With less than a week to go, and the hype in the air, it is time to review the topic of Lag Baomer and build on last year’s post about it (http://treasuresofashkenaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/no-no-no-no-no-minhag-ashkenaz-on-lag-baomer/).
Earlier this week I saw a post from ארץ ישראל , which brought out, in a very clear way, very serious dangers, I mean סכנות, of the day in the way many people mark it at present (HT Rafi). These are very serious dangers, both in גשמיות and רוחניות, lurking then. Which have claimed victims, let us not delude ourselves. We know that חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא. That alone should cause people to reconsider what they do on that day, even if the post last year didn’t do the job. I think everyone should take a look at the post.
And there are even more dangers which that article didn’t get to, such as various dangers in the very crowded atmosphere in Meron, from pushing, to heat exhaustion, to פריצות, to issues for Kohanim, and further.
The Lag Baomer hypers are fond of repeating mantras like כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק (R. Shimon is worthy of relying upon in time of duress) and (in Yiddish) רבי שמעון בלייבט נישט שולדיג ביי קיינעם (R. Shimon doesn’t remain owing anyone anything – meaning that he pays up). But however accurate they may or may not be, such sloganeering does not override basic Torah teachings such as אין סומכין על הנס and במקום דשכיח הזיקא שאני
Chassidim Who Stay Away From Meron on Lag Baomer
Another important point to note is that there are many frum groups that are not into going to Meron on ל”ג. In last year’s post we discussed the practice of Rav Elyashiv שליט”א, of never going to Meron. But some people might say what do you expect from a Litvak, after all? So for them I want to point out that certain very major Chassidishe Rebbes and their followers are conspicuous by their lack of participation in the event as well. For example, the largest Chassidic court in Eretz Yisroel is reportedly that of חסידי גור, aka Gerrer Chassidim. Has anyone seen the Gerrer Rebbe and great masses of Gerrer Chassidim there in Meron on Lag Baomer? I guess there may be some, here and there, but proportionate to their numbers? I don’t think so. Correct me if I am wrong. And other very important Chassidic groups, such as Satmar, also have reservations about it, and are not seen there as they are at other events. So the point is that the matter is not simple at all, even for those who are not usually identified by the masses as being part of the מנהג אשכנז community, even for staunch Chassidim.
Update: It is being reported that the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak ordered his younger followers to stay away from Meron on Lag Baomer, without exception. Vizhnitz is one of the largest Chassidic groups in Eretz Yisroel. Sign can be seen here.
Chassidim Without Bonfires
It seems that in the past, the lighting of bonfires was limited among Chassidim as well, especially in the diaspora (outside Eretz Yisroel). For example, it is reported that the old Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, did not have a ‘hadlokoh’ in the USA. The practice was only established by his successor, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, the Beirach Moshe. The Stoliner Chassidim were reported to be pioneers in having a public bonfire at their center in Boro Park, in Brooklyn, which seems to be only in recent decades, if that far back. So it is seems that for many years, many Chassidim managed on Lag Baomer in the disapora without הדלקות
Update: I have been informed that at the court of the Gerrer Rebbe there is no הדלקה (bonfire) at all. Despite the fact that it is located in Eretz Yisroel. That is quite significant, since Ger is reportedly the largest Chassidic group in ארצנו הקדושה, as well as being one of the largest and most influential in the world. Presumably the Rebbe is continuing in the footsteps of his predecessors in this regard.
Evolution and Spread of Various Lag Baomer Practices
From what I have seen, it seems that the bonfire lighting may have first been in Meron, the area of מערת רשב”י, over time spreading to other areas in Eretz Yisroel. And only later, gradually, and partially, to some places in the diaspora. I am thinking here of practices among groups who generally were inclined to adopt Sephardic practices, such as various Chassidic groups. Nevertheless, it seems that there was and is variation among them, and they did not all rush immediately to copy every Sephardic practice of the day. If a Chassidic group did not have a certain practice in its earlier days, under revered earlier Rebbes in the diaspora, it could be difficult for them to suddenly change, and make a giant bonfire lighting for example, when that was not their minhag previously, if they stress the principle of not deviating from old practices.
Not Wise to Leap On To A Mirage of a Moving Bandwagon That is Actually Not of Sturdy Construction
The above gives more than enough reason for any Ashkenazic Jew to rethink the practices under discussion, even if they have already engaged in them. But surely those that haven’t yet been swept up in the frenzy, including many in חוץ לארץ, should now feel more secure in standing firm against the innovations. If people in Eretz Yisroel are speaking out about the great problems associated with such practices, why would anyone of sound mind want to import them to chutz lo’aretz? Attempts to do so should be firmly rejected and resisted. Yeshivas should not innovate such new practices, as unfortunately some have done in recent years. It sends a wrong message about following our holy מסורה, which is in opposition to what a ישיבה should stand for. If talmidim need to have some recreation, they can go to a park, and engage in traditional innocuous pastimes there.
Broader Lessons Beyond This Specific Case
And this lesson from Lag Baomer practices, about the dangers of new customs not in the path of the observances of אבותינו הקדושים, our holy ancestors, is a general lesson to keep in mind, not just for this particular case. לא ללמד על עצמו יצא, אלא ללמד על הכלל כלו יצא.
Those who want to mark the day in a special way can emulate מרן רב אלישיב שליט”א and have special סדרים in לימוד תורתנו הקדושה.
In the zechus of proper observance of ל”ג בעומר, may we be zoche to בשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות, במהרה בימינו, אמן!