Friday, May 04, 2007


It’s exciting when Lag B’omer falls on a Sunday, especially if the weather is good. Lag B’omer is designed to be an outdoor affair, so you can really enjoy it when you don’t have to go to work. People have picnics, make bonfires- Chabad organizes Lag B’omer parades*.

And, people play with bows and arrows.

You might find that incongruous- playing with weapons on a day of unity, but that’s how it is. Lag B’omer happened during the height of Roman oppression in Israel. Torah study was a capital offence, and many of our greatest Sages were executed for this “crime”. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the main character of this holiday, had to hide for 13 years to evade the Romans who had put a price on his head.

Brave souls who studied Torah in outlying fields and forests, would feign archery contests when Roman patrols passed their way. So, we re-enact those archery games to remember their dedication under fire.

That’s the simple reason.

But, Lag B’omer is not a simple day. It is a day of mysticism and spiritual secrets; it celebrates Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s vital contribution to Kabbalah. Everything about the day bears deeper significance. We light bonfires to represent the blazing spirituality of the day.

So, what about the bows and arrows?

As spiritual as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was (so much so that his mentor, Rabbi Akivah, believed none of the other students could even perceive his greatness), he understood the foibles of ordinary citizens. While he demanded total dedication to Torah from himself, he taught that people under work-pressure need only say the Shema twice daily to fulfil their Torah-study requirements.

He was a great Sage, not because of his personal spiritual advancement, but because of his ability to relate to- and guide- the average person.

A bow and arrow represent his unique perspective. To propel an arrow forward, you need to pull the bowstring backwards. Spiritually, when you’ve slipped a little in the wrong direction, you develop potential to fly in the correct direction. Rather than criticize the person who had fallen, Rabbi Shimon hinted that each fall has the capacity to propel us to new heights.

As you draw your bowstring back this Lag B’omer, reflect on the great potential you have to progress.

Let fly!

*The theme of Lag B‘omer is Jewish unity. Lag B’omer is the day that Rabbi Akivah’s students stopped dying. They had been struck by a plague because they hadn’t had proper respect for each other. Lag B’omer reminds us to strengthen unity, in the light of what disunity can cause (G-d forbid). In the 50’s the Rebbe introduced the idea of a parade that would unite Jews, advertise Jewish messages and show Jewish pride on the streets.

No comments: