Unity in Fire

3 weeks ago Emilio Chayo 0

Lag B’omer: what’s your deal? You confuse me. You’re sandwiched in the middle of two very important holidays, Pesach and Shavuot. You are a mystery. You’re celebrated with the lighting of a fire. Why? I know why we eat matzah on Passover, I know why we eat oily food when Chanukah rolls around: These make sense. Why is fire the landmark symbol for Lag B’omer?

 

And, why do we celebrate Lag B’omer in the first place?!

 

Long before the time of the computer, before Newton published his law on motion and gravity, around the year 3887 (we are now in the year 5778 in the Hebrew calendar), Rabbi Akiva was the prominent Torah teacher and scholar of his time. He was the rabbi responsible for bringing the most of Torah knowledge we have today to the public. He was also famously known for  having more than 24,000 students.

 

As impressive as that number of students sounds, all of them had one shortcoming: They failed to show love and respect for one another. There was no unity amongst them. This issue was the cause of a great epidemic that lasted the first thirty-two days of the Omer (the forty-nine days in between Passover and Shavuot), which resulted on the deaths of most of the 24,000 students. Ever since then, the first thirty-two days of the Omer have been days of mourning, not only because of the lives of the students lost, but also because of all the Torah that was lost with them.

 

The Torah we know and have today all comes from the only survivor students of the epidemic. While it is true that most of what we know today is more than one could learn in a lifetime, the Torah we know today is not complete. This means that there are points when the Torah knowledge we have at our disposal doesn’t explain things to their fullest extent, meaning a lack of knowledge is present. This might have not had happened if we had the 24,000 perspectives of the students lost, and that’s why we mourn, because of all the dimensions of Torah that never got to be recovered.

 

If there is something that we can learn from this tragedy, it’s that unity is key. The five students that survived would never have survived if there was no unity between them. A fire can’t thrive without a perfect unity between oxygen, the heat and the fuel; similarly, we cannot thrive unless we are united. We must recall that the Torah was not given to an individual, but to the Jewish nation as a whole; the fire in Lag B’omer is a needed reminder of this.

 

Actions do speak louder than words, and actions are exactly what we are doing. Be it by following traditions specific to the holiday (such as eating an apple dipped in honey) or following the Shabbat tradition of your family, we are all uniting ourselves, in an unbreakable and limitless web, which connect us all as Jews in the twentieth century.