By: Herschel Karp (11th Grade)
On Pesach, we eat Matzah and Maror to remember the Korban Pesach. On Chanukah, we light the Menorah to remember the oil which lasted for eight days. On Sukkot, we sit in a sukkah to remember how we lived in the desert. This Friday is Lag B'omer, an extremely festive day on which we celebrate the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, and commemorate the day that the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased dying from a plague. Similar to Pesach, Chanukah, and Sukkot, Lag B'omer has many unique customs of its own. So, how do these minhagim, like lighting bonfires and traveling to Meron, commemorate the events behind the celebration of Lag B’omer?
Bonfires: The bonfires we light on the night of Lag B’omer are to demonstrate the immense light that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought into this world through his teachings. On the day of his passing, he revealed the mystical and inner secrets of the Torah. It says in the Zohar that on the day he died his house was filled with such strong and fiery light to the point where his students gathered there could not approach or even look at him. This is why we light bonfires on Lag B’omer.
Going to Meron: The largest Lag B’omer celebration by far takes place in Meron, which is the location of Rashbi’s (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) kever. Hundreds of thousands of Jews attend every year.
Bow and Arrows: Many people have the minhag to shoot arrows using a bow to commemorate the midrashic teaching that throughout all of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s lifetime there were no rainbows seen. Rainbows have been used as a replacement for punishment ever since the times of Noach, so the fact that there were no rainbows shows how great the merit of Rashbi was; it protected the world from all punishment.
Eating Carobs: Some communities have the minhag to eat carobs. This was to commemorate the miracle where Hashem caused a carob tree to grow at an extremely fast speed directly outside the cave where Rashbi was hiding with his son, which normally takes many years to grow. This provided nourishment for all the years that they were in hiding from the Romans.
A Day of Joy: All of the mourning practices we take on throughout the duration of the Omer are suspended on Lag B’omer. We are permitted to have weddings, haircuts, listen to music, and any similar joyous activity. This is to commemorate the students of Rabbi Akiva who stopped dying on Lag B'omer, so we can end the mourning practices.