“So powerful is the strength of peace that at a time when Israel becomes a single unity even if there is idolatry among them the Divine attribute of justice will not touch them.” (Midrash Tanchuma Shoftim 18)
In my previous post I outlined an idolatrous theme that reveals itself in some of the cultish festivities of Lag BaOmer. And I must say that I received a lot of positive feedback from it. But I also received much criticism. Some critics have labeled me as arrogant or ignorant of the true meanings behind the holiday and have expressed their own religious inspiration from attending the festivities in Meiron. And although I detest ad hominum arguments which are made generally when no logical evidence can be brought against a claim, I believe there is a very real religious and emotional attachment to something in Meiron.
The reason why responses have been so drastically polarized is because of two very different aspects in the Meiron celebrations: idolatry and unity. Both themes are part-and-parcel of these celebrations. The idolatry aspect I have discussed in my previous post (Lag BaOmer Idolatry) and it remains true and accurate in my opinion and different people have connected to my tochacha rebuke of these activities. But the second aspect of unity is just as legitimate and true.
When people responded to me with the feeling of Achdut or unity they felt being part of the throngs in Meiron, being part of a people with a purpose or even the sheer magnitude of hundreds of thousands of people together my heart instantly understood. We are one people and to experience that in a pilgrimage together to one spot is to take that to a much deeper level. Especially when that experiential knowledge leads to acts of kindness and charity which are also encouraged in the celebrations at Meiron. And as a close rabbinical figure has justly pointed out to me, the Chata”m Sofer, who I quoted extensively as anti-Meiron, has also stated that when Jews band together for even nonsensical things it is still considered a virtue because of the unity that it creates.
In the quote above, the Midrash states the unthinkable. It stated that despite outright idolatry unity is more important to God. What a powerful message! Perhaps this Midrashic teaching is precisely applicable in this scenario. Mt. Meiron may host an event that for some has become an outlet of idolatrous inclinations but from a Divine ethical standpoint the unity of the event in some ways overpowers the idolatry. This is not to say that one aspect permits the other. Unity is not an excuse for idolatry. But the positive qualities of the event in Meiron cannot be overlooked. In our days of political turmoil we need unity among our people more than ever.
But I guess that in some ways I am torn between these two imperatives. As someone involved in the Temple Mount and its important historical, religious, spiritual and social place within the State of Israel I am acutely aware of the purpose of unity that the Temple Mount is meant to create. In a lot of ways the unity of Meiron is meant to be found on the Temple Mount. The whole idea of having a centralized place of worship in Jerusalem was to prevent the splintering of the nation into factions by creating a space for all to visit. Those same themes of Achdut and charity and kindness are consistently recalled by the prophets of the Tanach and throughout Psalms when they speak of the Temple. And so on the one hand unity is something that I crave but on the other I detest the way it has been achieved.
In any case I have been witness to a paradigm shift. When I would ascend the Temple Mount close to a decade ago there were very few people with me. Ascending the mount was taken as an act of extremism by the police because of the minuscule numbers of Jews that were interested in going. And the holiest site in Judaism was abandoned. However, over the past 5 years the number of Jews visiting the site has been almost doubling every year. Today not only are there many times the amount of visitors than a decade ago but many more types of people. There are minyanim every day despite reports to the contrary (albeit in hushed voices). And this is because the police themselves no longer view those Jews visiting as hostile extremists. The Temple Mount has been changed due to a renewed interest in it. This renewed interest itself has been directly responsible for a national paradigm shift in attitudes related to the Temple Mount.
As a guide on the Temple Mount I know that people visit the site for a multitude of legitimate reasons. But whatever those reasons may be I know that the Temple Mount is well on its way to becoming what it once was: a source of unity. I just hope that the northern mountain of Meiron will not splinter people from the Judean mountain of Zion.