What's So Kabbalistic About Bonfires?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
What's the idea of having big bonfires on Lag Baomer? I know it is the day of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the "father of Kabbalah." But even Moses doesn't get bonfires on the day of his passing...
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent the last moments of his life doing what he always did: teaching. The mystical ideas that he shared with his devoted students that day were the deepest and most revolutionary teachings he had ever revealed.
But as this parting message was being conveyed, there was a tension in heaven. Rabbi Shimon's death was ordained to be that day before sundown. As the afternoon stretched on and evening approached, he had not yet finished sharing his final wisdom. The day would soon be over, but the lesson was not. Rabbi Shimon refused to return his soul until he had revealed all the secrets that it held. His life could only come to end when his mission did. But time had run out.
And so the day didn't end. The setting sun slowed down, and daylight was extended to allow Rabbi Shimon to say all he needed to say. Only after he had completed his lesson did his holy soul depart and the sun finally set.
On the anniversary of that day each year, in honour of Rabbi Shimon and the light he brought to the world, we brighten the night with bonfires. There is a powerful symbolism in this. Rabbi Shimon's teachings are there to bring light when it would otherwise be dark.
You can be a good person without studying Kabbalah. But only the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon in the Zohar, and the great works of the mystics and Chassidic masters that came after him, have the power to turn the moral darkness of the world around us, and the darker recesses of our own inner world, into a fiery light.