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.
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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