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Lag BaOmer- Up in Flames?

05/09/2022 03:26:43 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

Since the Middle Ages, the Jewish School Year has concluded with a hike into the woods and bonfires into the night.  Lag BaOmer certainly has religious and mystical overtones: it commemorates how Jewish learning went on despite the Roman decree of death to anyone who dared study Torah or practice Judaism.  It also marks the Hilula -- the Yahrtzeit -- of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who used the time of seclusion due to Roman tyranny to compose the great compendium of mystical knowledge, the Zohar.  

But in its practice, Lag BaOmer is scholar's holiday when the books and study benches are left for the moment so that the children and their hard-working teachers could get out, enjoy the fine spring weather and head for the hills where bonfires, songs, stories and games awaited them.  Archery is a special feature of the festivities- although the home made bows and arrows crafted by the children were not serious weapons, thank G-d!

Lag BaOmer marks learning.  As we conclude a year that began in quarantine and that concludes, not in post-pandemic as much as in determination that somehow we must find a way forward, we need to reflect.  Teaching our children is one of the central tasks of Jewish adulthood and Jewish community.  Falling on the Thirty-Third day of the Forty-Nine between Passover and Shavuot, the Holiday of the Giving of the Torah, It seems to me at this moment that the Lag BaOmer bonfire carries three messages: three for us teachers and educators, and three for our children and families. 

To our children and families, the flames say that:

1. Jewish learning, like the rising flames, must be joyful, illuminating, fun and engaging.  We must never settle for boring, uninspiring routine.  As important as goals, assessment, curricula and structure are- they are essential- there can be no learning without a sense of purpose.  Every lesson needs to include not only the what but the why: why these Hebrew letters, prayers, values, history, Mitzvot are so very important for each of us, for our community, for the world. 

2. Jewish learning, like the flames, must be constantly fed and nourished.  We cannot expect the fire to illuminate without feeding it fuel.  Our children need to hear not only from teachers but more importantly from parents.  They need to be encouraged, praised, admired and motivated to keep learning, not only in Religious School but throughout life.  Without us to feed the flames of Jewish learning, they will quickly die into ashes. 

3. Jewish learning, like the bonfires of Lag BaOmer, must be portable and flexible.  Formal classes, one on one tutoring, informal youth groups, creative age-specific worship, trips and experiential learning- all must be available and all must be taken advantage of.  We must work as a community to provide meaningful formal and informal learning but we must also work in partnership with camps, our federation, youth groups of all sorts, Hillels and more to provide the essential life and light of Jewish learning.  The stakes are too high to not do so.  

So let's enjoy the bonfires- we are having two this year!- but also, let us reflect on the three messages of the thirty-third day of the Omer: the flames are not flames of destruction but of elevation.  Like the angel that came to tell Manoach and Tzelfonit that their child would be dedicated to holy purpose and then rose into flame, the flames of Lag BaOmer must bear us ever upward.  Chag Sameach!

Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784