Friday, May 27, 2005

My take on Lag B'Omer

I can be a bit of a holiday grinch. I always get nervous about performing the various holiday practices correctly (I guess a combination of my being a baal teshuva and a neurotic perfectionist). But although I sometimes might not enjoy a particular chag, I can certainly identify with the reasons and spirit behind it.

But not Lag B'Omer - at least the way it's celebrated today.

The two main features of Lag B'Omer in Israel today are:

  • Bonfires. While when I was a kid, I enjoyed making campfires, as a parent, I found it somewhat disturbing. There isn't a great deal of concern in general for safety. But what really bothers me is where they get the wood. It's all "gathered" - which either means stolen from building lots or cut from the trees that we all put so much effort in planting. I'm sure some fires are made from dead branches, but with the amount of bonfires in the country, they have to be in the minority.
  • Meron. Meron is the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. People go there to pray. His site, along with other similar places (primarily in the Galil) are popular throughout the year for those who want to pray for financial success, health, marriage, children, etc. I have never been into visiting graves in general, but I have a particular problem with using them as a mechanism to get something. It makes God seem like a jukebox, where if you put the right coin in, you'll get want you want. I'm not a strict Leibowitzian, but this does not seem like the Judaism I believe in.

What do these two aspects have in common? They're both about taking, about what you can "get."

If there is a holiday that I identify with more, that would be the antithesis of a "taking" holiday, it would be Yom HaAtzmaut (or better yet, the two days of Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.) There we celebrate and commemorate both what God gave us (by means of hallel and thanks) and what we have given back (by building the State, and in sad cases even by soldiers giving their lives.) This shows the real convenental relationship between God and his people, and to me it makes much more religious sense.

Often the ideologies of "Religious Zionism", "Modern Orthodoxy" and "Torah V'Avoda" are described as being in the middle of a spectrum of haredim on the one side and chilonim on the other. While that may be true in some cases, here I think that I place my ideology on the side of "giving" and the opposing ideology on the side of "taking". It reminds me of the Mafdal's election slogan in 1999 - HaMafdal Noten HaNeshama L'Medina. (The Mafdal gives its soul to the State.) I think they were trying to distinguish themselves from Shas, by focusing on contributing to the State instead of seeing what you could get from it.

Perhaps Lag B'Omer can be redeemed. I'm not sure how. I know that more focus on Rabbi Akiva, and ahavta l'reiecha kamocha would help, but I don't know how that could compete with the fun of burning everything in sight. Any ideas?