Lag Ba'omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, is quite an exceptional holiday on the Jewish calendar. The Jewish world comes together to celebrate two main themes; the end of the plague killing Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students were all great Tzaddikim, righteous individuals, yet passed away because they did not show enough respect for one another relative to their high spiritual stature.
Tzaddik is someone who has no evil inclination, or whose evil inclination is absolutely subjugated to the will of his good inclination to the point that it never even “voices its opinion” and is completely dormant. A Tzaddik is on a level such that all of his thoughts, feelings, and actions - his entire being - is in total harmony with G-D’s will.
Tzaddik is the foundation of the world. We also learn from Talmud, Succah (45b) that every generation has thirty six hidden Tzaddikim. In their merit the world receives the divine vitality that keeps it going. A Tzaddik is a uniquely G-dly person, and therefore has a very special role to play in the world, although this may vary between being hidden to being a leader of thousands of followers.
Tzaddik can direct a person in their service to G-D, give blessings as our rabbis teach us that “A Tzaddik decrees and G-D fulfills”, and really connect the spiritual with the physical. They can do this precisely because a Tzaddik is not an angel but rather a human being who completely expressed G-D’s will and desire. With such greatness, the discord between Rabbi Akiva’s students, however positive they're intentions were, resulted in such an extreme scenario!
For us at OneBefore, the stories of Tzaddikim are at the heart of our message. Each of our rooms bears a holy name of a Tzaddik: The Shpoler Zeide Room, the Rashi Room, hopefully soon the King David Room... We incessantly speak of Reb Pinchas of Koritz, Megaleh Amukos and others. We believe that a relationship to a Tzaddik elevates a person to a higher plane, emboldens him to ask G-d for more! We hope that our guests will take away this feeling of awe for a Tzaddik, the simple faith in Tzaddikim that was the hallmark of our nation throughout our history.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
known by his acronym Rashbi, was chosen as a student of Rabbi Akiva and was distinct in his prominence amongst the Sages. The Midrash tells us that during the life of the Rashbi a rainbow did not appear. A rainbow is G-d's promise after the flood, not to destroy the world again, even when the people do not act appropriately. However, when a generation has a Tzaddik like the Rashbi, his merit protects then so there is no need for a rainbow. (Beraishit Rabbah 35:2)
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was forced to flee to a cave with his son Rabbi Elazar for twelve (plus one additional) years, hiding from the Romans who wanted to kill him. In the cave they studied Torah day and night and were sustained by the fruit of a carob tree, and a stream of water that miraculously appeared for them. After twelve years the Prophet Elijah himself visited then with the his news that they were no longer in danger.
After exiting the cave they saw a Jewish farmer working his field and could not understand how he could be interacting with the material world rather than spending his time studying Torah. After saying these thoughts out loud the produce of the field burst into flames. G-D immediately ordered them back to the cave where they remained for another year. When finally leaving the cave for good, they had quite a different perspective and experience, seeing the beauty in how dearly the Jews kept G-d's commandments.
Although the Rashbi had lived apart from society for so many years and was on a truly elevated, spiritual level, he places paramount importance on good human relations and care for every Jew. These sentiments are reflected in his teachings in the Mishna, such as; “One should carry himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly embarrass his fellow.” -Talmud, Sotah 10b “All of the Jewish people are as children of Kings (and thus, behaviors which may be considered vain or extravagant are appropriate for and permitted to them. )” -Talmud, Shabbat 67a.
Revealing the Mystical
The Rashbi is most famous for authoring the “Zohar”, a foundational work of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. He revealed what is called the Inner light of the Torah, and those teachings culminated on the day of his passing.
On that day, Lag Ba'omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, he gathered around his disciples and taught many secrets of the Torah which formed the basis of the Zohar. He said that the day of his passing should be a day of celebration, for it marks the great light, the hidden secrets of Torah, that he revealed to the world. Bonfires are lit on Lag Ba'omer to commemorate this great light...