my hands the whole month just to sit and stink of smoke all night long...
But as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once said:
“Sometimes we should walk in front of our children to show them the way...
Sometimes we can walk with our children when they know the way...
And sometimes we should lag behind our children so they can show us the way.”