Weekly Chasidic Story #859 (s5774-37 / 12 Iyar 5774)

A Memorable Lag B’Omer Bonfire

“You endangered your whole unit by abandoning your post, and you could have been killed at the same time!” accused the IDF military court prosecutor.

Connection: Seasonal–LAG B’OMER

Aryeh was standing in front of three judges in an Israel military court. His crime: leaving his post without permission and, what was considered a much more serious matter, he did so in order to go to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron at a time when the area was infested with violent Arab Muslim bands. Indeed, this was only a few weeks after the new State of Israel had been declared in May 1948 and the War initiated by the Arabs of the surrounding countries in retaliation was at its fiercest.

“What can you say in your defense?” the judges probed. “You endangered your whole unit by abandoning your post, and you could have been killed at the same time!”

“But I had to,” protested Aryeh. “I owed it to Rabbi Shimon!” Whereupon he launched into his story:

“During the Shoah (Holocaust), at a certain point, I managed to join a troop of partisans. I participated with them in many operations against the Nazi enemy. Once, we were commanded to approach a house which served as headquarters to a small group of Nazi officers. We got there undetected and quickly observed that the house was built over pillars and below the house, right in the middle, were a few barrels of tar.

“‘All we need is one volunteer to get there and though a single match we’ll get a spectacular fireworks!’ said our commander.

“I immediately lifted my hand, but so did a couple of other boys in the group.

“‘We have to select only one of you. So let’s have each one tell us why you think that you are best suited to do the job.’

“When my turn came, I explained that tonight is Lag b’Omer according to the Jewish calendar, and on it we celebrate the day of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai , which is also the day that ended the epidemic that killed Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples. I told them about Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba who fought against the Roman Empire just like we are fighting against the Nazis, and how the combined merit of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Akiva will protect us.

“‘Tonight, we Jews have a custom to light bonfires, and this is exactly what I intend to do,’ I exclaimed excitedly, ‘to grill up these Nazi officers!’

“Well, I was unanimously selected for the operation and, thank G-d, it was a complete success. By the time I ran back into the forest, the Nazi beasts were cooking in the midst of the most formidable bonfire that I ever saw.

“Everyone cheered. Then the partisans told me: ‘When you go to Israel, be sure to go to Rabbi Shimon’s tomb and tell him how our unit honored his celebration by lighting a special bonfire in his memory on Lag b’Omer.’

“Now, tell me: Could I possibly be so near Rabbi Shimon’s tomb and not fulfill this mission from the Shoah and thank the great sage who covered our operation against the Nazis with his merit?”

Source: Submitted by Eliyahu Ellman, who received it from… who received it from…etc. etc. who received it from a “Rav Serloi” a few years ago.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most important sages in Jewish history, lived over 1800 years ago. Teachings in his name abound throughout the Mishnah, Gemarah, and Midrashim, while the Zohar, the primary source text of Kabbalah, is built around Rabbi Shimon’s revelations to his inner circle of disciples. During the hours before his passing, on Lag b’Omer, he disclosed the “most sublime” secrets of Torah, in order to ensure that the day would always be an occasion for great joy, untouched by sadness because of the Omer period and mourning for him. The seminal importance of the Zohar in Jewish thought and the annual pilgrimage to Meron on Lag b”Omer are testimonies to his success.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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