Most years I send out a letter to you after Lag B’Omer. The reason for the timing is that once I am safely back in Har Nof, it is so cathartic to share the craziness of Meiron. You have to be nuts to go there (together with the rest of the quarter of a million people who share the experience) and even crazier to skip it and miss the spiritual high that stays with you till next time. This year I am writing you way before I get on the bus. The reason is that it seems to me that the desire to be there is also significant, and is something that I want to share with you.
If we are not prophets, we are the sons of prophets, the Talmud tells us. There is a spark of awareness of what Hashem wants from us that is part of the collective consciousness of on Jewish people. Arguably it is for this reason that many heretical attempts to redefine who we are and what we are meant to do as a people flower and then fade. No one today thinks about the Kararites, Frankists, or Shabbteans. Most of you don’t know who they are, but they shook the Jewish world to their core in their time. In fact, I imagine that the only heresy that most of you have heard of is one centering on the life of the Nazarene. The most recent heresies, Reform and Conservative Judaism are becoming less and less relevant as they morph (at least to young people according to the Pew stats) into a more generalized admixture of religion and liberalism.
Lag B’Omer has sticking power. It somehow has made it as a minor festivity that touches so many people.
In spite of my intentions, Lag B’Omer has come and gone. I am finishing the letter that I started last week on the day after Lag B’Omer. It was, as always a riotous moving mosaic of people, free food and unending music and intense prayer. There are always changes. This year, one of the chessed organizations that take care of, Shimon’s guests had two tents set up in Megiddo where the Egged busses stop to give the passengers a break. There were bins of almost any kind of soft drink you can imagine, another bin of water bottles, six very large tables set with boxes of cookies, crackers, in a huge array of flavors and sizes. Needless to say there was music. Before I knew it, the assigned ten minute break was over, and the bus took us onward to Meiron. The feeling was a mixture of being in another world and at the same time on the way to a place that is very much a parcel of this world with all its spectrum of human nobility and fragility on display simultaneously. The pushing and crowding could easily take up the screen as could the residue of a quarter of a million people having lunch/supper and fast food in a limited area in which no one seems to have had much of a plan for garbage disposal.
Alternatively you could focus on the volunteers giving our endless portions of food (one of my daughters in laws is with Yad Ezra and could get a doctorate in kindness. Her desire is to make the people who want to come to Meiron happy. They are there to celebrate Rabi Shimon’s next elevation, and to relate to his statement “Come to me on my hilulah (festival or wedding-in this case his return to Hashem), just come with joy”. You can then turn your inner eye to the passion of the tefillos that you see wherever you look.
The way back (as always) was an experience. Everyone wants to get home, and it takes time for the buses to get the thousands of people on in an orderly way. I have to really commend Egged this year. They divided the parking area into 6 clearly marked terminals, each one servicing a particular area of the country. Yerushalaim and Bnei Brak shared a terminal. For reasons that I can’t figure, the Bnei Brakers got on the bus in a fairly civilized manner, while the Yerushalaim folks treated each bus like it was the last chopper out of Hanoi (for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, there was an iconic shot of someone holding desperately on to the helicopters blades as it rose into the air). There was a particular lady in her thirties with long flowing hair and a voice that would guarantee her a career in the opera. She kept on threatening the security guards with mayhem and legal action…It was especially ironic because I did notice that between the busses (which came at intervals of about two minutes apart) one of the security guards subtly opened the gate a trifle for the elderly and people with young babies, and everyone understood. He got the brunt of her fury, and didn’t answer or look particularly disturbed. It was clearly all part of the job.
The nachas Rabi Shimon must have from all of us can been understood when you read one of his famous sayings: “The Jews are the children of kings”. You can be an awful child, an unfaithful child, a destructive child, but you will always be your parent’s child….There is something in us that Hashem had in mind when He called us His children. This never changes. You can’t “divorce” a child. Even a Jew who is so alienated that you can’t drink his wine, or use it for Kiddush, is still Hashem’s child.