When I lived in Israel in 2007, I had a return flight to the United States on Lag BaOmer. As the plane took off over the land, you could see bonfire after bonfire, town by town, light up the night sky. That image is hard to recreate in the United States. For many years, my good friend, colleague, and neighbor, Rabbi Jason Fruithandler, and I would take our children to the backyard and attempt to create a small flame as we roasted marshmallows and celebrated the joys of Torah study.
On this festive Lag BaOmer day, we remember Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a disciple of Rabbi Akiba, who sat by his side to learn through good times and through difficult moments of strife under the Roman Empire. With Rabbi Shimon’s strength came a new generation of Torah scholars, which continually passed the Torah that we learn today.
The Jerusalem Talmud tell us that Rabbi Shimon once said, “If I were present at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, I would have demanded two mouths: one for continuous study of the words of the Torah and the other for eating.”
In essence, we must find a way to feed our bodies and souls simultaneously, to put into actions the sacred words we read.
This week, my parents are spending Shabbat in Israel. On Lag BaOmer, they accompanied their great-nephew to his school’s celebration in Elkana. At first, they saw the usual bonfires, but then they saw what was happening around the fire.
Parked behind them was a van that read rechev mishalot, a vehicle of wishes. The students of Elkana did not celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s accomplishments alone. Rather, this rechev mishalot, van of wishes, brought special needs children to delight in the celebration of Torah with their peers. As you see in the photos below, the students and their guests embodied the teaching of Rabbi Shimon: study of Torah and the living out of the Torah’s values in one breath.
It is an easy task to open our sacred books and read the words. It is much more difficult to make those words a reality. Lag BaOmer should be a moment where we each fill our rechev mishalot, our van of desires, and utilize them in places that will make a difference in the world around us.