A Log on the Fire for “Lag B’Omer”
What’s the purpose of religious holidays? Social historians say that holidays take us out of our mundane daily existence providing time for reflection, remembering significant events and reinforcing key values. For those who don’t observe a particular religion, there are nonetheless “civic” holidays like Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Memorial Day and Super Bowl Sunday that fulfill a similar function as religious holidays.
This coming Thursday is the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer. It is a holiday little known by most American Jews that occurs on the thirty-third day of the forty-nine day period between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. As the holiday is not Biblical in origin, there are no particular rituals associated with the day, and the actual origin of the holiday is somewhat obscure. Most scholars tie it to the time of Rabbi Akiva, a scholar and teacher who lived approximately during the years of 50–135. The understanding is that his students had been dying from a plague, and on the 33rdday (between Passover and Shavuot) the plague ceased. Some scholars interpret “the plague” as reference to Roman occupation of Jewish lands, and they attribute the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students to their resistance of the Roman legions perhaps in the Bar Kochba revolt in 132–135. There are also mystical interpretations of the holiday’s origin.
Whatever the origin, it is appropriate to reflect and to set aside a day between the time when Jews were freed from slavery (marked by Passover) and the time when those former slaves accepted the mantle of peoplehood with the receipt of the Torah (marked by Shavuot). These holidays – Passover, Shavuot and Lag B’Omer - remind us of the importance of freedom and of the transformative work required by each of us when moving actually and figuratively from slavery to freedom.
In Israel Lag B’Omer is a national holiday and it is celebrated with bonfires, barbecues and picnics. Our campus will once again hold a large Lag B’Omer festival this Thursday evening – complete with picnic food, campfires, and music. I hope to see you all there. To register, go to pjcc.org/lagbomer.
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