Bows and arrows on Lag Baomer

Kabbalah? We’re practical people. We relate to making a living, keeping the family happy, gefilte fish and Whatsapp memes.

Mystical ideas are beyond us. When someone mentions spiritual realms, Divine names or the Sefirot it flies over our heads. We relate to pragmatic Judaism- like kindness to strangers and not stealing. We appreciate our rich heritage and the lessons learned from heroes like Moses, Deborah and the Maccabees. Kabbalah? We eye-roll the Hollywood obsession with faux spirituality and we accept that we’re no match for the Zohar.

Today is Lag Baomer, a day dedicated to celebrating one of our nation’s greatest mystics, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon who was responsible for one of the most seminal Kabbalistic texts, the Zohar, passed away on this date.

He is the one who insisted that we celebrate the occasion each year. Since then, Lag Baomer is a fun-filled family field day, especially in Israel, where it’s essentially a national holiday.

If you’ve been to Israel at this time of the year, you will have seen hundreds of bonfires dotting the landscape everywhere. Burning pyres are certainly iconic of this festival.

The other icon (maybe lesser-known) is the bow and arrow, and you have to wonder why. Mystics and fire seem to gel. Fire is unfettered by the shape and size of other physical entities. Fire shapeshifts and always dances heavenward. Fire represents the soul and indicates passion. Fire is as spiritual as any physical element can be. But, mystics and bows ‘n arrows? Sounds like a bad Shidduch!

I tried my hand at archery a few Lag Baomers ago. While I tried to hit the bullseye, the defiant arrow insisted on landing lower than the target every single time.

The instructor felt sorry for me and stepped over to guide me. The secret of the arrow, he told me, “Aim higher than the target. Then, you’ll hit it”.

There it was- in the chilly dusk of an archery club- that I learned the secret of Lag Baomer. Mysticism might seem out of reach, but don’t let that stop you from trying to learn it. When you aim high, you achieve amazing results.

All of Judaism is about aiming higher than our goals. If we aim for mediocrity, we end up uninspired- and less than mediocre. When we strive for the impossible, we reach powerful spiritual targets.

After that, we stretch and aim again, and hit an even more impossible target.

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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