Rav Avrohom Baruch Zachariash speaks on the topic “The Lag B’Omer Bonfire” during the Ahavas Shalom Lag B’Omer Festival
Lag B’Omer is a time that people jump for joy and it is almost like a riddle because many people don’t really know what they’re jumping for joy about. We light fires and we’re not even sure why. There are some people today who might light fires because maybe one is not supposed to light fires tonight!
I decided to speak about the idea of the fires that are lit on Lag B’Omer, l‘ilulam and in the honor of Rav Shimon bar Yohai. The idea of fire is found throughout the Torah and in places of kedusha. Those of you who have been here in the years gone by when the madura (bonfire) was at full force, there was no need to have anybody make sure you don’t get too close. The intensity of the heat acted as an automatic barrier. Nobody gets close to fire. You can’t get close to fire. You’ll shrivel up before you get there!
A person could lean over the edge of a very tall building. There’s nothing to stop him because he doesn’t feel the danger. A person could be on the ledge of a deep pier and he is not afraid of the water. Fire is the only natural phenomenon which instills boundaries to the human being.
Rabbosai, I am quoting to you right now from the Steipler in sefer “Chayei Olam” perek yud-beis (12): Har Sinai was surrounded by fire and Moshe Rabbeinu ascended into the fire going up to Heaven. Most of us don’t think about that. But he did something which is the antithesis of being human: To walk into the fire and go up to Heaven. Reb Shimon Bar Yochai, the Zohar tells us, at the time of the “idro”, which was learned tonight, was surrounded by fire.
The Gemara in Chagigah, which discusses the learning of the “Maasei Merkava” – the greatest of the Kabbalistic subjects – those who learned it were surrounded by fire.
In the most recent of times we know that when Reb Nochum of Horodna (the Rebbe of the Chofetz Chaim) would learn Kabbalah, a fire would come down into the Beis Medrash.
What’s the fire about?
It seems to me that the fire takes all physical material and disposes of it as it ascends. Physicality and fire cannot live together. Those who live on a spiritual plane take their physical aspect and turn it into a fire and it goes up Heavenward – just like a korbon (offering). The ox is slaughtered and brought as a sacrifice and the fire that goes up to Heaven is a “rayach nichoach” (pleasant aroma) to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
We celebrate tonight that we have that power to use our physicality to become “ruchni” (spiritual).
Reb Shimon Bar Yochai was the person was in the cave who forgot about the physical world and survived. Not only did he survive, but he thrived! He lived on miracles as all people who live with “bitachon” (faith) do.
Tonight when we celebrate his yahrzeit. When we realize that we cannot touch the fire we are honoring Reb Shimon because those who ascend the “ruchnius” levels become like fire. The gemora at the end of Chagiga tells us a Talmid Hacham (Torah scholar) becomes an “aish” (fire).
As we dance around the fire tonight that we sing the praise of Reb Shimon Bar Yochai, it is supposed to invite within us ourselves our personal ability to also become not just a spark, but a fire and each of us to ascend to the highest levels that we can to bring the glory to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
May we be “zoche” (merit) that we could be infused with “ruchnius” It’s time to somehow take all of this goshmiyus (pointing to the food concession stands) and turn it into some buchser or keruvim or something like that.
Good Yom Tov to everyone!