By HaRav Dov Bigon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir
The bonfires that the myriad of our people Israel light throughout Israel and the world on Lag BaOmer are a sort of memorial candle for the noble spirit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who ascended to the highest heavens on Lag Ba'Omer. No personage in Jewish history has merited a memorial day in which the entire Jewish People takes part, from the entire social spectrum and from all the steams of the Jewish People, observant and nonobservant, right wing and left, from all the communities. Not one of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Aaron or King David, and not one of the illustrious rabbis of our people has ever merited that the entire nation should recall their name and make a 'hilula', a memorial celebration, on the anniversary of their passing.
How did Rashbi merit this great honor? Some say it is because he wrote the holy Zohar, which illuminates the souls of those who delve into Jewish mysticism and the secrets of the Jewish People. That is our inner wisdom, the "Kabbalah".
Yet we must ask in turn how Rashbi was so privileged to have the holy Zohar revealed to him. Indeed, when we study and ponder the story of Rashbi's life, we discover that he displayed self-sacrifice on behalf of the People, Land and Torah of Israel, as our sages taught us:
One time Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi and Rashbi were seated together, and Yehuda ben Gerim was sitting with them. Said Rabbi Yehuda, "How fine the deeds of this nation [the Romans]! They installed marketplaces, bridges and bathhouses!" Rabbi Yossi remained silent. Rashbi responded, "They did nothing that didn't serve their own interests. They installed marketplaces to house harlots there; bathhouses so they could pamper themselves, and bridges as a means of collecting royal tolls." Yehuda ben Gerim went and reported their words to the Romans…" (Shabbat 33b).
The results are well-known. Rashbi was persecuted and forced to flee with his son, and to hide in a cave for twelve years. His unwillingness to flatter the Romans and resign himself to their ruling over Eretz Yisrael stemmed from great love and faith in our People, Torah and Land. By such means he merited to discover Jewish mysticism, recorded in his Holy Zohar.
Today as well, those who carry on the spirit of Rashbi and his mentor Rabbi Akiva are the ones who truly love the People, Torah and Land of Israel. These Jews risk their lives for the glory of Israel and G-d, which is more and more being revealed through Israel's rebirth in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, the greatest kabbalists down through the generations were lovers of Eretz Yisrael and came to live there. These include Ramban, the Arizal, Ramchal, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Vilna Gaon. And in recent times we have seen that master of the light of Torah, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt"l, together with his disciples and his disciple's disciples, totally devoted to settling Eretz Yisrael and to learning the Torah of Eretz Yisrael. By doing so, they increase the Torah's light, the light of love and faith, and they carry on in the path of Rashbi.
How fortunate we are and how good our portion that we are meriting in large numbers to gather and commune together around the bonfires of Lag BaOmer, which are a sort of memorial candle for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Lag B'Omer.