Lag BaOmer – The commemoration of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit
י”ח אייר / May 26, 2024
WHAT IS LAG BAOMER?
Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the count of the Omer, and the rules of mourning we keep during Sefirah do not apply.
The students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying on this day. Hence, we cease mourning and listen to music, and cut hair.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on this day. We celebrate his yahrzeit / “Hillulah” by visiting his famous gravesite in Meron to pray, dance, and light a bonfire in his honor.
Lag BaOmer is celebrated worldwide with song, dance, and bonfires.
Who was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai?
Rabbi Shimon was one of the premier students of Rabbi Akiva who expounded on the mystical Kabbalistic aspect of the Torah. He had to flee for his life at one point. It happened due to a conversation two folks were having, where one Jew commented that 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, bringing a price to Rabbi Shimon’s head. The Romans would 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 Rabbi Elazer. They found a cave in the hills, their refuge for 13 years. A carob tree grew outside the cave, and a river ran through it. For years Rabbi Shimon and his son sat and learned the 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.
While walking around outside for the first time, they saw a farmer plowing his field. The many years Rabbi Shimon and his son had been wrapped up in Torah 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.”
The two great mystics returned to the cave and learned for another year. After the same heavenly voice told them to leave, they emerged, this time, on an Erev Shabbos when they re-entered civilization. They first saw 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.