4/29/2010

A Terrible Irony of Lag Ba-Omer

On the eve of Shabbat before sunset [R. Shimon b. Yochai and his son, R. Eliezer] saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at twilight. What are these for?' they asked him. 'They are in honor of Shabbat,' he replied. 'But one should suffice you'? — One is for 'Zachor (Commemorate)' and one for 'Shamor (Observe).' Said he to his son, 'See how precious the commandments are to Israel.' Thereupon their minds were put at ease. (Shabbat 33b- see here and here)
The incredible irony, of course, is the massive amount of Chillul Shabbat that will take place this weekend as people get their bonfires started in the middle of the afternoon. I once was ambivalent about this kind of expression of Israeli culture - on one hand, some observances are incredibly widespread, and on the other, they tend to have the cultural currency of a Christmas tree. Simply stated, we Jews are the goyim in Israel, and national holidays are watered down (and occasionally secularized) versions of the original religious holiday (except when the opposite is true, such as on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, which is a whole other ball of wax). I truly believe that Mordechai Kaplan would see the modern State of Israel as the embodiment of his dreams. Whatever tolerance I have for these phenomena goes out the window when the Chillul is caused by a recently invented holiday like Lag Ba-Omer. It should be pushed off the same way that Yom Ha-Atzma'ut is pushed off to avoid Chillul Shabbat. I tend to think that Rashbi, whose mind was eased by Jews observing Shabbat, would prefer it that way.
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