On engraved-pathways and connective-commandments: Bechukkotai
Paul in Jerusalem

Happy Lag B'Omer!

BonfireHey, did you know that today is a Jewish holiday? Today is the 33rd day of the Omer. Since Hebrew numerals are also letters, today is called Lag B'Omer -- the letters for 33 spell out the word לג or lag.

Today is the yahrzeit, the death-anniversary, of the sage Shimon bar Yochai. He lived during the first century of the Common Era, and Jewish tradition says that he wrote the Zohar (the central work of Jewish mysticism.)

Tradition says he brought down the wisdom of the Zohar, which was passed-on orally until it was finally committed to print by Moshe de Leon in 13th-century Spain. Those with a more historical-critical bent might suggest instead that de Leon wrote the Zohar in an intentionally old-fashioned Aramaic. Either way, today is a day when we cultivate gratitude for the Zohar's spiritual fire.

"Zohar" means "splendor" or "radiance." It's a source of great light, in the sense of illumination and wisdom and insight. Maybe that's part of why we traditionally light bonfires on Lag b'Omer -- to send literal sparks flying upward as a reminder of the intellectual and spiritual sparks of our mystical tradition and its wisdom.

For more on this holiday, you can check out my Lag B'Omer category. I'm still quite fond of my 2009 post The bonfire of the expansive heart, which offers a few different classical interpretations of Lag b'Omer (the end of a plague which had been caused by Rabbi Akiva's students not respecting one another; the end of a Roman massacre of Jews during the bar Kokhba revolt),  and then focuses on a teaching from Rabbi Zvi Elimelech of Dinov which offers some beautiful thoughts about what it means to have a good heart.

May we all experience the Omer as a time for cultivating and expressing the best of our hearts, and a time for (as Rabbi Zvi Elimelech writes) "bringing together opposites in friendship." Kein yehi ratzon -- may it be so!