Lag Baomer- Reinforcing Our Bitahon
The occasion of Lag Ba’omer is famously associated with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the famous Tanna whose life and legacy we celebrate on this special day. Already the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) mentioned the custom to visit Rabbi Shimon’s grave on Mount Meron in Northern Israel on this day to give honor to this unique figure.
Rav Yehonatan Eibshutz (1690-1764), in his work Yearot Debash, writes that when one visits the grave of a righteous person, he has the special opportunity to draw from that Sadik’s unique qualities. Every Sadik has a "forte," a quality in which he excelled in a special way, and which he embodied, and so when we connect with a Sadik, we seek to draw inspiration from his special quality.
In the case of Rabbi Shimon, that quality was Bitahon – unbridled, absolute faith in Hashem.
The Gemara in Masechet Berachot brings the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that one should devote himself entirely to Torah study without worrying about earning a livelihood, trusting that Hashem will provide him with his needs. This is in contrast to the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, who maintained that one should work for a living alongside his involvement in Torah. The Gemara concludes that the majority of people should follow Rabbi Yishmael’s position, whereas Rabbi Shimon’s lifestyle is appropriate for the exceptionally pious. For our purposes, it suffices that Rabbi Shimon embodied the quality of Bitahon, the firm belief that Hashem provides us with all our needs and does not need our help. Even if, in practice, one follows Rabbi Yishmael’s position, and puts in long days of work to earn a living, he must learn from Rabbi Shimon’s example of Bitahon and realize that in truth, it is G-d who gives him everything he has.
This unique quality of Rabbi Shimon is manifest as well in the famous story of Rabbi Shimon’s experiences hiding in a cave. After speaking critically about the Roman government, Rabbi Shimon was forced to flee from the government officials who sought to kill him. Rabbi Shimon found a cave where he hid for twelve years, during which time he was sustained by a miraculous carob tree and water spring which G-d provided. When a person lives with Bitahon, he earns Hashem’s special assistance, and Hashem cares for him in ways he could never have imagined.
The Hatam Sofer (Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839) writes that in truth, the significance of the day of Lag Ba’omer precedes the time of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, and can be traced back to Biblical history.
When Beneh Yisrael left Egypt, the Hatam Sofer says, they prepared provisions for the trip, and these provisions lasted for thirty days. As they left on the 15th of Nissan, this means that they ran out of food one month later, on the 15th of Iyar. For three days, they were without food, and they placed their trust in Hashem. On the 18th of Iyar – Lag Ba’omer – Hashem began sending them manna from the heavens. Lag Ba’omer is thus an especially significant occasion, celebrating the arrival of the manna, the miraculous food with which G-d fed our ancestors in the desert.
This ancient history of the manna beautifully connects with the celebration of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on this day. The message of the manna is that Hashem is capable of helping us and supporting us in ways that we could never imagine – just as He supported our ancestors in the uninhabitable wilderness, and just as He supported Rabbi Shimon for twelve years in a cave. Lag Ba’omer offers us a precious opportunity to reinforce our Bitahon, to strengthen our awareness of Hashem as the One who provides us with all our needs, and to remind ourselves that even if we find ourselves in a "desert" or in a "cave," in situations of uncertainty, we can and must trust in Hashem, who cares for us under all circumstances.
Even if we already live with Bitahon, we can only gain by working to reinforce this belief. So much of the stress and anxiety we experience in life is because of insufficient Bitahon, because we feel that our livelihood or our happiness is dependent on certain factors – a certain job, a certain transaction, or a certain arrangement – and so we feel anxious when those factors are threatened. On Lag Ba’omer, we must remind ourselves that Hashem has countless ways of caring for us. Even if we are in a "cave," without all the things that we are accustomed to relying on, He is able to provide us with what we need.
During this time of upheaval and uncertainty, let us draw strength and inspiration from Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, and from the manna, and reinforce our belief that Hashem is caring for us even under the very challenging circumstances which we are facing.