Nothing but Confusion in Postponing Lag Ba’omer Bonfires

The rabbis' decision to reschedule the fires to Sunday afternoon, of all times, reflects not only bad judgment but bad leadership.

Young scavengers have spent days scouting our neighborhoods, parks and trashcans for any combustible fuel for their bonfires, for Saturday night was Lag Ba’omer. Or was it?

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel issued what it called a “Holy proclamation” calling upon the “entirety of the house of Israel” to fulfill the custom of Lag Ba’omer bonfires on Sunday night, apparently in order to avoid Shabbat being desecrated as youngsters prepared for a Saturday night affair. Or at least that is what I was led to believe from the popular press.

But a glance at the rabbinate’s Web page revealed that the actual call was to light the customary bonfire on Sunday afternoon, begging the simple question of “Who in their right mind lights a bonfire during the day?”

Of course it is clear why the rabbis chose Sunday afternoon. I mean, isn’t Sunday night Lad Ba’omer (the 34th day of the counting of the Omer)? We should note that celebrations are usually prohibited by Jewish law during this season, with Lag Ba’omer being the exception. But of course that depends which tradition you belong to, as there are those who do not allow celebrations until right after Lag Ba’omer, in which case the misrepresented Sunday night bonfire makes perfect sense.

But wait, it gets even better. Our esteemed rabbis also entreated the Education Ministry, securing a second vacation day for our kids on Monday morning, in addition to Sunday. Of course the only reason Sunday is a vacation day is because kids are up all night at their bonfires. I remember the classrooms being empty on Lag Ba’omer when I was a kid. Obviously the system got fed up at one point and just gave the day off. This year, we have two days’ vacation, which leads to even more confusion as to when we are going to light up the night.

The main event took place in Meron, where we were told that the first fire would still to be lit Saturday night. I heard of many people heading up there on Friday, obviously assuming that Lag Ba’omer would be business as usual.

This drama highlights the absence of true religious leadership in our time. True leadership requires an attunement to the populace, an ability to measure the results of a decision or statement, a connectedness that comes from being embedded in the people.

The decision to postpone Lag Ba’omer bonfires, however, reflects not only a failure of judgment but also a loss of touch with reality. A failure of judgment in that preparations for Lag Ba'omer did not have to be done during Shabbat in order to light the bonfires on Saturday night; we had the entire week to prepare. And a loss of touch with reality in that there is no way children - let alone working adults - would light bonfires during the day, and thus, instead, they would end up marking Lag Ba'omer on Lad Ba'omer.

This story brings to mind the simple and sharp commentary on leadership in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, “The Little Prince”.

"Ah! Here is a subject," exclaimed the king, when he saw the little prince coming. And the little prince asked himself, "How could he recognize me when he had never seen me before?" He did not know how the world is simplified for kings. “To them, all men are subjects.”

"It is contrary to etiquette to yawn in the presence of a king," the monarch said to him. "I forbid you to do so."

"I can't help it. I can't stop myself," replied the little prince, thoroughly embarrassed. "I have come on a long journey, and I have had no sleep."

"Ah, then," the king said. "I order you to yawn. It is years since I have seen anyone yawning. Yawns, to me, are objects of curiosity. Come, now! Yawn again! It is an order."

"That frightens me... I cannot, any more,” murmured the little prince, now completely abashed.

"Hum! Hum!" replied the king. "Then I - I order you sometimes to yawn and sometimes to -" He sputtered a little, and seemed vexed.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s attempt to enforce an illogical change in date for celebrating Lag Ba'omer is further evidence that religious leadership is lacking in this country, for true leadership is earned - through careful consideration and responsible decisions. Not taken.

Lag Ba'omer in Bnei Brak, April 27, 2013.Credit: AP

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