A bonfire seen on Lag Ba'omer.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
While in the midst of trying to come up with a dynamite PR pitch for a client, promoting some new app developed by smart young Israelis that they are sure will take the world by storm, I am suddenly distracted. It is the sound of kids rushing by with “borrowed” shopping carts full of wood, screaming in delight. Soon the smell of bonfire smoke fills the air.
Lag Ba’omer is here again.
As I get up and shut the window, I wonder what all the fuss is about. Lag Ba’omer is a minor festival, not even biblical. So why does everyone in Israel get so “fired up” for Lag Ba’omer? I start thinking back to my Hebrew school days when Lag Ba’omer meant picnics, sports and fun. I remember the basic facts, the two main historical 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. Also customs of mourning held during the period from Passover to Shavuot are suspended or stopped altogether on Lag Ba’omer.
But what does Lag Ba’omer mean today? In other words, as we constantly ask ourselves at work regarding any PR story, “What’s the pitch?” Perhaps the two ideas, the mourning for 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. 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.
It’s odd, but in today’s technology-driven age although we are more connected to each other than ever before thanks to technology, we seem to be getting more disconnected to the people immediately around us. How often have you seen two people sitting together at a cafe but instead of talking to each other each is engrossed in texting someone else via their mobile phone? Is this what technology has driven us to? Kids today seem to be a lot more connected with someone they are communicating with virtually than those they are physically in the presence of.
So on Lag Ba’omer, for one night a year, we put away our mobile phones and laptops (which are not safe to have around a bonfire anyway) and relate to one another as human beings. Now that’s a pitch for Lag Ba’omer we can all get behind.
I think I’ll go open my window now.
The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University and works in public relations for Blonde 2.0.