For weeks before the 33rd day of the Omer, people are already camping out in the area of Har Meron, in the Northern Gallilee, the site of the Tziyun, (burial place of the Tanna Elokie, (holy Mishnaic sage), Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. On the Shabbos before the 33rd, thousands more pour into Sfas, Tiveria, Chatzor and other cities in the Northern Gallilee to get a little bit closer to the great light, and to be ready to make the pilgrimage to the Tziyun when Lag B'Omer, the Yahrzeit, (day of passing), of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai arrives.
It is a day that is unprecedented in the Jewish year. No other forefather, sage or prophet has merited a day like this in which thousands upon thousands of Jews have come together from all over the world. What compells Jews to travel to Meron on Lag B'Omer?
We find incredible descriptions of the holiness of Rebbi Shimon
Bar Yochai. The Zohar (2:38a), quotes Exodus 34:23, (a verse
which we find in the Musaf prayer for Yom Tov), "Three times
each year shall each man appear before his master, the G-d of
Israel." The Holy Zohar then asks, what is meant by the
face of his master? The answer is that the
Zohar is referring to Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
In the Zohar (3:144b) we also find that he is also considered to be the reincarnation of Moshe Rabbenu, (our teacher Moses).
On the other hand, the Yahrzeit, falls out on the Sefira of Hod Sh'B'Hod in the Kabbalistic schematic of the Omer counting. Those who have an understand of esoteric wisdom know that this is the lowliest of the Sefiros, and suggests a poor and unkempt soul.
However, the explanation is that this is really an aspect of the greatness of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Like the light of the sun which reaches into every corner of the world and illuminates it, so is the light of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It reaches into the furthest and lowest where a Jewish soul can be found. This is the mark of a Tzaddik, the greater he is, more he is able to love even a depraved and wretched soul. To the Tziyun of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, stream hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life. On Lag B'Omer, when his light is shining at its fullest, everybody wants to be close.
This is a quality we also see in Moshe Rabbenu. On one extreme he spoke face to face with Hashem, (Ex. 33:11, andDeut. 5:4). Yet on the other hand, Moshe was known as the most humble man to ever walk the face of the earth, (Numbers,12:3). The outcome was that when Hashem wanted to wipe out the Jewish nation after the event of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabbenu objected. Hashem wanted to begin a new nation with Moshe Rabbenu as the first man. Moshe however declared the he is part and parcel of the nation. If Hashem will eradicate the Nation, Moshe himself would be included. So Hashem forgave us, and forged a new covenant with the nation.
In commenting on this episode, the Zohar states that Moshe Rabbenu put his neck on the line for even the most wretched and undeserving of Israel. Only somebody of the stature of Moshe Rabbenu could accomplish that.
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rebbi Elazar hid in a cave from the Romans for 12 years. When they emerged, spiritually refined from the experience, their fields. Their eyes consumed everything they beheld. When they saw people working their fields, they were incredulous how they could give up eternal life (of spiritual pursuits) to occupy themselves with ephemeral existence. A heavenly voice resounded saying, "Evil ones, back to the cave for 12 more months (of expurgation)."
Because of their extreme holiness they burned up the world. But this is clearly an imperfection. For 12 months more they labored in the cave until they emerged perfected, refined, having reached the highest levels of love for the Creator and all of his creations. So now the whole world flocks to him in Meron on Lag B'Omer, to bask in the light of this love, and with the prayer that they will also learn to love their fellows like Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The Hillula, (Yahrzeit celebration) of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai is considered to be the Matan Torah (Giving of the Torah) of Toras HaNistar, (the Hidden or Mystical aspects of the Torah). It was revealed to us by Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. This great light of revelation is at its brightest on this day. This light and holiness is available to every Jew on Lag B'Omer. For this we also flock to Meron; to Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
R' Mordechai of Lecovicz and R' Asher of Stolin travelled for seven years in a row to the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Reb Baruch'l of Medzibuz on Lag B'Omer. Once the Tish lasted for a very long time, and Reb Baruch'l became exceedingly intense. All of a sudden he arose and cried out, "Welcome Rebbi Shimon!!", and a great awe fell upon all those assembled. Another year, Reb Baruch'l ran over to the bookshelf, withdrew a volume of the Zohar,held it to his chest and exclaimed, "For you are our father, although Avraham does not remember us, and Israel doesn't recognized us, You are are Father". (Is. 63:16) You, Rebbi Shimon, You have taught us how to serve Hashem.
Who is Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and what did he teach? The Holy Zohar relates (3:127b) that his academy was assembled for learning, along with the heavenly hosts, their knees knocking against each other. They were there to hear Rebbe Shimon. He entered and began by saying, "Hashem, I have heard you and am afraid...". (Habakuk 3:2) "Then", he said, "the path was fear. As for us, our service hinges upon love!"
His teaching expounded on the connection of love that exists between Hashem and his people. The Holy Zohar is replete with expressions of this idea. For instance: (2:5b), "If a person would understand, with how much love Hashem loves us, he would roar like a lion and lift up the hem of his cloak to run after his Creator. He would become crazed with his lovesickness. This is the essecnce of Toras HaNistar.
The roots of this teaching were planted by Rebbi Akiva the teacher of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Rebbi Akiva introduced a new concept to the Jewish nation. The Talmud in Tr. Taanis 25b, relates that once there was a severe drought in Eretz Yisrael. Everbody gathered in the Shul to beseech Hashem for mercy and to bring rain. Rebbi Eliezer went before the congreagation and said 24 blessing etc, but wasn't answered. Then Rebbi Akiva went before the congregation and began to pray. "Our Father, Our King, we have no other King but You. Our Father, Our King, have mercy on us." Immediately it began to rain. Rebbi Akiva added a new notion. To serve Hashem not only as King, but also as Father. He is the father and we are the children. When Rebbi Akiva began his prayer with 'Father' as opposed to King, he was immediately answered. That is because the relationship of the father to his children unfathomable in its depth, and unbreakable in its commitment. It is a love not dependent on any other factors. No matter how distant they might become, the love always remains. When Hashem is beseeched as Father, he must answer.
On Lag B'Omer, the Jew feels how he has become distanced from his father, and senses that this is the opportunity to renew his relationship and to come closer to his Father. So hundreds of thousands appear in Meron, looking for their Father, andRebbi Shimon Bar Yochai is their guide.
Z'chuso Yagen Aleinu V'al Kol Yisael, Omen.
May His Memory Protect Us and all of Yisael.
A number of reasons are cited for the custom of lighting the bonfires of Lag B'Omer. One is a rememberance of the fire at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Torah. Another is to remind us of the fire that was always present when Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai learned Torah.
There is another reason. The fire represents the Jewish Neshama. (soul) It say in Proverbs, "The Soul of Man is Hashem's candle (light). The bonfire is a symbol of the igniting of the Jewish soul on this day, and its desire to come closer to Hashem.
Rebbi Yisrael of Rizhin, by way of the Rabbis of Sfas, purchased, at great expense, the right to light the main bonfire in Meron on Lag B'Omer for all time. It has passed on to his descendants even today as an inheritance.
Once when his grandson, the Sadigorer Rebbi was asked about this phenomenon, he answered, "Tens of thousands of souls have been healed because of this bonfire which is lit in the honor of the Holy Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai!!"
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