Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Mystics And Merriment

Lag B'omer Celebration AT Chabad Headquarters In NSW, Australia. (2009)

Lag B’Omer: Of Mystics and Merriment

-- (May 11, 2009)
Dvora Lakein

More than a million people visit annually, but it is during the 24-hour period of Lag B’Omer that the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai really gets rocking. From Monday night until Tuesday, vibrations will echo through the hills as over 400,000 Jews converge in Meron to pray and party.

On his deathbed some 19 centuries ago, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, or the Rashbi, as he is commonly known, instructed his students to ensure that the date of his passing be forever a day of joy. Bonfires are lit in most Jewish communities, symbolizing the tremendous light the Rashbi’s Zohar, the sourcebook for Kabbalah, brought to the world. It is said that on the day of his passing, the Rashbi’s home was filled with such powerful illumination, that his students could not even look at him.

early 1600 years later, the Rashbi’s esotericisms were given new life, and a much broader audience, through the work of Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. His monumental Tanya brought the second century sage’s writings to more concrete footing. Since then, Chabad leaders and rabbis have sought to spread the wisdom of Chasidism to the Jewish masses.

Perhaps they didn’t realize just how popular it would become.

Today “Kabbalah” is a buzzword, bandied about by celebrities and entrepreneurs, eager to exploit these sacred teachings. For the uninitiated, a sip of Kabbalah water or a wisp of Ketoret incense qualifies as the real thing. “Too many people run around using the name Kabbalah, without understanding what it means,” says Rabbi Asi Spiegel, director of Chabad of Eugene, Oregon. “It is like electricity; if someone doesn’t know how to use it, he can harm himself.”

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