Bonfires, Marshmellows and Secrets of the Torah

This Wednesday night is a Lag B’Omer, the traditional day when  we honor  the memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai by lighting bonfires (huge memorial candles), singing and dancing. The center of  the festivities is the Upper  Galilee on  Mt. Meron, where Rabbi Shimon Bar  Yochai is buried, but the celebration takes  place throughout Israel and in Jewish communities around the world.

Lag B'Omer  Bonfire

This is a perfect time for a  virtual visit to the Galilee town of Pekiin, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (also  called the Rashbi) and his son hid in a cave for 13  years. Rabbi  Shimon was a student  of Rabbi Akiva. They were some of the  key leaders of the Jewish people in the years following  the destruction of  the Temple almost 2,000 years ago. He was  known for his great  wisdom and ability  to do miracles. In those days, there was ongoing tension between the Jews  and the Romans who were  in control of the Land of Israel.  Rabbi Shimon  had spoken negatively about the Romans by  saying that all of their engineering wonders  were for their own benefit, and he was harshly condemned to death  for his  criticism. So, Rabbi  Shimon and his son went to hide. They were sustained in the cave by a carob tree which sprung up and fresh water gushed forth nearby. Until today, the cave is surrounded  by  carob  trees and there is a stream nearby.  During this time,  they learned secrets of the Torah intensely, and Rabbi Shimon wrote  the Zohar (meaning the radiance), the central  work of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

The Talmud tells us that they stayed there until Eliyahu HaNavi  (Elijah the Prophet) came to tell him  the Roman Emporer had  died,  and thus the decree against him was annulled. After twelve years they emerged from the cave, but were  no  longer able to be in normal society. They saw  people engaged in farming and their eyes burnt up the fields  which they saw as mundane.  A voice came out from heaven and said: “Have you emerged to destroy my world!” They returned to the cave for another year, in  order to reach an even  higher level of understanding being able to reconcile the existence of the everyday with the lofty.

May it be a fun Lag  B’Omer with hotdogs and marshmallows, bonfires and songs and together with this may we reach deep spirituality.

© 2012, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.

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