Why do we light bonfires on Lag Baomer? As far as I know, it is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. So why would the death of a great second century rabbi be the cause for celebration around a fire?
There is a Jewish custom to light a candle on the anniversary of a death. This is to symbolize that their light still shines, their impact on us continues beyond the grave.
But for a soul like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a candle is not enough. To fully express the impact he is still having on the world, we don't light a candle in his honour but rather we light a huge bonfire. For his fiery soul created a spiritual light that illuminates the world still today, almost two thousand years after his death.
Rabbi Shimon wrote the Zohar, which was the first comprehensive work of Kabbalah ever committed to writing. Until then, the mystical teachings of Judaism were passed down by word of mouth from teacher to student in secret societies. Rabbi Shimon saw that these teachings needed to be preserved for future generations, and so he had them recorded. "One day," Rabbi Shimon predicted, "even young children will be studying these secrets."
That day has come. Even young children, whether children in years or in spiritual maturity, are seeking inner truth, a deeper view of reality and a true soul connection. If they don't find it at home, they will look somewhere else. So many of our brothers and sisters end up searching in foreign spiritualities for something they can find in their own tradition. It just has to be made available. That's what Rabbi Shimon taught.
The only way Judaism can survive today is when its inner light is revealed. The modern Jew does not go for dogmatic teachings, empty ritual or dry intellectualism. Today's seekers want the essence. They want a Judaism that is soulful and joyous, relevant and inspiring, warm and dynamic. This is the light of Kabbalah.
So the fire of Rabbi Shimon is drawing those floating sparks back to their source. The teachings of Kabbalah, especially as they have been brought down to earth through Chasidism, are lighting up lost souls today more than ever. All because of one holy soul, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.