Tag Archives: lag b’omer

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celebrating lag b’omer

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love and ego

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Many years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, was visiting with friends and students in Jerusalem. Word of his presence in our city soon spread among his followers, and one by one and then in small groups, people started showing up at the apartment where he was staying. Outside, the sun was setting. Inside, it was beginning to get dark. A friend went to the light switch, about to turn on the electric light. But then Shlomo said, I would prefer a candle. A candle was placed in a single candlestick and lit. The sun went down completely, and more people came. After evening prayers, Shlomo asked for more candles.

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Rabbi Shlomo singing with friends

Friends melted the base of a candle and stuck it to a little plate. More and more candles were lit and placed on shelves and on the tops of high book cases. The apartment filled with people and Shlomo encouraged them to light more candles. A few friends went out to get more candles, and soon there were more candles than could be counted. They provided a soft light that filled the room. Friends pulled guitars out, bells and drums, and other musical instruments. We told each other stories, and sang songs together. Though each particular candle offered just a modest amount of light, all of the many candles together filled the apartment with light.

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At one point, when there was a natural pause in the conversation and the music, Reb Shlomo waved his hand, signifying the many candles, he said, ‘You see, each candle is like a human soul radiating its own particular light. But when we are all together, the space is filled with light, and it is difficult to attribute this great light to any specific source’.

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This week began for me with a visit to the rose garden opposite the Knesset, our parliament here in Jerusalem. The newly elected members of parliament were trying to organize a new government. And the news media was filled with dire warnings about what might or might not happen. But now, in the height of spring, the rose garden was filled with flowers, and the sun was shining overhead, and the sky was blue.

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Yesterday was the holiday of Lag B’omer. A day dedicated to the memory of the great mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was born and married and died on this day, and taught us a mystical understanding of the light in this world. It is also a day in which we remember the struggle of our ancestors against the Romans. It is a holiday which is marked by bonfires and celebration in the middle of a very serious period of time, during which we progress from our exodus from slavery and aspire to the acceptance of enlightenment. And that is such serious work for the soul, that it is a great relief to have a day of fun and joy to offer release from our contemplation on the fact that true freedom is found only when one has a framework of values and intentional behavior.

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dancing around the bonfire

While watching the revelry around the campfires, I was reminded of Reb Shlomo’s words in praise of the candles. Let us remember the unique character of each and every human being, and value his individual contribution to our society. But remember too that the light that we generate is not held within, but is shared by all, lighting up the world around us and bringing us the warmth and happiness of love.

Lag B’Omer

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posted in the neighborhood, an invitation by a youth group to join the group in a great bonfire in honor of the holiday this evening at 7:00 p.m.

Today, Lag B’Omer according to the Jewish calendar, is a very peculiar Jewish holiday. For one thing, it is not a Sabbath type holiday, and for another, it is not mentioned in the bible. But it is certainly an important holiday, and celebrated throughout Israel. Yesterday evening, the sounds of drums made their way through our living room window, and coming to the window we peered out at the numerous bonfires in the fields between our home and the state park in the distance.

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bonfires on the eve of lag b’omer

The holiday is woven into the very fabric of the Jewish life style; it is part of Jewish consciousness, and can only be understood well, if one is knowledgeable regarding Bible, Jewish history, agriculture, mysticism, and social norms. So I will not try to explain this holiday… just to tell you a little about it from my point of view, after having warned you that there is a lot more here than I have told you. The holiday occurs in the middle or at the end of a mourning period (there are different ways of looking at this). The general period is that of the count, between Passover and Shavuoth… which is a count of 49 days. Passover celebrates the coming out of slavery, and Shavuoth celebrates the giving of the Torah, our bible, and our law. Shavuoth is also a harvest fest, and is also one of the three ‘leg’ holidays, on which Jews would come from all over the country to bring sacrifices to the holy temple.

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During the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, there was a revolt of the Jews against the Romans that failed. The leader of this revolt was Bar Kochba, who was beloved and admired by Rabbi Akiva who was a sage, and one of the shining lights of talmudic study around the time of the destruction of the temple, about two thousand years ago. During this revolt, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students were killed, and only five survived. One of these, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, is considered the greatest authority on mysticism, and this is the day of his death… a day which is not meant for mourning but for celebration.

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During this holiday, it is customary to build bonfires, and to cook potatoes in these fires; to play with bows and arrows, to sing and rejoice, and best of all, to get married. Many couples wait for this day to get married, and all over the country there are marriages with great celebrations. It is also a day in which it is customary to give the first haircut to a young boy, at the age of three. We usually don’t give a haircut to a child who is less than three years.

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There is a mountain called Meron in the Galilee, where the grave of Shimon bar Yochai is found, and 250,000 people are there celebrating today, lighting candles, and giving haircuts, and building campfires. I have visited this place myself on this holiday, and one of these days, I will publish some of my photography from the occasion. The photographs in this post are all from Jerusalem, and most are from my own neighborhood.