Many people have a custom of throwing expensive clothing into the bonfire at Meiron, explaining that they do so in honor of the Tana R. Shimon bar Yochai. There are even testimonies of great rabbis doing so. On the other hand, some gedolim are skeptical about this practice, claiming that it has no basis and, worse, is forbidden because of the prohibition against destroying things for no reason (bal tashchit). Granted, they used to burn the clothes of a king after his death, but that was because no one else is allowed to use them, out of honor for the king. Here, however, why should we burn clothing for no reason (Sho’el U’Meishiv, fifth edition, sec. 39; Chikrei Lev, last edition, Y.D. 11)? Others try to justify the custom, saying that one transgresses the prohibition of bal tashchit only when destroying something for no reason, but if there is a purpose, like honoring Rashbi, it is permissible (Torah Lishmah, 400). Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is preferable to donate the value of the clothing to charity than to burn them in a bonfire. 1 also performed this ritual. ]
When going to pray at the gravesite of the righteous, one must be careful not to turn to them in prayer, because we are commanded to pray to God alone. Anyone who prays to a tzaddik commits a sin and is similar to one who engages in necromancy, which the Torah forbids (Devarim 18:11). Some authorities permit one to turn to a deceased tzaddik and ask him to intercede before the Exalted One on behalf of those who pray at his grave (Pri Megadim 581, Eshel Avraham 16). Others, however, prohibit this, because this too has elements of necromancy. Rather, we must direct all of our prayers exclusively to the Master of the world, without introducing any middlemen into the mix. One who is praying to God may ask Him to accept his prayers in the merit of a particular tzaddik (Maharil, Taz 581:39), because when we connect to the Torah and good deeds of a tzaddik we become better people, and in that merit we ask God to accept our prayers.
- For more on this, see HaMo’adim BeHalachah (Lag B’Omer) by R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin. Also see Tiglachat Mitzvah VeInyanei Lag B’Omer, pp. 243-48. In the same book, pp. 264-77, see Kuntras Kevod Melachim by R. Heller, Rabbi of Tzfat (Safed), who defends the custom and testifies that he heard that R. Chayim ben Attar [the Or HaChayim HaKadosh ↩