A Ray of Lag Ba’omer Light: It’s the Thought That Counts

Lag Ba’omer is a day of tremendous potential. Although often associated especially with Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the holy Zohar and the great mekubal, the Arizal, it also belongs to every one of us. In a somewhat delicate almost frightening epigram, Rav Aharon Hagadol of Karlin (Bais Aharon 106b) wrote that “whoever believes in Rashbi will be helped by Rashbi. Just as Hashem is the G-d of all, so Rashbi is the Rashbi for all.” Undoubtedly, there are numerous arcane and abstruse thoughts embedded in this mystical phrase. However, one thing is clear. We need not be the rebbe of Karlin or a student of the Arizal to benefit from this special day. Let us explore how to do so productively.

The Gemara (Shabbos 33b) relates the disagreement between Rav Yehudah and Rashbi about the actions of the Romans. Rav Yehudah points to the magnificent buildings they have built, which will be used by Klal Yisroel for Torah and kiddush Hashem. However, Rashbi reminds us that the Romans built them for themselves and their illicit pleasures.

We know that Rav Shimon expounds the reasons for mitzvos (Shabbos 23a) and the Sochatchover Rebbe (Sheim MiShmuel, Bereishis, page 201) teaches that Rav Shimon follows the thought, rather than the action. We can relate this also to the machlokes (Toras Kohanim to Vayikra 26:6) regarding the future of destructive animals. Rav Yehudah says that they will literally be destroyed themselves, but Rashbi interprets the posuk as saying that “their natures will change to become tame and docile.” Here, on a somewhat deeper level, we see that it is not physical change that is necessary for the Messianic era. The dangerous animals will simply have a different mindset, allowing them to coexist with man in a perfect world.

Lag Ba’omer, which is the Yom Tov of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, is the day when mind reigns supreme over matter, when anything is possible if we truly will that it should be. With some trepidation, we might suggest that this explains the famous discrepancy that the seventh of Adar, the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, is a “fast day for tzaddikim” (Orach Chaim 580:2), but Lag Ba’omer, Rashbi’s yahrtzeit, is a day of joy.

Of course, one answer is that on Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrtzeit, 300 halachos were forgotten (Temurah 16a), whereas on Lag Ba’omer, Rashbi revealed an important section of the Zohar. However, perhaps one aspect of the difference is that whereas Moshe Rabbeinu’s purpose in life was to physically transmit Torah to us and the day of his death became a day of sadness, Rashbi’s primary purpose was to uplift Klal Yisrael to the potential in their minds and hearts. For this, since a light of Torah entered each one of us on Lag Ba’omer, we may now celebrate the inner power within us to shine and grow in accordance with our great potential.

This may also be hinted at in the statement (Pesachim 51b) that we may rely upon Rav Shimon in front of him and when we are not near him. In other words, if we but picture him in our minds and hearts as best we can, he helps and uplifts us at whatever stage we are at in our spiritual development.

Thus, ironically, Lag Ba’omer is the antithesis of an elitist Yom Tov, reserved only for those who have already achieved greatness. On the contrary, it is a day to yearn for nobility and to use the potential to achieve the reality. When one watches the Boyaner Rebbe’s face for hours at the great hilula in Meron, one can virtually imagine his heart and soul racing through the heavenly worlds, accomplishing wonders and yeshuos for Am Yisroel. We, too, can raise ourselves above our usually mundane selves by thinking of the life and death of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. This catapults us past our lower and sometimes animalistic tendencies, helping to change our natures vastly for the better. Rashbi teaches us that even the leopard can change his spots, so we can surely warm ourselves by his fire and rise to previously unreachable heights of kedusha and understanding.