Lag BaOmer: Emerging from Isolation to Community
Lag BaOmer is a minor holiday celebrated with major fun. Bonfires and barbeques are the tradition in Israel and at TBO this year too. While I know our community
will enjoy s’mores together at the beach, we can glean deep wisdom from the holiday too. Lag BaOmer is said to be the yahrzeit of the second century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who found safety from the Romans by hiding in a cave. The Talmud (Bavli, Shabbat 33b) tells the tale of his rough re–entry into society after more than a decade of isolation.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews in the Land of Israel responded to this trauma in different ways. Some refused defeat (the story of Masada) while others conceded to life under Roman rule and adapted Jewish practices to center on prayer and learning instead of sacrifices at our central Temple. Transitioning away from trauma and an established way of life is difficult.
Shimon bar Yochai would not hold his tongue from speaking out against Roman rule and fled for safety with his colleague, Eleazar. They barricaded themselves in a cave where, miraculously, a carob tree and a spring appeared and sustained them through twelve years of total isolation. None other than Elijah the Prophet came to tell Shimon and Eleazar that the emperor was dead and they could emerge back into the world but their re–entry into society went terribly wrong. They saw a Jewish man ploughing a field, going on with his life
as though the Temple had never been destroyed! This enraged Shimon and Eleazar. They looked at this farmer with a gaze so fierce that the farmer was immediately burnt up! This prompted the Divine Voice of God to call out “go back into your cave!” They stayed in the cave for another year. When they emerged for the second time, they saw a person preparing for Shabbat with a practice that was unfamiliar to them. This time, instead of responding with rage, they recognized the practice as beautiful and offered praise.
Like Shimon bar Yochai and Eleazar, our first response to the trauma and isolation of these past two years might be anger. Outbursts of rage seem to be all around us: on airplanes, at award shows, and maybe even at work. Many of us are just starting to enjoy in–person community again. Things will feel different because our world has changed and we as individuals have changed. Let’s glean wisdom from Shimon bar Yochai and Eleazar by taking time and energy to process the big feelings that come with our transitions from isolation to community in order to embrace and enjoy the beauty in the world around us.
Rabbi Rachel Kort (she/her)