Celebrating “End of Plague” then and now
Today is Lag b’Omer, perhaps the most mysterious day on the Jewish calendar. Lag stands for Lamed Gimel two Hebrew letters that equal 33. The Omer is the period between Pesach and Shavuot. In ancient Israel most of our families were simple peasant farmers whose very lives depended on the crops from their fields. Counting the days between the barley harvest (which began at Pesach) and the beginning of the wheat harvest (which begins at Shavuot) was a time of great anxiety. Usually the rain season in Israel ends at Pesach. But if the rain comes a few weeks later it can literally destroy the food supply for the coming year. The ritual of counting the days till the completion of the harvest emerged as a practice to deal with the stress of factors outside of human control.
The Talmud tells us that during the time of the Bar Kochba’s revolt against the Romans in 135 CE, there was a plague in the Land of Israel that killed 24,000 people. The plague stopped on the 33rd day of the Omer. To celebrate the end of this terrible plague a holiday was established and named for the day it happened – Lag b’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer.) Lag b’Omer is celebrated with bonfires, music and parties.
Today we are beginning to emerge from a plague far deadlier. In this country we have lost more people than in all of our country’s wars. It is mind numbing to think that the nearly 600,000 deaths of Americans in the past year from Covid exceeds the number of US casualties in WW I and WW II and more.
How will we celebrate the end of this modern plague? It’s too early to know. Will it be a day of joy like the Jewish Lag b’Omer, or a solemn day like Memorial Day?
Now that the CDC is relaxing mask restrictions we sense the end may be near.
Perhaps we will celebrate with a day of burning our masks like the Lag b’Omer bonfires. Or perhaps better we will recycle the fabric of the masks to make clothes for the needy.
I would love to hear your thoughts as we move forward from the darkness of plague to the dawn of a new era.
Happy Lag b’Omer.
Rabbi David Wilfond