The fire shall always be burning on the Altar; It shall never go out. (Vayikra 6:)
It’s Log B’Omer and everyone is seeking out a bonfire. What’s the attraction? What’s the lure? What’s the big deal? I hope that doesn’t sound too irreverent, but it may be worth the while to plumb the depths of this peculiar national phenomena.
We all know that Log B’Omer is the Yahrzeit of the Tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was one of the five students through whom Rabbi Akiva was able to build back what was tragically lost when 24,000 of his students perished. Rabbi Shimon is also the repository for and the main transmitter of the Zohar/Kabbalah. Why is that relevant? I don’t know if I can explain the Zohar but I know that I am not qualified to explain either.
This may be the height of spiritual temerity but I am going to try a little bit in a language and a way that makes sense to me and may make sense to others as well.
Zohar offers the deepest look at life. We may scan, let us say, a country scene and observe trees and birds and people, rocks, and clouds and ponds, but there is more there than meets the eye, and we know it. I held up for a class the other day a picture of the periodic table of elements. I declared confidently, “You and me and everything about us in this universe consists of what’s found here and there is nothing else.” There is no doubt that this is 100% true. These are the building blocks, the chemistry set that makes up everything in the world.
Then I held up a copy of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Beis, the Holy Language, as they appear in a Sefer Torah. I confidently declared again, “You and me and everything about us in this universe consists of what’s found here and there is nothing else.”
Now, that statement requires an explanation, a support. I followed up with a quote from Sefer Yetzira, one of the oldest and most mystical books in existence, that may have been authored by Avraham Avinu.
It says, Twenty-two Foundation Letters: He engraved them. He carved them. He permuted them. He weighed them. He transformed them. And with them, He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed.” It sounds an awful lot like we are talking about the periodic table of elements, doesn’t it.
Now, how can we easily show that this world is really a model of incredible oneness? Every atom listed on that periodic table of elements, although different and many ways, appearance, size, function, you name it, is really made up of the exact same stuff. The nucleus may be composed of more or less protons and neutrons, and electrons are orbiting at various valences around but it is all a combo platter of the same ingredients. If you happen to split open any of those magical machines, whether it’s the lightest like hydrogen or the heaviest like plutonium then out will come rushing oceans of sublime energy, a giant fire.
The mystical tradition tells us that HASHEM created the world with the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Beis and in those letters is invested oceans of endlessly sublime “energy”, fire! Now that country scene is beginning to look alive in a new and different light entirely. A fire is a spontaneous revelation of the profound energy embedded in what seems like inert matter. From a few sticks of dead wood, a huge fire is born.
One of my teachers told us that “life is a self-portrait.” What we see and experience outside of ourselves tells us more about what is going on, on the inside. So, while we observe and study a bonfire and notice how the fire is dancing and raging and reaching with desperation to go back to its source, it ignites, and arouses, and reveals something essential and holy about us.
Since HASHEM breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of man, there, buried deep inside, waiting to be revealed, and it is on Log B’Omer, is the essential unifying point of the Jewish People as a Nation of HASHEM and our unique connection through the fire within.