Lag B’Omer, 2021.
April 29th and 30th.
On April 30, Palm Beach Synagogue, Palm Beach, FL founded 27 years ago, completed its purchase of the adjoining real property.
We had a massive celebration scheduled that night..
Nearly 300 hundred people were scheduled to attend Kabbalat Shabbat in a large tent.
The Maccabeats, an a cappella group created in 2007 at Yeshiva University in New York, were scheduled to lead services and perform.
They were five young men and included an architect, a dentist, a development officer and two professional musicians.
Due to COVID, it was their first live performance in 12 months.
Yet, front and center in the midst of the celebration, was the horrific news of the deaths of 45 people crushed and asphyxiated in the Mount Meron stampede.
But Shabbat was here.
We went forward.
The next day the Maccabeats took over the bimah.
All observant, the prayers resided in their souls.
With a start, I realized that they were dressed in the same black trousers and white shirts as the boys and men who had died in Meron.
Who was this Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai anyway, I asked myself? Why does Israel risk forest fires and injuries to “celebrate” his yahrzeit?
He lived in the 1st century, C.E. and it said, rescued torah study by re-establishing yeshivas in Yavne after the destruction of the Second Temple.
He is described as a humanistic, visionary and an ultimately rational rabbi. “If you are holding sapling in your hand,” he reportedly said “and someone tells you ‘Come quickly, the Messiah is here!’ first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the Messiah”.
There were dozens of deaths in Meron, but the image that drew that greatest response was the photograph of 19 year old Donny Morris of Teaneck, NJ, who was spending his gap year studying in a yeshiva. He had a smile broad as the sun.
I am reminded of Moses’ words of comfort to Aaron after the deaths of his two sons.
“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent.” (Leviticus 10:3)
Now, is not the time for blame, finger pointing. There will be future testimonies reports and findings.
Now, is the time for comfort, reliance on shared faith and even silence.