Lag B'Omer - 003 Inner Bonfire
Growth In Soul, Time, and Place
Generally speaking, there are three ways how one can receive spiritual growth: through his soul, through certain times, or through certain places.
If a person grows spiritually through the soul, he has succeeded to inspire himself to receive new levels of growth. This can happen either through directly inspiring his own soul, or if he if he hears others who inspire him.
When a person receives spiritual growth because of certain times, it is because there are special gifts contained in those times that allow for growth; examples of this are Shabbos and Yom Tov. When a person gets affected from time, even if his soul isn’t worthy of receiving new levels, the time itself can still affect him and help him grow spiritually.
A person can also receive spiritual growth because of a certain place – for example, if he comes to a holy place such as Eretz Yisrael, or a holy burial site of a tzaddik (in sefarim hakedoshim it is brought that a tzaddik’s grave is as holy as if it were in Eretz Yisrael, even if it is outside Eretz Yisrael).
These are three general ways how a person can receive spiritual growth.
The Advantage of Growth In Soul Vs. Growth Through Time and Place
There is a big difference between receiving growth from one’s soul to receiving growth from time or a place: When a person attains growth from his own soul, he has reached new levels on his own.
Of course, even when a person grows in his soul, a person can still have ups and downs from his level, but what he attained is still through his soul. So even if he falls from his level, it will have become easier for him to get back to his level, because he still has within him the root to get there, and he has the power now to return back to that root.
But if a person’s spiritual growth came about through either a certain time or place, then if he falls from a level, he can’t get it back, because the time or place is no longer here.
We can see it clearly. People go to certain holy places and feel spiritual elation there, but after that, they go back to their routine life, and all of the inspiration is forgotten.
Tools To Maintain Inspiration
Thus, it is not enough for a person to comprehend new spiritual levels. A person also needs the “tools” in order to get there.
When a person reaches levels through his soul, this shows that he had the tools to get there. But when it comes to growing from certain times or places, although a person does have to make some preparations beforehand, the preparations have nothing to do with how much spiritual growth one receives from these times or places.
This is because such spiritual growth comes from outside factors – a certain time, or a certain place; so whatever additional growth he is receiving is way higher in proportion than the amount of preparation he put into it. The same is true for when one hears words of inspiration from another person.
As we said, there are generally three ways to receive new spiritual levels: through the soul, through time, or through a place. Growth from our soul can either come directly from one’s own soul, or it can come from hearing and receiving spirituality from someone else’s soul. When a time of growth is over – for example, when Shabbos or Yom Tov ends – or when a person leaves a certain place where has grown – he is only left with the a certain impression that has been marked onto him, but the actual spiritual effects have gone.
So besides for working hard at reaching levels, a person has a separate work as well – he needs to acquire certain tools that will enable him to carry over the effects into the regular days of the year or in the ordinary surroundings he is in.
If a person heard someone else’s words and became deeply inspired, the effects will go away after the other person leaves. Thus, a person’s task is always two-fold: to reach new levels, and to be able to hold onto those levels afterwards.
Inspiration From the Outside: Good or Bad?
Therefore, if we hear inspiring words from someone, or when we reach spiritual growth through certain times or certain places, there are pros and cons to it.
The benefits are that a person is able to receive levels that are really higher than where he is. The proof that these are higher levels is because a person has to come on to another person or time or place in order to get it. The soul of a person is not really there at those levels, but a person can still receive those levels, either through the means of another person, or through time, or through a place. That is the advantage here.
On the other hand, the disadvantage is that a person will attempt from these events\times is that a person might try to think about those levels again afterwards. He will try to re-experience those deep thoughts or feelings he remembers from his experience – and he isn’t aware that this was only good then, but not now. Now, if you try to think about it or try to feel it again, it’s only imagination!
This is a very subtle point which, if a person misses, he will be very mistaken. For example, a person experiences great elation on a certain Shabbos. He feels himself ascending spiritually. What happens on Sunday? He remembers how he felt on Shabbos, and then he tries to feel what he felt then. When a person attempts to reconnect to his past feelings, this really comes from being in a fantasy.
On Shabbos, one can feel Shabbos, and this is a true feeling. But on Sunday, you can’t feel Shabbos; if you try to, it’s all your imagination that you’re feeling. The reason for this is because the whole spiritual growth came from a time, and now that the time has gone, its effects have gone with it. You can’t connect to that time if you’re not in that time.
Of course, if a person really works on himself spiritually, it is possible for him to feel Shabbos even on Sunday. But in order to do this, one has a two-fold task: he needs to first be able to reach the levels in the first place, and then he needs to acquire the tools to be able to hold onto it afterwards. If it’s not Shabbos, then a person is far from that time called Shabbos, and all he has left in him is the ‘mark’ imprinted on him from Shabbos. This ‘mark’ can instill in him a burning desire to return to those moments of elation.
When a person is aware that all the levels he has reached is only through his mental capacities (mochin\mind) – meaning, he is aware that these are all temporary moments of elation, but that they haven’t yet been etched into his soul - then he views these levels as something delightful which Hashem has given to him, and he also views them as an indicator that shows he has grown spiritually. But if a person overdoes the “indicator” and is always thinking about these levels, when really hasn’t yet acquired them – he is just imagining things. Usually, this problem exists by people who became very inspired from reading a sefer or when they hear a Torah tape.
But when it comes to growth we receive from times or places, the danger [of imagining things] is greater. This is because at the time that the person felt the growth – such as Shabbos – there was a true feeling, and it is hard for a person to free himself from the intensity of the feelings he remembers. Yesterday, the feeling was there, but today, the person has nothing to do with it.
We can give a simple example that helps us understand this idea very well. On Sukkos, a person shakes his lulav and esrog. If someone comes to shul on Chanukah with his lulav and esrog, he would be a laughingstock. (If someone doesn’t laugh at him, he’ll find it almost impossible not to crack a smile, because it’s so weird to see such a sight!) The point of this is that everything has its time and place.
When it comes to the actions we do, it’s simple to understand why this is mistaken behavior. On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofar, on Yom Kippur we fast, on Sukkos we sit in the sukkah and shake lulav and esrog. But when it comes to the inner meaning of mitzvos, there are some people who have a hard time understanding why it can’t be this way, and they miss the inner meaning of these mitzvos during the year; they wish they could have these mitzvos even when it’s not the right time.
This is a point that applies whether we grow from hearing someone else’s inspiration, or being inspired from a time or a place.
Heart Matters Are Not Understood Every Day
To what does this apply to?
In the coming lines, we will discuss a point that is really above our level. We must realize that the coming concepts are above us – we have not acquired them yet.
On Lag Ba’omer, the gifts contained in this day are that the “gates of wisdom are opened”. This essentially means that that one’s soul on this day can receive levels which he normally can’t absorb. Even if a person does understand these matters today, tomorrow he loses his understanding of it. It’s only available on Lag Ba’omer.
A person when he hears this might wonder: “If I have already comprehended it, how can it be that I will lose my comprehension of it?! If you told me yesterday that two plus one is three, then why would I forget about this the next day?!”
But that is the mistake. These are not intellectual matters. They are words that come alive in one’s inner world of the soul. There are many smart people in the world, but knowing something with your brain is not the same thing as absorbing something in your heart. There is a very big difference between mind knowledge and heart knowledge.
Thus, if a person is aware that whatever he reaches on Lag Ba’omer will not last when it ends, then he will know how to receive the matters. This builds a person; it doesn’t break him. Such an attitude will help a person have an inner push to get back there. But if a person thinks “Just like I comprehended something on Lag Ba’omer, so can I comprehend it tomorrow” – this is a mistake.
This is possibly the meaning of the statement in Chazal that “Every day, the words of Torah should be to you like new.” What does this mean? A lot of ink has been spent on explaining this. But it appears to mean that even if you understood something yesterday, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will understand it tomorrow. It might still be in your intellect, but that doesn’t mean that your heart understands it; intellect and understanding is not the same thing. Intellect is the seichel, while understanding, havanah, is called “avanta d’liba”, “understanding of the heart”.
The same goes for the converse: sometimes you can increase your understanding of something, when you reach a more inner layer of what you have comprehended. This only happens if you have become more purified since yesterday.
We are referring to deep, subtle matters which must be lived. Usually a person is only used to things that he knows about intellectually, but when it comes to matters that need “heart understanding”, there are times where we can have it, and times when it is impossible. Heart matters can only be understood during special times.
This is a very fundamental point for someone who really wants to understand the wisdom of the Creator - not his own understanding. A person’s intellect is cold, rational and simple, and it can understand intellectual matters on a simple level. But when it comes to heart matters - such as searching for G-dliness – you must know that Hashem is called a “burning fire”. This ‘fire’ is in your heart - not in your intellect.
Only the heart can understand Godly matters, and it only works during certain times and places. The heart is not accessed just through inspiration or desire, but through “avanta d’liba” – an inner understanding, which can only be accessed during certain times.
The Mystery of Remembering Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
We will speak a little about what is relevant for Lag Ba’Omer, but as we said before, we should remember that it’s only relevant for Lag Ba’Omer; after this day passes, we are left with nothing but a mark from it. A person should not attempt to grow further from that mark after Lag Ba’Omer ends, and if he does, he should be warned in the same way that the people were warned not to ascend Har Sinai when Moshe was receiving the Torah.
It is somewhat of a mystery. Throughout all the generations, there were many Gedolim and tzaddikim who are not remembered so much on their yahrtzeit. People remember the yahrtzeit of Dovid HaMelech, but there is almost no one who knows what day of the calendar is the yahrtzeit of our own Avos (forefathers). There are all kinds of traditions that state which days of the year they died on, but for some reason, there is no clarity in this matter.
Only one tzaddik, who came much than the Avos – the Sage, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai – is so remembered. Everyone goes to his grave on this day (Lag Ba’Omer). Why does he get so much attention, more than all the other tzaddikim?
We should think about this. If we are rejoicing in something and we don’t know what to rejoice about, then such rejoicing is superficial; our happiness has to come from our soul, or else it is just by rote and will not amount to anything. So we must know what we are rejoicing about on Lag Ba’Omer.
Lag Ba’Omer: A Special Time
It is written in Koheles (3:1), “For every time.” Chazal comment on this that there was a time for Adam to enter Gan Eden, and there was a time for him to leave Gan Eden; there was a time for Noach to enter the Ark, and there was a time for him to leave the Ark. There was a time for Avraham to be circumcised, and there was a time for him to circumcise his children.”
We can learn from this Midrash that long before Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai passed away on Lag Ba’omer, this day was already sanctified. Thus, our outlook on this day doesn’t have to begin with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai definitely brought the meaning of this special time into the dimension of the soul as well, because long before he lived, this day was already precious. It was a day that inherently contained inherent spiritual gifts.
Let us now reflect: what is the inner meaning of this day?
Lag Ba’Omer and Amalek
Lag Ba’omer falls out on the 18th of the month of Iyar. The gematria (numerical value in Lashon HaKodesh) of the word “Iyar”, together with the number 18, is equal to the word “Amalek”. In other words, there is a connection between Amalek and this day. Soon, we will explain the connection.
Sadness – Not Connected To The Root
Whenever a person is sad, this really comes from the fact that he isn’t connected to a root. He is like a branch disconnected from its root. The root has a ‘root’ as well to it: the lack of connection between the person and Hashem. By contrast, happiness is when there is connection to a Source.
“With hardship shall you bear children.” The pain of child labor is called “etzev”, which can also mean “sadness”. Birth is a separation of the baby from its mother; when the baby was in its mother, it is considered part of the mother. Now, it has disconnected from its mother – this is the “etzev”\sadness of giving birth.
Childbirth, and the etzev which follows it, reflects the concept that a person has to be integrated with his source. The purpose of man is to integrate himself with his root, and keep connecting himself to his roots until he arrives at the root of all roots, the Creator.
On Yom Tov we have a mitzvah to be happy. Yom Tov is “moed”, which comes from the word “vaad” – a meeting. When there is a meeting, there is connection, and thus there is happiness.
The Meaning Behind the Bonfires
There is a minhag on this day to light bonfires. We don’t just light small fires like we light for Shabbos and Yom Tov. We light big fires – bonfires, which are called “lehavah” in Hebrew.
The inner meaning of this is to show us that we need to have a big “fire”, a lehavah, in our hearts, for Hashem. If a person has this inner fire, he is inwardly connected to Lag Ba’Omer. If a person is just lighting physical bonfires, but his soul is cold inside, he is not connected to Lag Ba’Omer.
It is written, “The house of Yaakov will be a fire, and the house of Yosef will be a big flame.” This is referring to the inner layer of a Jew’s soul, the burning desire for Hashem. At first there is a small fire, and then it becomes a huge flame, a lehavah. When a person’s inner fire for Hashem gets big, it is then that he can integrate with Hashem.
In other words, bonfires on this day are not just superficial acts of lighting big fires. It is meant to remind us of our innermost point of the soul, which is like a great, fiery desire to be connected with Hashem.
Countering The ‘Separation’ of Amalek: Connecting To Hashem
It is well-known that Amalek’s power is to cause separation in Creation. Chazal say that Amalek attacked us in Refidim, from the words “rofuy y’deihem b’Torah” “our hands were weak in Torah”, alluding to the fact that we were “weak” in Torah. When a person’s hands go weak, he loses connection to what he is holding. Our hands were weak then in “holding” the Torah - there was a weakening in our connection to Torah. That enabled Amalek to come.
Torah is called “words of fire”. The Torah is a ‘fire’, but we on our own must turn it into a big flame, a “lehavah”. This is referring to the concept of becoming totally integrated with Hashem.
The power that is inherent in the day of Lag Ba’Omer is essentially the power to become connected to the Creator - the opposite of being ‘separate’. This is also the inner meaning of what it means to erase and thereby remove the evil of Amalek from our midst. The “great flame” that can be reached on this day – integrating one’s self with Hashem – is what can prevent Amalek from coming to weaken us.
Amalek weakened our “hands” in Torah. What does this mean? Do we only learn Torah with our hands? Don’t we learn Torah with our mouths?
There are two points contained here. The first point is simple: a person can only connect to something with his “hands” – in other words, when he is holding onto it. You use your hands to hold onto something, such as a person who is drowning and catches a piece of wood to hold onto. Thus the “weakened hands” in Torah meant a lack of connection to Torah.
But another point contained here is that even if one learns Torah, but he does not have spiritual feelings that burn for love and fear of Hashem, his Torah learning does not ascend to Heaven (this is stated in the Zohar). In other words, although the generation was learning Torah, they were lacking a certain connection to it; they weren’t connecting themselves to Hashem through it. When a person learns Torah but he is not connected to the root of Torah - which is Hashem - this is called “weakened hands” in Torah, and it enables the evil of Amalek to be given power.
The Power Contained In Lag Ba’Omer: Overcoming Doubt
The power contained in this day [Lag Ba’Omer] is essentially the ability for a person to remove himself from all the obstacles that hold him back from closeness to the Creator.
The main evil power which holds us back from being close to Hashem is the force of Amalek, as is well-known. Amalek’s power thrives on safek (doubt).
When a person has doubts about something, he cannot connect to it, as a result. When a person is confident in where he is going, though, he is calm and content, and he can connect to what he does. But if a person sees two paths in front of him and he chooses one path, but he is thinking in his heart the whole time: “I’m not sure about what I’m doing…”, then he isn’t connected to the path he is taking, even though if he is taking the right path.
Doubts hold back a person from truly connecting to Hashem in an inner way. Even if a person is taking the right path towards Hashem, if he is doubtful about what he’s doing, then that means he is not really connected to the path he is taking – which means he is not really connected with Hashem.
How can a person leave doubt and enter into the inner world of the spiritual? A person needs to become sure about the truth that he knows about. This will eradicate his doubts.
How can a person become absolutely sure about the inner truths? The truth is actually very clear. When a person understands it, it is then that he leaves all the doubts.
Hashem Is Here, There, and Everywhere
Compare this to a person who wants to get from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak. He doesn’t know if he should go right or left or straight ahead. Whichever way he takes, he is doubtful, because he has no idea if he will end up in Bnei Brak. But once a person is in Bnei Brak, he has no doubts about where to go – because he is there. This is because if you’re there, you don’t have doubts about where you are.
A person must realize that all paths essentially bring him to this one and only point: Hashem! There is no such thing as a worthy “path” that doesn’t bring you to Hashem. It doesn’t matter if a person is happy, sad, or suffering; all of these are situations that, in the end, can bring you closer to Hashem.
So what are people not sure about? A person knows that Hashem is at the end of the path, but he’s not sure if he’s taking the right path. He may be thinking, “Who says it’s the right path for me…?”
But when a person realizes the deep perspective there is no such thing as a “path” (derech), and rather that Hashem is found everywhere, in every situation – he has nothing to be doubtful about. He doesn’t doubt the ‘path’ he is taking.
Above The Perspective of ‘Pesach Sheini’
Pesach Sheini was created for those who were ritually impure and couldn’t bring the korbon pesach, or for those who didn’t make it on time for Yom Tov. Those who didn’t make it were held back due to the place they were in, while those who were impure were held back due to the situation of their soul; they were distant from Hashem, thus couldn’t come.
But when a person knows and feels in his soul that Hashem resides in him always, even when he in impure – such a person had no need for Pesach Sheini. In the physical world, a person needs Pesach Sheini if he was ritually impure, but in the inner world of the soul, once a person comes to the recognition of feeling Hashem in his soul, he doesn’t need Pesach Sheini.
The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai falls out within the “seven days of Pesach Sheini” (just like there are seven days of the first Pesach, so is there a concept that there are seven days of the second Pesach), and it reveals a certain heavenly light: that Hashem is found even amidst our state of impurity.
When a person is aware that Hashem is found even in the lowest place where he has fallen - he doesn’t need his “hands” to lift himself up.
“There Is No Place That Is Empty From Him”
If a person thinks that “Hashem is Heaven, but I live on this earth”, and that he must try to somehow ‘ascend’ to Heaven – then he will need his “hands” to lift himself upwards. [And he won’t be able to get there].
But when a person knows clearly that Hashem is found in any place – for “There is no place empty from Him” - then even when he has fallen low, he can still arrive at a point of clarity in which he sees how Hashem is there at any place, time or situation. There is no amount of spiritual impurity that will be able to get him to have any doubts about this.
We rectify the evil of Amalek in Creation, essentially, by realizing how Hashem is with us even when we are in a lowly situation. Hashem is found with us even as we are amongst the lowest levels of impurity - Amalek.
Thus, in order to gain from this day, we need to search for the Creator. We can find Him at any moment, in any place, and in any time.
May we merit to arrive at the innermost point – the “lehavah”, the “great flame” that iswithin us, represented by the bonfires we light, which can remind us of a burning desire for Hashem; and may we merit the redemption, speedily.
 This is based on the concept of “Olam, Shanah, Nefesh” (World, Time, and Soul) – everything exists in three dimensions: place, time, and soul [Sefer Yetzirah, III]
 In Hebrew, “roishem”
 See Rashi to Chagigah 12b
 memorial day
 The Holy Tongue
 221+18 = 239
 Amalek is equal to 240.
 Yirmiyahu 23:29
 “hiskalelus” - integrating