by Yair Danielsohn
What lies behind this enigmatic festival? And why the bonfires?
In Israel, months before the advent of the festival of Lag B’Omer — the 33rd day of the Omer, the 49 days that bridge between Passover and Shavuot — one can see youngsters dragging all types of
combustibles, from fallen trees to broken chairs to old mattresses. Their destination? The nearest empty lot, where they pile their treasured possessions to impossible heights and wait with eager anticipation until the night of Lag B’Omer, arguably their favorite time of year, when they turn the piles into enormous conflagrations. Ask anyone what the bonfires are for, and you’ll be told they are in celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a great sage who lived and taught approximately half a century after the destruction of the second TempleSome Background
The first 33 days of the Omer are observed as a period of mourning. We do not take haircuts, perform weddings, or listen to music. What’s the mourning all about?
Rabbi Akiva, the towering sage of the Mishna, exerted a powerful influence on the Torah scholars of his day, to the point that he had 24,000 disciples. Great as the members of this group was, they had one short-coming: They failed to show proper love and respect for one another. The tragic consequence of this shortcoming was a brief but cataclysmic epidemic that claimed the lives of these students – all 24,000 of them. The period during which the epidemic took place was none other than the first 32 days of the Omer
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