It was eerie to study yesterday’s daf in Tractacte Yoma, 21. The Rabbis grapple with how it was that so many thousands of worshippers were able to squeeze into the area of the Beit Hamikdash – עומדין צפופין they were standing very close together, with hardly any room to breathe, let alone move. Yet, there was room for them to prostrate themselves.
And no one complained- ולא אמר אדם לחברו…צר לי שאלין בירושלים And no man said to his fellow ‘The place is cramped for me to stay in Jerusalem overnight’.
The Rabbis point out that many miracles happened during the time of the first temple. However, 5 important things were missing from the 2nd temple:
- The ark/ keruvim;
- The incense;
- The Fire;
- God’s presence;
- The Urim V’Tumim.
And when the 2nd Temple was destroyed, we were left on our own. We could no longer expect or depend upon miracles. We as a people needed to grow up and make responsible decisions. Sadly, the refrains, יהיה בסדר and God will provide, were ingrained in our psyche.
So why would we expect the Lag B’Omer celebration to be observed any differently than how it was on Thursday night?
Traditionally, Lag BaOmer is the date of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who lived during the 2nd century CE. Shimon bar Yochai’s admired personality, “knowledge of miracles” (Me’ilah, 17:72), solitude and years of seclusion, made him – since the era of Geonim – a mystical figure, with messianic and apocalyptic undertones. For example, when the Zohar was publicized in the 13th century, kabbalists ascribed it to Shimon bar Yochai.
An early tradition determined the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son in Meron. Since the 16th century, according to traditions first noted by the Ari and his disciples, the kabbalists of Safed, Lag B’Omer is marked as his day of passing.
Evidence from the mid-18th century describes the ascension to Shimon bar Yochai’s tomb in Meron on Lag B’Omer. It was at that time that the tradition adopted by Sephardic and Hassidic followers to go up to the mountain. The festivities (“Hilula”) at his burial place developed over time to a mass ascension to the tomb. On the night of the festivities, it is customary to study Kabbalah and the Zohar, read from the book of Psalms and to study all night (“Tikkun”).
Over the years, however, people have lost sight of the true meaning of Lag B’Omer. It has become more of the “place to be ” and which Admor (Rebbe) has more money, which would allow him to be the first to light the bonfire. The meaning behind the marking of the date as a time of reflection and study has been lost.
It is most unfortunate that it took this tragedy for the wakeup call. Since coming on aliya 28 years ago, not a Lag B’omer has gone by without discussion of the safety- whether the air quality due to bonfires or the overcrowding at Har Meron. Like everything else that seems to happen here, there is a lot of talk and no action. For our Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who was there, to say- I take responsibility but responsibility does not mean blame- is insulting to the victims of the tragedy and to all of the citizens. As an elected official, he must take full responsibility and move this investigation forward to avoid future tragedies.
We are well past the time of miracles in the Beit Hamikdash- time to face reality.