Monday evening is the start of Lag b’Omer. This special day commemorates a number of important events in the history of the Jewish people. One of these is the revelation of Jewish mystical teachings (Kabbalah) by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Recall that Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students during the days of the Omer, then managed to instruct five new students before being executed by the Romans. Those five students—Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, Rabbi Yose, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi)—transmitted the bulk of the teachings in the Mishnah. In other words, it is these five rabbis that kept the Oral Torah alive. Of the five, Rashbi is by far the most famous, and the only one that has a holiday in his honour. What was it that made him so special, and distinguished him from the others?
As is well-known, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai fled from the Romans with his son Rabbi Elazar, and hid in a cave for a total of 13 years. During that time, they were completely separated from society, took no possessions with them, and had nothing to consume except for carobs and water. Undeterred, they made the most of their “quarantine” and spent all of their time learning, growing, and refining themselves. They attained such a holy level that they merited to have the angel-prophet Eliyahu visit them and teach them the mystical secrets of the Torah.
It is these mystical secrets that Rashbi later revealed on Lag b’Omer, forever transforming Judaism. It was such a momentous occasion that we still commemorate it today nearly two thousand years later. Making the most of his difficult time in isolation is what made Rashbi the great person that he was, and distinguished him from his colleagues. Let’s learn from Rashbi and try to make the most out of our time in isolation, too.
Lag b’Omer Sameach!
Make your Shavuot all-night learning meaningful (especially this year, when we will most likely be doing it individually at home!) with Tikkun Leil Shavuot – the Arizal’s Torah Study Guide.