In the past we have discussed at length (5771, 5772, 5773A, 5773B, and 5773C) how Lag Baomer is marked in minhag Ashkenaz, and contrasted it with other, more recent customs, that have become popular among other groups. Postings on that topic have been among the most visited of any in the history of this site, indicating that there is a great thirst and need for authentic information on the inyan. Readers are directed to those previous posts if they wish to review them. However, there is still a need for additional accurate information and Torah perspective on the inyan, especially when people are being bombarded with information not in accordance with our mesorah, which can seem tantalizing and tempting. So it is time to revisit the inyan again, as it is about to become ענינא דיומא once more.
The Prescience of the Chasam Sofer
A main exhibit of the stance of Minhag Ashkenaz on Lag Baomer, is, of course, the words of the Chasam Sofer about it, as we have discussed and linked to in the past.
Some may wonder, about the Chasam Sofer’s position. After all, we see some groups who claim to venerate and follow him, which do not follow what he wrote on this topic.
However, observant and honest people can see the prescience, the greatness of the Chasam Sofer, how he was רואה את הנולד, how he anticipated with his greatness, חכם עדיף מנביא ( a wise man is greater than a prophet), the problems that the later observances added on to the day, such as the mass Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, could lead to.
One of the things the Chasam Sofer expressed concern about with regard to Lag Baomer, was the exaltation of Meron over ירושלים עיר הקודש. There is only one Yerusholayim, which has such a special status in our faith, and that special status needs to be guarded.
However, in some writings today promoting the Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, we see language that might have made the Chasam Sofer shudder. For example, in a contemporary sefer called טיב מירון, which came out just a few years ago, from a prominent Chasidic Kabbalist in Eretz Yisroel, ר’ גמליאל הכהן רבינוביץ, it is stated (p.180-181) that going up to Meron is like עליה לרגל to the בית המקדש! Astounding!
How great was the foresight of מרן החתם סופר זצ”ל!
Be wary of spreading fires
Another aspect of the evolving Lag Baomer situation in recent years is the spreading of the bonfire custom.
A number of Chasidic groups, as well as some others, who didn’t do it in the past (does anyone have any evidence of such large bonfires in prewar Europe for example?), have recently adopted it (though others remain faithful to their previous customs and refrain from it). For example, Satmar Chasidim in Kiryas Joel, in just the last few years, has started a new practice to make a giant bonfire on Lag Baomer eve (Satmar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, however, does not, maintaining that they do not deviate from the practice of the previous Rebbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum, who did not do so). Belzer Chasidim as well, have adopted it, in recent years, both in Eretz Yisroel and in the diaspora. Gerrer Chasidim, although the Rebbe does not do it, are allowing it elsewhere (beyond the Rebbe’s court). Similar for Bobover Chasidim. A prominent Chasidic leader once told me that there is no makom for such fires outside the land of Israel. He laughed at the importation of the custom to the diaspora. However, the fact that other, smaller Chasidic groups were doing it, which attracted some of their followers, evidently has recently influenced some of the larger Chasidic groups to adopt the practice, to one degree or another, in order not to seem to lag behind the others. Lubavitch as well, with their emissaries in various places, in addition to promoting the Lag Baomer parade custom initiated by their previous Rebbe, are adopting the bonfire custom, even though it was not traditionally Lubavitcher practice (this is made easier by the fact that since the last Rebbe passed away, there is a dimunition of central authority in that group).
Bonfires are quick, easy, and colorful, but they can be dangerous as well. Our ancestors didn’t build things like this, and we shouldn’t either.
Mixing customs from opposing traditions is inconsistent, and breeding grounds for confusion
Another interesting development is the development of new practices by some. For example, I recall reading about a Yeshiva, maybe it was in the Lakewood area, which had a bonfire, but, adding a Litvish-Yeshivish twist to their adoption of this Chasidic practice, auctioned off the lighting of the fire to bochurim who bid for it with pledges to learn various amounts of gemara. They took a practice used by some Yeshivas on Simchas Torah and attempted to combine it with a new custom they brought in from outside. And there are some Ashkenaz Shuls and Yeshivas who are trying to jump on a Chasidic bandwagon and have bonfires as well, even without such modifying touches. They think they can have it both ways, be poseach al shtei haseipim evidently. But one cannot do so. To mix customs from differing traditions is problematic, fraught with danger, and introduces confusion into the minds of their followers. Let them not be surprised if some of their followers in the future, decide to jump ship. After all, if, as the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and their leaders are imitating outside customs, why should they not get the underlying message and join the groups being imitated entirely? Such mixed messages are confusing and dangerous.
Stay the course, the way of our holy ancestors, אבותינו הקדושים
The lesson that must be taught is that we stay faithful to our mesorah and do not sell it, neither for a pot of red lentils, nor for a blazing red bonfire. That we eschew the hype and sales pitches for questionable, quick, alleged yeshuos, and newfangled foreign practices, and stay the course. That we realize that quick and easy, and genuine growth in רוחניות don’t usually go together. That instead of looking for a quick ‘spiritual’ thrill, we keep a distance from faux spirituality, and go instead for genuine, slow, solid work and aliyah in avodas Hashem.
In the zechus of our staying the course, and resisting the temptations for quick, flashy, easy, excitement, in favor of our perhaps less glamorous, but time-tested minhogim, of אבותינו הקדושים, a great path to follow in general, year round, may we be zoche to קבלת התורה בשלימות באמת, and solid, genuine aliyah בעבודת השי”ת תמיד.
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