Lag Ba'omer has never been "my holiday" - to say the least – I am not the “Meiron type”. While traveling north, I will make an effort to pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but I am not from those who make Rav Shimon’s grave my second home.
Even as far as the Torah was taught to us by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – the hidden Torah - I unfortunately am not among those who learn the Zohar and the other holy books of Kabbalah.
And I’m not too excited about the bonfires in general. Every year in the weeks before Lag Ba'Omer I see the children dragging planks and loading up supermarket carts with boards, young boys and teens awake to the wee hours of the night working on their pyres and then the air pollution on Lag Ba’Omer itself and my heart keeps moving farther and farther away from Lag Ba’Omer.
In spite of all the above and after deep introspection, I want to tell you what Lag Ba'omer is for me: Although I do not understand the greatness of the mystical teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the fact that he delved so deeply into the hidden Torah teaches me that there is a hidden reality beyond what is seen from an external perspective.
For me, this doesn’t just mean that in understanding the Torah verses there is a simple meaning and a deeper meaning, but it is a new and unique approach to the world. For every person we meet and every event we experience, there is the simple – external - level and the deeper - internal - level. The external is very easy to see; it is right before our eyes, but the internal is often difficult to grasp and understand.
Moreover, it is not only that the external is visible and the internal is hidden, but sometimes the external transmits the total opposite of what is going on inside! For example, some people will smile at you and look happy, while in their hearts they are truly sad and despondent.
How much sensitivity, wisdom and depth it takes to know how to look inside and reveal what is hidden. This is the life lesson that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai teaches us.
The following story is very appropriate for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as it expresses the special inner vision that characterized him. The Gemara describes that after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai left the cave in which he had hidden for 13 years, he saw on Erev Shabbat an old man holding two myrtle branches. Rabbi Shimon asked him: "These myrtles, for what are they?" The old man replied: "In honor of the Shabbat." Rav Shimon asked: "And why don't you settle for just one?" to which the old man replied: "The Torah says, 'Remember the Sabbath', and 'Keep the Sabbath'. Therefore, I took one myrtle branch in honor of 'Remember' and another one in honor of 'Keep'." Rabbi Shimon said to his son "Look how precious the commandments are to the Jews!"
This may also be the reason why Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai merits that millions of Jews, from close and far, come to visit his grave. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught us the secret of looking deep inside others, and seeing the pure soul of every Jew, even those who may seem distant.
To conclude, it seems to me that if Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would see the boys dragging the boards in supermarket carts for their Lag Ba'omer bonfires, he would of course have noticed the inner goodness that exists - even if it is hidden - in each and every one of them. We hope and pray that we too will merit to follow in his ways and merit to see the “hidden light” in each and every one of us.
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol serves as Dean and Founder at the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, and as rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modi’in