Focusing the light of Lag Ba’omer on Tehran

This year, as the clock ticks toward Iran achieving its dark ambitions, the beacon of freedom must unite us more than ever.

Lag baomer bonfire 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lag baomer bonfire 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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 Zohar.
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 determination.
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.
Under 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.
For decades, 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 map.”
Last month, Iran’s supreme authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed that his country would “raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”
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 ever.
If keeping that freedom alive requires armed action, then Bar Kochba’s determined military prowess serves as our model, our inspiration.The writer is the mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim- Re’ut.