In many ways, Lag Ba’omer marks a day of mystery in our calendar. It commemorates
the cessation of an unidentified plague which decimated Rabbi Akiva’s students
and, according to tradition, it is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai, famed as the author of the landmark mystical text, the
On the other hand, Lag Ba’omer is a day on which clarity permeates
the fog of darkness. The traditional bonfires which will illuminate our country
become a symbol of light, reminding us of the revolt launched by Bar Kochba
against the Roman attempt to destroy our national and spiritual life. Today, as
a menacing cloud of darkness once again hangs over our freedom, Lag Ba’omer is a
timely wake-up call to tackle Iran’s threat of nuclear destruction with renewed
Like so many of our national holidays, Lag Ba’omer endures
the test of time precisely because of its timeless lessons for today. As we eat
and sing around festive campfires, many will contemplate the vision and bravery
of Bar Kochba, who launched his daring and improbable revolt in 132 CE by
cutting off the Roman garrison from Modi’in, where tunnels used by his rebels
can still be seen today.
There should be no underestimating the
significance of Bar Kochba’s three-year revolt. The rebellion’s longevity and
frequent tactical successes renders it almost unparalleled in Roman history,
compelling the Emperor Hadrian to muster half of his entire military might to
finally quell the unrest. In the face of the most powerful empire history had
known, Bar Kochba’s fighters established sovereign Jewish rule in the Land of
Israel, if only for a brief period.
Importantly, Bar Kochba waged his
spirited military campaign as a last ditch defense of Jewish national freedom.
Just 60 years previously, the Great Revolt against the Romans had ended in epic
defeat and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
When Bar Kochba
raised the banner of revolt, the Jewish people were no doubt battle weary and
all too aware of the potential cost of yet more military conflict.
such circumstances, it would perhaps have been easier to remain passive, for the
Jewish people to accept their fate.
Instead, Bar Kochba’s call to arms
spread quickly from Modi’in throughout the land.
Similarly today, we are
faced with an enemy which threatens our national existence.
Iran has been the puppet master directing Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorizing
citizens of southern and northern Israel. However, Tehran’s attempted
acquisition of nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to our country and
the security of the region.
Iran’s leaders make no attempt to hide their
goals. Just last week, the chief of staff of Iran’s army threatened, “If they do
anything wrong, there will be no Israel left on the world’s political
Last month, Iran’s supreme authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
claimed that his country would “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the
Iran continues to acquire the means of carrying out these
murderous ambitions, in spite of the West’s two-pronged campaign of sanctions
and diplomacy. New, advanced centrifuges were installed recently at the Natanz
nuclear plant while next month’s report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog is almost
certain to reveal continued Iranian nuclear development.
As a result, we
must be ready to take our cue from Bar Kochba. We, too, must be prepared to
undertake military action as a last resort. Like Bar Kochba’s fighters, Israelis
today are all too aware of the painful cost of battle. We, too, are drained by a
60-year history of conflict.
And yet, like Bar Kochba’s band of fighters,
we must be prepared to use armed force against an enemy which dwarfs us
numerically, even if we are left to do so alone.
IDF Chief of Staff
Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz recently indicated that we must be prepared for such a
scenario, saying “We will do what needs to be done” if required. We must take
heart from Bar Kochba’s battle, as not only a fight for physical freedom, but
also a moral struggle against the Hellenist ethos, which sought to replace our
Jewish beliefs with alien values.
Similarly today, Iran spearheads an
ideology of extreme Islamism, which is no less threatening to our Jewish and
democratic values. Lag Ba’omer provides an opportunity to take stock of the
historic challenges ahead.
Make no mistake, a nuclear Iran is a challenge
which threatens us all. As such, Lag Ba’omer is a fitting moment to consider its
implications. Few holidays are marked identically by religious and secular
Israelis. Some relate more closely to the piety of Rabbi Akiva and his students,
while others use the opportunity to commemorate Bar Kochba’s bravery. Yet all
gather around festive bonfires and for one day, our nation is bound by the same
powerful light of liberty.
This year, as the clock ticks toward Iran
achieving its dark ambitions, the beacon of freedom must unite us more than
If keeping that freedom alive requires armed action, then Bar
Kochba’s determined military prowess serves as our model, our
The writer is the mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim- Re’ut.
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