Lag BaOmer is a festive day on the Jewish calendar, celebrating the anniversary of the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Also known as the Rashbi (an acronym for his name), he was the author of the Zohar, a foundational work of the Kabbalah, who requested that the day of his passing be celebrated, and not mourned.
It also commemorates another event. In the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva and on Lag BaOmer the dying ceased. The Talmud tell us that the plague affected the students of Rabbi Akiva “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” Thus, Lag BaOmer carries the theme of the imperative to love and respect one’s fellow (ahavat yisrael). Lag BaOmer teaches us that while working to help improve our fellow man, we must never allow these efforts to compromise our love and respect for him.
It is traditional to light bonfires on Lag BaOmer eve, commemorating the immense light that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai introduced into the world via his mystical teachings.
Children customarily go out into the fields and play with imitation bows and arrows. This commemorates the midrashic tradition that no rainbow was seen during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime.
Rainbows first appeared after Noah’s flood, when G‑d promised to never again devastate the world. When the world is deserving of punishment, G‑d sends a rainbow instead. Rabbi Shimon’s merit protected the world, rendering the rainbow superfluous.
But there’s a much deeper meaning behind the bow and arrow game, with a lesson not just for Lag BaOmer, but something we can apply every day of the year.
The first weapons devised by man were designed for hand-to-hand combat. But a person’s enemy or prey is not always an arm’s-length away, or even within sight. Soon the warrior and hunter felt the need for a weapon that could reach a target a great distance away, or which lies invisible and protected behind barriers of every sort.
With a bow and arrow, the tension in an arched bough of wood is exploited to propel a missile for great distances and slash through barriers. The inventor of this device first had to grasp the paradox that the deadly arrow must be pulled back toward one’s own heart in order to strike the heart of the opponent, and that the more it is drawn toward oneself, the more distant an adversary it can reach.
Chassidut teaches us that the same rules that apply to tools of destruction, apply to tools of construction – the tools we use to help build each other. And this is the deeper theme and lesson of Lag BaOmer: In order to reach a friend or relative who is otherwise unreachable, we have to first dig deep within our own heart. The deeper place from within our heart this love comes from, the deeper it will penetrate in our loved ones heart. The more we work on our own character, the more our children will work on theirs.
The Rebbe writes in Hayom Yom “If you rebuke your brother and he does not listen, then it is you who is to blame. Words that come from the heart, enter the heart”. If you haven’t penetrated their heart, dig deeper within your own heart.
This year, Lag BaOmer is Wednesday Night – Thursday, May 2-3, 2018. I encourage you to join a Lag BaOmer celebration taking place at any Chabad or synagogue near you. For the complete history and more lessons you can learn from this fun and Kabbalistic holiday visit www.ChabadChayil.org/Lag.
About the author:
Rabbi Kievman is the ambassador of The Rebbe to Highland Lakes, FL. He is founder of CHAP – an afterschool program for Jewish children in Public Schools, rabbi at The Family Shul & together with his wife directs Chabad Chayil. He can be reached at (305) 770-1919 or rabbi@ChabadChayil.org