By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Lag B’Omer (that is, the 33rd day of the Omer), observed today, is a minor festival… and a cheerful break from the mournful, 49-day “Sefirah” period between Passover and Shavuot.
Lag B’ Omer is also observed as the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, traditionally credited with authorship of the Zohar, the magnum opus of Jewish mysticism. Lag B’Omer bonfires are a tribute to his unique form of enlightenment… and the intensity of his spiritual passion.
More commonly, Lag B’Omer is understood to commemorate cessation of a devastating plague, which killed many thousands of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples. The plague itself is said to have come as a punishment for the lack of mutual respect and deference among students and scholars of Torah! Lag B’Omer picnics – and (cautious!) play with bows and arrows – recall this Jewish communal infighting… or, perhaps, the Bar Kochba Rebellion (132-135 CE) – which Akiba heartily supported (and in which many of his students no doubt fought).
As the COVID pandemic is being combatted (with increasingly hopeful signs of success), an ancient holiday celebrating the end of a plague is most welcome… and timely.
Like Manna from Heaven.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)