An outside observer of human life would probably describe it something like this: They wake up in the morning, spend 16 to 18 hours using objects to manipulate other objects, and go to sleep.
On the whole, this is how we conduct our lives. When something faces us, we grab hold of something else -- a telephone, a wallet, a gun -- with which to deal with the situation.
But there comes a point at which the phone is just a piece of plastic, there's nothing to shoot at, and no matter how much money is expended, it doesn't get any better. The external resources on which we've come to rely are suddenly ineffectual, and the only place to turn is inward, to ourselves.
Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer Count that connects Passover to Shavuot, is the birthday of Jewish mysticism.
For many generations, the inner soul of Torah -- also known as the "Kabbalah" -- was transmitted from teacher to disciple in the form of cryptic maxims, in private, and only to a very few individuals in each generation. These teachings chart the sublime expanses of the divine reality, the processes of creation, G‑d's relationship to our existence and the inner recesses of the human soul. The tremendous power they contain, and their extreme subtlety, makes them extremely vulnerable to corruption. Thus, for many years it was forbidden to reveal these teachings.
The first to disseminate the teachings of Kabbalah to a wider group of disciples was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the 2nd century CE. The most significant revelation came about on the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing, on which he expounded for many hours on the most intimate secrets of the divine wisdom. That day was Lag BaOmer.
Centuries were to pass before the great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (the "Holy Ari", 1534-1572) would proclaim, "In these times, we are allowed and duty-bound to reveal this wisdom," and Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) and his disciples were to make them accessible to all via the teachings of Chassidism. But Lag BaOmer remains the day on which "Jewish mysticism" made its first emergence from the womb of secrecy and exclusivity. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai instructed his disciples to celebrate this day as a joyous festival -- and so it is marked in every Jewish community to this day.
One of the ways in which we celebrate Lag BaOmer is by taking children out to parks and fields to play with bows and arrows. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the bow-and-arrow symbolizes the power of inwardness -- the power unleashed by the mystic soul of Torah.
The first weapons devised by man were designed for hand-to-hand combat. But a person's enemy or prey is not always an arm's-length away, or even within sight. Soon the warrior and hunter felt the need for a weapon that could reach a target a great distance away, or which lies invisible and protected behind barriers of every sort.
With a bow and arrow, the tension in an arched bough of wood is exploited to propel a missile for great distances and slash through barriers. The inventor of this device first had to grasp the paradox that the deadly arrow must be pulled back toward one's own heart in order to strike the heart of the opponent, and that the more it is drawn toward oneself, the more distant an adversary it can reach.
The external body of Torah is our tool for meeting the obvious challenges of life. Do not kill or steal, it instructs us; feed the hungry, hallow your relationships with the sanctity of marriage, rest on Shabbat, eat only kosher foods -- for thus you will preserve the order that G‑d instituted in His world and develop it in accordance with the purpose towards which He created it.
But not everything is as up front as the explicit do's and don'ts of the Torah. Beyond them lie the ambiguities of intent and motive, the subtleties of love and awe, the interplay of ego and commitment; the taint of evil that shadows the most holy of endeavors, and the sparks of goodness that lie buried within the darkest reaches of creation. How are we to approach these challenges, so distant from our sensory reach and so elusive of our mind's comprehension?
This is where the mystical dimension of Torah comes in. It guides us in a retreat to our own essence, to the very core of our soul. It illuminates the selfless heart of the self, the spark of G‑dliness within us that is one with its Creator and His creation. From there we unleash the power to deal with the most distant and obscure adversary; from there we catapult our redeeming influence to the most forsaken corners of G‑d's world.