What is it that we’re celebrating on Lag Ba’Omer?
Lag Ba’Omer marks the passing of the Torah Giant, and student of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai revealed the Kabbalah (the deep secrets of the Torah) to the Jewish people.
After 12 years of hiding out from the Romans and learning all of the hidden secrets of the Torah, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai emerged from the cave with his so. But everything he looked at got burnt from the intense holiness in his eyes! He returned to the cave for another year in order to integrate what he’d learned, and emerged again with the beautiful ability to see the good in others who are different from him!
After a life of teaching, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai shared everything he had learned with his students on the day of his death, and those teachings make up the Zohar. The day of his passing was Lag Ba’Omer.
What does this story also have to do with the end of the mourning time for the deaths of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva and their attempt to take back the temple?
Rabbi Akiva’s students could not bring themselves to respect someone with different views than they had. They learned from Rabbi Akiva to “love your neighbor like yourself,” but they interpreted this to mean “you have to be like me in order for me to love you!”
They couldn’t respect anyone who wasn’t like them! They couldn’t differentiate between having respect for someone who chose to live differently from them vs. looking down and judging them. That nuance caused their destruction and the destruction of the efforts to rebuild the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai changed this. His ability to respect someone different than him made all the difference.
But there is one more secret which this holiday is all about!
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