By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
One of the more mysterious associations with Lag Ba’omer is that of the “Chai Rottel” segula. Chai Rottel is a liquid measurement of about 54 liters, referring to the amount of beverages, including wine and spirits, that one should provide for visitors to Meron on Lag Ba’omer.
It is believed that one who donates this “Chai Rottel” amount of refreshments will be blessed with all forms of miraculous salvations. The source for the Chai Rottel segula apparently originates with Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam of Bobov who writes in 1912: “I heard from the holy sages of Eretz Yisrael that they have a tradition that barren women, God-forbid, should donate Chai Rottel on the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.” It is also written in the work “Tel Yerushalayim” in the name of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Hornstein about two childless couples who were finally blessed with a child after they supplied “Chai Rottel” in Meron on Lag Ba’omer.
The custom of playing with bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer is said to derive from the verse: “And the sons of Ulam were mighty men of valor, shooters of bows (archers), and had many sons, and sons’ sons.” Based on this verse, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that playing with bows and arrows is a segula for having children.
It is explained that playing with bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer recalls that during the lifetime of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai no rainbow was ever seen in the sky. This is because the rainbow, which represents God’s protection over the world, would have been superfluous, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai served this purpose instead. So too, the Hebrew word for bow, “keshet” is the same gematria as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Another reason offered for the bows and arrows custom is in order to recall the Roman decree which prohibited all Torah study. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students would trek to the forests equipped with their bows and arrows in order to study Torah there. When confronted by the Roman policeman as to what they were doing in the forest they would answer that they were simply on a hunting trip. Similarly, the military nature of bows and arrows is intended to recall the revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E. This revolt was led by Rabbi Akiva who was the primary teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the bow and arrow represents a person’s diligence and success in Torah study. The archer knows that the further he desires his arrow to reach, the more he must draw the string inward towards himself. The more he bends it, the further and faster the arrow will fly. So it is with Torah study. The more time and effort one invests in Torah study, the more one will succeed and “go far”. The Rebbe also notes that the archer positions the bow and arrow close to his heart. Likewise, one must ensure that Torah study always remains close to one’s heart.
Legend has it that the Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi of Startin, would go to the forest with his Chassidim to shoot bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer. It is said that on one such occasion he shot an arrow in the direction of Vienna. This arrow made its way to the royal palace and pierced the heart of a known enemy of the Jews who was heir to the Austrian throne. This evidently saved the Jewish people from many evil decrees and hardships.