Depeche Mode, the pope and Lag Ba'omer

Rabbi Akiva's students grew apart; the bonfires of Lag Ba'omer bring us together.

By
May 11, 2009 22:58
2 minute read.
Depeche Mode, the pope and Lag Ba'omer

Lag BaOmer 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later

I have a hard time getting fired up over Lag Ba'omer. Pardon that awful pun, but if you are not an elementary school kid who has been collecting (stealing?) planks of wood since Pessah vacation for a bonfire, this quasi-holiday seems to be nothing more than a nuisance. That reminds me, I had better go close the windows so the smoke doesn't get in. Actually, Lag Ba'omer is not such a hot item this year. Pope Benedict XVI and '80s rock band Depeche Mode seem to have garnered much more media attention. To be fair, Lag Ba'omer comes every year, but the pope comes less often (his predecessor Pope John Paul II came in 2000). Depeche Mode is here for the first time (after canceling a scheduled appearance in 2006 due to the Second Lebanon War), and 50,000 fans came to their concert in Ramat Gan to show their support. Since the press will be pretty busy tailing Depeche Mode and the pope this week, Lag Ba'omer will certainly get the short end of the media's (burned) stick. But isn't Lag Ba'omer a minor holiday? Heck, if it wasn't for the festivities at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, the haircuts, the weddings, the bonfires and the fact that kids are off school for a day, we might dismiss Lag Ba'omer altogether. WE HAVE TWO historic events connected to Lag Ba'omer. Firstly, the Talmud (Yevamot 62b) states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva 24,000 of his students died from a divinely sent plague during the counting of the omer. The Talmud then goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level; they begrudged each other the spiritual levels attained by their comrades. Jews celebrate Lag Ba'Omer, the 33rd day of the count, as the traditional day that this plague ended. Secondly, kabbalistic tradition recounts that the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba'omer and that the sun miraculously refused to set until he expired, hence the hassidic tradition of candles and bonfires. Customs of mourning held during the period from Pessah to Shavuot are suspended or stopped altogether on Lag Ba'omer. But what does Lag Ba'omer mean today? Perhaps the two ideas, the mourning of Rabbi Akiva's students and the lighting of bonfires for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, are connected. Think of a bonfire. It provides warmth. It can heat food. People gather around it and sing. Everyone is attracted to a fire. A fire brings people together. Perhaps the idea of Lag Ba'omer and the lighting of bonfires is just that, to bring people together. Rabbi Akiva's students grew apart; the bonfires of Lag Ba'omer bring us together. The pope is no doubt here on a goodwill mission and I wish him well. He certainly has it in his power to bring people together, and let's hope he succeeds. Even Depeche Mode managed to bring people (50,000 of them) together for at least one night. Perhaps Depeche Mode expressed the idea behind Lag Ba'omer's togetherness best in their hit song, "People Are People": People are people So why should it be You and I should get along so awfully I can't understand What makes a man hate another man Help me understand. I think I'll go open my window now. The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

September 25, 2018
Abuse of the Nation-State Law

By SUSAN HATTIS ROLEF