Tonight will be the brightest night of the year in Israel. Bonfires will be visible from every rooftop, from Be’er Sheva in the south up through Israel’s northern region as we honor one of the greatest Jewish teachers– Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – this Lag B’Omer.
Rabbi Shimon lived in Israel about sixty years after the destruction of the Second Temple, and was the top student of the revered Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was the son of two converts, and his teachings revived Judaism after the destruction which had befallen the Jewish people.
The Talmud – Judaism’s oral tradition – teaches that Rabbi Akiva had over 24,000 students, but none was as great as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. And while Rabbi Akiva and his students focused on Jewish laws and rituals, Rabbi Shimon delved into the ancient mystical teachings of the Holy Bible.
It is said that Rabbi Akiva taught the Jewish people the body of the Torah that deals with the laws and commandments we are instructed to live by in order to fulfill God’s will. In other words, Rabbi Akiva taught people how to live a life connected to God.
On the other hand, Rabbi Shimon revealed the Bible’s soul, explaining why each particular commandment brought us closer to our Creator.
The ancient wisdom of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was virtually lost to the Jewish people for many centuries. Yet today we are seeing a major revival of the study of Rabbi Shimon’s teachings here in Israel, something which was unheard of one generation ago. And so, on Lag B’Omer, bonfires will be lit to symbolize this burning love and passion towards the one true God and His Word.