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Why is Lag b'Omer celebrated with bonfires and bows and arrows?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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The bonfires celebrate the immense light that was brought into the world by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (who passed away on Lag b'Omer), especially on the day of his passing.

The bow commemorates the fact that during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime no rainbow was ever seen.1 (This was a good thing because the rainbow appears when the earth deserves punishment. The first time a rainbow appeared was after Noah’s flood, when G-d said that He will no longer disrupt the world, rather he would send a sign: the rainbow. During Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime, the world was filled with merit because of him and therefore never saw a rainbow.)2

(There is a Kabbalistic tradition that on Lag b'Omer a rainbow will appear in a different color, which will symbolize the arrival of the Messianic age (Bnei Yissaschar).)

Footnotes

  • 1. Breishit Rabbah 35:2
  • 2. Genesis 9:8-17 and Rashi there.

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Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Noah
Tenth generation from Adam. Of all humankind, only he and his family survived the Flood which destroyed all civilization in the year 2106 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.