Rashbi and the Rainbow

Rashbi is remembered on Lag BaOmer. Why, then, do we light bonfires and why did our Sages say no rainbow was seen during his lifetime?

Rabbi S. Weiss,

Judaism Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Rabbi S Weiss.JPG
Arutz 7
Lag B'Omer is a most mysterious holiday. We know it marks the end of 33 days of mourning for Rabbi Akiva's students, but it is best known for the bonfires that light up the landscape of Israel. What do these fires signify?

Lag B'Omer is also the yahrtzeit (date of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, one of the most mystical figures in
"Regular" people make lots of mistakes, but they have redeeming qualities, too.
Jewish history. Who was he, and why do we celebrate his life so brightly?

To begin to answer, let's recall a strange story about bar Yochai (known by his acronym Rashbi). Sought by the Romans for slandering them, Rashbi and his son run away and hide in a cave for 12 years. A carob tree and a spring of water miraculously nourish them; they take off their clothes and sit in sand up to their necks, blissfully studying Torah all day long.

Then Elijah the Prophet comes and informs them the Roman emperor has died; it is now safe to emerge. Stepping out of their cave, they see men plowing their fields and they shout: "These people forsake eternal life (Torah study) and embrace mundane, temporary life!" Whatever they look at is burnt up in fire. G-d then orders Rashbi and his son back into the cave for one more year. When they emerge again, they see a man hurrying on Friday afternoon with 2 bundles of myrtle. "What are those for?" they ask. "To light on Shabbat," says the man, "one light for Zachor (remember the Sabbath day) and one light for Shamor! (Observe the Sabbath day)." Rashbi is impressed: "See how precious Mitzvot are to Israel," he says, and his spirit is finally eased.

We are told - as a way of indicating the righteousness of bar Yochai - that in Rashbi's generation no rainbow was seen. Why not? Because the rainbow is a post-Flood sign of G-d's eternal promise to protect us. But when a generation has a Tzadik, a righteous person like Rashbi in it, HE protects the nation, and so no rainbow is needed.

But Rashbi had to learn that not everyone in the world can be a Tzadik who learns Torah in a cave all day long; most people need to work and to lead normal lives. "Regular" people make lots of mistakes, but they have redeeming qualities, too. And when they do even the simplest Mitzva, such as lighting Shabbat candles, they are precious in G-d's sight.

Rashbi's eyes are illuminated when he understands that humanity itself is a glorious rainbow; we come in all colors of the spectrum and each human being has a spark of holiness. The fact that all Israel lights fires on Lag B'Omer - even without knowing why! - is a symbol of our collective Holiness, kedusha. In fact, Lag B'Omer may be a
tikun, a correction, for the actions of Rabbi Akiva's students: They, perhaps, did not respect each other enough; but as we join together in one giant blaze of glory, we shine a beacon of unity unto the Heavens that can dispel any danger.