The Problem With Lag Ba’Omer, and the Opportunity It Presents
The extra-biblical holiday that is characterized by large bonfires is problematic for Jewish believers, but also opens a door
Usually, Messianic Jews and Orthodox Jews are united in celebrating Israel’s religious holidays, as both groups affirm God’s appointed times. But Lag Ba’Omer, which was marked on Wednesday night and throughout Thursday, is a dividing line between those who walk in the light, and those who walk in darkness here in the Promised Land.
The official website of the Chabad Hassidim describes Lag Ba’Omer thus:
“Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count—this year, May 23, 2019—is a festive day on the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated with outings (on which children traditionally play with bows and arrows), bonfires, parades and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day.
“…Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century of the Common Era, was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah, and is the author of the classic text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as ‘the day of my joy.'”
The traditions of Lag Ba’Omer, and all that relates to the celebration and pilgrimage to the tombs of the righteous, contradict not only the Bible, but also the Jewish traditions, the Talmud, and even the rulings of today’s rabbis.
Rabbi Pachter wrote in an article for the Ynet news portal: “How did the day of the death of a tzaddik, of which it is said, ‘the death of the righteous is as difficult as the destruction of the Temple,’ how did this become a day of joy and celebration? How does the tomb, the most impure place under Jewish law, become a place of holiness, and how does the prohibition to consult with the dead not bother the masses of the House of Israel [when they see crowds] praying to the dead tzaddikim instead of to God?”
Making things more controversial this time around, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who was convicted of serious sexual offenses, lit a bonfire during the evening Lag Ba’Omer ceremony on Mount Meron, where Bar Yochai is buried, despite protests from the religious public ahead of the anticipated event.
Hundreds of paramedics were dispatched to Mount Meron, where 231 people had to be treated for burns, dehydration and smoke inhalation. Twenty-six people were evacuated to Ziv Hospital in nearby Safed. Many more injuries were suffered at Lag Ba’Omer celebrations throughout the country.
Said customs have a great deal of interest not only among the religious community, but also among the traditional community (the mesoratiim). Pilgrimage to tombs and reverence of the dead that often crosses the line into worship is, in fact, very common in Israel, and isn’t limited to Lag Ba’Omer.
But these days, as troubling as they are, can serve as opportunities for evangelism, as believers in Yeshua can point Jews away from the light of the bonfire, and toward the light of Christ and biblical truth.