On Wednesday night will begin a beloved Jewish holiday known as Lag B’Omer, the 33rd night of counting the Omer. Lag B’Omer marks the passing of a great Jewish leader, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
In Israel, thousands of Jews gather in his resting place in Meron for an evening of bonfires, dancing and rejoicing. Before he passed away, Rabbi Shimon requested of his students to celebrate the day of his passing, as it marks the day that his soul culminated its task in this world and became free of its physical limitations.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was unique in that for his entire life, his sole profession was study of Torah. Rabbi Shimon was outstanding even compared to his peers, the other Torah sages. His main field of study was the mystical dimension of Torah, and he authored the Zohar, the primary work of Kabbalah.
The Torah that the Jewish People received from Moses consisted of two dimensions: the revealed and the mystical. The revealed Torah was taught to all the Jews as one. The mystical Torah, however, was kept hidden and taught only to select individuals in each generation. By authoring the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon initiated a stage in which the mystical dimension of Torah became available on a wider scale. The day of Rabbi Shimon’s passing is thus also a celebration of the mystical dimension of Torah, which we possess today thanks to him.
Rabbi Shimon's greatness in Torah echoes that of our teacher Moses, who also reached the pinnacle of his life on the day of his passing. It is said of Moses that when he ascended Mount Nebo, where he passed away, he reached the fiftieth gate of holiness, a level he had not been able to attain his entire life. Rabbi Shimon similarly reached his highest level on the day of his passing, so great that his peers were unable to stand next to him in those moments, as the holiness was so intense.
The book of Zohar, written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, begins with these words: “The wise will radiate (yizharu) like the glow of the firmament.” This week’s Torah portion, Emor, begins with the words, “Speak to the Jewish People… and say to them.” Rashi comments on this verse: “The Torah uses the redundant wording of ‘say’ followed by ‘and you shall say’, to enjoin (l’hazhir) adults with regard to minors.”
The word “l’hazhir,” which means to warn, has the same root as Zohar, which means shining or radiance. When the elders show a shining personal example, the younger generation will emulate their behavior and will grow up to follow their life path. A child cannot be expected to display exemplary behavior if his teachers or educators don’t provide a model to follow.
Lag B’Omer is a day that is especially suitable to instill in our children a powerful educational message. It is traditionally a day for hikes, field trips and bonfires. These experiences are wonderful opportunities for bonding and relaying to our children the message of our illustrious teachers. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, introduced the custom of holding Jewish Pride parades for children on this day. He said that Rabbi Shimon will personally march with the children on his special day, and in the merit of Rabbi Shimon, the Jewish People will be redeemed from exile with mercy.