It feels funny telling people that Lag b’Omer is my favorite holiday. I mean, officially it’s not even a holiday at all. It has no ‘halachos’, other than not saying tachanun, and it doesn’t even have the traditional signature foods that give the Yomim Tovim so much flavor. But, what can I say? There’s just something about the day that seems to lift me higher than any other.
It hasn’t always been that way. For many years I let the day pass, if not unnoticed, then certainly uninspired by. In fact during the short time that we lived in Tsfas, a mere hop, skip, and jump from Har (Mt.) Meron and the kever of the holy Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, I hardly ever visited the place and would even (I’m ashamed to admit it) suffice with a little wave across the valley to the gathering throngs on that special day. It was only years later, when traveling to Meron for Lag b’Omer became a half-day, rather than half-hour venture, did I get bitten by the ‘bug’.
My ‘conversion’ could have something to do with the couple of miracles I experienced there. One miracle was that I didn’t lose my glasses. Now before you scoff, let me explain. If any of you have ever been to Meron on Lag b’Omer you will know that if a dictionary wanted to illustrate a definition of ‘meandering, festive mob’ it would simply include a snapshot of an aerial view. That year I’d been sort of hanging out with a Chassidic group that had rented one of those ubiquitous, off-to-the-side-of-the-path, chain link fenced-in enclaves as a home base. Me, being me, decided to break off from the scheduled, fenced-in activities early on to make my way toward the tziun alone. I’ll spare you the gory, er, glorious details of my march, but l’maaseh, I made it there and back in one piece. Returning to the safe and tznius all-men’s camp from which I’d come, I reached to pull my glasses out of my jacket pocket where I’d tucked them, in what seemed like a spiritually wise move in those hoary days before the gender separated ‘derech mehadrin’. The only problem was that my pocket was bare.
After frantically searching every possible hiding place in my wardrobe and side pack, I came to the inescapable and thoroughly glum conclusion that they had fallen (or more likely been jostled) out somewhere along the way. Now, besides the monetary loss, which for me would be considerable, you have to understand that I’ve been blessed with wonderful, 20/20 vision…of anything within a foot of my face. After that, as they say, it all becomes a blur. While this physiological fact served me well on my just completed trek, it would not serve me well as I tried to function throughout the long, variegated day ahead of me on unfamiliar turf.
Left with little choice, I made a desperate one. I would simply retrace my steps and look for them. Right.
Truth be told, this was not ‘peak’ hour on the mountain and you could still move along the paved trail and maintain some modicum of personal space, or at least what would be considered so in central Calcutta. So I set off on my ‘myopic mystery tour’ filled less with hope than hubris and only fortified by the knowledge that I had originally doffed my glasses in an attempt to serve G-d, and therefore might warrant some heavenly assistance.
Eventually, I reached the row of charming, portable ‘rest rooms’ where I had detoured the first time around, and now deemed a likely ‘drop off’ point. But my search there came up empty. A more rational sort would have simply given up at this point, groped his way back down to home base and sat out the rest of the day with his face in a sefer. But by now I was too committed to my ‘vision quest’ to back down. Estimating where I’d previously headed after my ‘rest stop’ I took about a dozen steps down a side trail and said to myself wistfully, but with a strange conviction, “You know, my glasses could have fallen out right here.” Squatting down, as of course I couldn’t scan anywhere near ground level from my towering 5’9” perch, I gingerly grazed my hand over the grassy curb…and found, or I should say felt pay dirt. My glasses were right there! I am not making this up.
My second Lag b’Omer miracle was actually more of a revelation. This time I’d traveled Lag b’Omer eve on a chartered bus with a group of students and staff from Yeshiva Lev Yisrael, then of Ramat Beit Shemesh, where I was at the time employed. We’d nestled into an off-road alcove which afforded a remote yet relevant bird’s eye view of the goings on and gathered to daven maariv b’zman—just at nightfall. Maybe I was inspired by the moment, the chevra, and the rarefied surroundings—or more likely I was just too tired from the trip to get the words out fast—but my shemoneh-esrei prayer took much longer than planned and while I was still going strong, not only had the minyan dispersed, but the valley below had erupted in super-amplified music to usher in the ceremonial bonfires about to be lit.
Of course, one is not supposed to be paying attention to one’s surroundings during tefilla and I wish I could simply attribute my wandering thoughts to the unusual decibel level…halevai. But as I focused in on the music between shuckles, I realized I was not listening to just one concert below me, but two. To the left blared the unmistakable boisterous yet bittersweet strains of Chassidic klezmer, while to the right beat the hyper-energized yet tightly orchestrated sound of a Sephardic Celebration. And I was right in the middle.
Although this impromptu stereophonic soundstage had all the ingredients of a cultural cacophony, amazingly, mysteriously the vastly different musical offerings began to blend, to weave together in my mind. I cannot properly describe it now, but somehow the two streams of music fused into one; East meeting West in perfect, preternatural harmony. I could literally no longer tell songs-become-song apart and all I could think of was that I had been somehow zoche to hear a prelude to the music of Moshiach.
Of course Lag b’Omer, the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, is inextricably linked to the Zohar and kabala. I’ve heard the day described as the ‘Shavuos of the hidden torah.’ And while I know very little about kabala (despite passing ‘official’ age, with change to spare), an idea I’ve heard is that one way, generally speaking, that ‘hidden’ Torah is distinguished from ‘revealed’ Torah is that while the latter, gemara, halacha, etc, focuses very much on ‘birrur’ or ‘contrasting’, finding the subtle differences between two ostensibly similar acts of events, hidden, ‘penimius’ Torah, which has been called ‘the science of parallels’, seeks to ‘compare’, finding the commonalities that exist within apparently divergent phenomena. With that in mind, the hidden unity-song of Clal Yisrael I heard on Har Meron makes perfect sense!