Friday, April 26, 2013

Lag B'omer is the new Yom Kippur

Fortunate is the eye that saw all of this

I've never made the trip to Rashbi's grave for Lag B'omer, on the grounds that I think its pointless, but taam v'reach. Many of my friends, however, make the pilgrimage every year, and their descriptions of the event have convinced me that the Meron celebration is a modern Yom Kippur. . Many the secular objectives once achieved in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur are now being met on Mount Meron.

To start with, Yom Kippur was not originally about shul or prayers. When the Temple stood, the events of the day revolved around a pageant performed by the high priest. All the individual pilgrim had to do was stand in the fresh air with his friends, and watch your supreme religious official slaughter bulls and sprinkle blood and roast meat. At certain moments, you'd all stretch on the ground in adoration or submission to God and bellow a slogan. I imagine participating as an observer was at once thrilling, and inspirational -- and probably great fun, besides. Aside from the pomp of the ceremony, there was also the unshakable conviction that this was a surefire way to win blessing and favor for yourself. This was the day of atonement, after all, a day when your fate was sealed, a day when your behavior could win sustenance and merit to last the year. And all you had to do was show up.

Now compare this with what happens in our day at Meron. Last Lag B'omer, nearly half a million Jews made the pilgrimage to Meron. The highlight of the show is the lighting of the bonfire, an event that stands in (very) rough parallel to the avoda of the High Priest. The bonfire is lit by the chief rebbe, and often he performs various gesticulations with his hands and the torches that his Hasidim find amusing. Once the pyre is lit, the music starts to play and for the next several hours the people dance.

The Meron celebration occurs in three place: In the tomb itself, at the bonfires of various Hasidic sects, and on the streets leading away from the mountain. What is the difference? Let one of my friends explain: "In the tomb its Yom Kippur; at the bonfires its Simchas Torah; everywhere else its Purim."

Some who congregate inside the tomb itself. say the entire book of Tehillim. One told me, 'Last year, I asked for a shidduch for my daughter. She was married last winter. I'm back to say thank you and to ask for more.' Another told me he believed Shimon Bar Yochai was standing on the tomb with his arms open, dispensing blessings. "All we have to do is ask", he said "And we will receive.'"

Is there another day like this in Judaism? True, most non-hasidim don't think of Lag Bomer as a day of pilgrimage, or a day in which blessings can be won, but many of the 500,000 people who travel to Meron  do see it that way. To them Lag Bomer matters, and for many of the same reasons that Yom Kippur mattered to our forefathers. The forces that bring those believers to Meron are the same forces that once drove our ancestors to to the Temple on Yom Kippur


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