The exact origin of the holiday of Lag B’Omer is anything but exact. There are a number of suggestions as to why the day is celebrated throughout Am Yisrael as a day of joy. Some propose that Lag B’Omer was the day that the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. Others point to this day as the day that Torah was essentially saved by Rabbi Akiva when he gave semicha, ordination, to five young students who were not devoured along with the thousands of others. Yet a third opinion points to one of those later students, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and claims that this day is commemorated on his account.
Whatever the source of the celebration, there is one custom which seems to have become the symbol of the day. Although it is not prevalent locally, lighting a bonfire in honor of Lag B’Omer is widespread in Medinat Yisrael, where you can find numerous bonfires in almost every neighborhood. As darkness descends in Israel, the flames light up the sky with their glow, and you can hear the people singing the songs of Lag B’Omer late into the night.
Trying to search for the source of this practice, we are once again confronted with numerous explanations. However, there is one idea in particular that I find meaningful: a bonfire, a large, raging blaze, is created when you take many small twigs, branches, and sticks, and bring them together into one large pile. When jointly lit, the light and warmth given off by the bonfire is much greater than the light and warmth exuded by the single pieces, even if they had been placed in close proximity to another. By coming together as one unit, the sum of ithe accomplishment is much more substantial.
This lesson is vital for the continuous success of the Jewish People during the darkness of Exile. By joining together in acts of chesed, tzedaka, Torah and tefilla, we merit the light of our collective flame, our bonfire, growing brighter and stronger.
Have a great Shabbbos.
P.S. We are looking for sponsors for Shavuos night shiurim (in memory of a loved one, for a yahrtzeit, etc.), and volunteers to help with the preparation and serving of refreshments on Shavuos night. If interested and able, please contact me as soon as possible. Thanks so much!