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KD Daily - Bonfires Tonight

Today is DAY THIRTY-TWO, which makes FOUR WEEKS and FOUR DAYS of the Omer.


I hope that everyone made it through the "snowstorm" with no ill effects.

At sundown tonight, we enter the thirty-third day of our Omer count from Passover to Shavuot. This day is called "Lag Ba-Omer." (In Hebrew, Lamed = 30 and Gimel = 3, so "LaG" = 33." "Lag Ba-Omer" = "33rd of the Omer").

Why is the 33rd day of the Omer special? A tradition teaches that during the Jewish revolt against Rome in the 2nd century CE, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died from a plague. For that reason, many Jews observe the Omer as a period of mourning—haircuts and shaving are forbidden; there are no weddings or celebrations. A Medieval Talmud commentary teaches that the plague ended on Lag Ba-Omer, and so on that day, the mourning restrictions are lifted. Barbershops and wedding venues are booked solid!

Aside from our natural connection this year to a Jewish holiday celebrating the day a plague lifted, we could use the release of Lag Ba-Omer. It cannot be a day of lifting all the restrictions we've been living under, but it can still be a day of intentional lightness and celebration (and maybe cookouts and home haircuts).

We'll have more to say about this tomorrow, but now is a good time to think about whether there is a Lag Ba-Omer observance that might be meaningful to you.

May this be a good and healthy week for all of us and our loved ones.

Shavua Tov,

Rabbi Noah


Torah for Today

Rabbi Noah

Bonfires on Lag Ba-Omer

One story: Lag Ba-Omer is the yahrzeit of Shimon bar Yochai, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and author of the Zohar, the main work of Kabbalah/Jewish mysticism. In honor of the great light of truth Shimon bar Yochai brought into the world, some will light bonfires tonight. This custom is especially popular in Israel, with the largest bonfires being lit at Shimon bar Yochai's tomb in Meron. In an ordinary year, tens of thousands would gather tonight in Meron for a 24-hour celebration. This year, of course, those gatherings are mostly prohibited. (We'll see how many people are fined/arrested for defying the ban.)

Another story: On the day Shimon bar Yochai would die, he had not yet finished dictating all of the Zohar. And so the sun stopped in the sky, so that Shimon bar Yochai could complete his work. The bonfires at sunset on Lag Ba-Omer brighten the early evening sky, extending the day and reminding us of that miracle.

Between these two stories, I prefer the second. We can all relate to the feeling that the sun is setting, while there is much we have left to do. Perhaps we all harbor the fantasy that the world could simply freeze in place, while we complete our tasks. But we are not like the legendary Shimon bar Yochai, and the world does not bend itself to our needs. Instead, we must learn to live in and with the world.

This need not be distressing. Sometimes the sun sets before we have done all that we planned. In which case we remember the words of Pirkei Avot," "Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor... It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it" (2:16).

And yet, of course, we can always struggle to find a bit more light, a bit more time. The bonfires of Lag Ba'Omer joyfully hold out hope that through our collective will, we can hold off the dark, at least a bit longer.


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