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I never experienced Lag BOmer in my life. It was my first year in Yeshiva and I already messed up counting the Omer on day two. I had no idea what day thirty-three meant. I didn't even know people were still counting at that point. One of the students in Yeshiva made it to day twenty-eight without messing up. We now celebrate him as a Tzadik. So, I did what most people do on Lag BOmer. I went grocery shopping. I needed dinner.
On My Way Back Home
I was on my way back from the supermarket when I smelled a fire in the woods. I ran towards it and noticed that kids were burning stuff. I saw flames flying high and kids playing right by the huge flames. I thought it should be reported. It looked dangerous.
More people came to the spectacle. Yet, nobody said anything. Just the opposite. They joined and commended the kids. Tons of people were around. They saw it. They did nothing. They saw kids running and pushing each other near the fire. They said nothing. Adults even started their own fire. All while the kids' fire got bigger and bigger.
I asked the children if they knew how to make a fire, as I was a Boy Scout. They said, 'No. Only non-religious people learn stuff like how to make a fire. We have Emunah. Belief in Gd.' And their belief in Gd showed, as their fire got even bigger.
I saw more fires starting up.
I thought it was weird to see children burning doors and carpets, but they were in the fire. Household appliances made their way to the flames. Anything that could burn or melt made its way into the fire. It must have been a miracle of Lag BOmer. One of the groups of kids playing freeze tag near the uncontained fire ran out of wood, yet they kept the fire burning with artifacts from their homes.
It looked dangerous, but the kids told me it was a religious thing. They said, 'On Lag BOmer, you're supposed to make huge fires with cleaning products.' So, I felt safe. When they told me it was spiritual, I felt even safer around all of the huge uncontained fires.
One of the children showed me his oven cleaning spray. It said flammable on it, as well as danger. He threw it right into the fire, as it was flammable and the fire started dwindling a bit. And it exploded. A gigantic flame flew, and happiness was had. The pride that kid had when he got the desired result of burning something illegal was the kind of joy one can only have when connecting to Gd.
They went on tell me that it was for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Why Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai likes fires so much, I don't know.
What Should I do?
At the moment, I thought I should save their lives and put out the fire. Smokey Bear always taught me to put out a forest fire. Smokey Bear also said to not burn plastic. However, Smokey Bear was not a good Jew. He didn't know Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. And he didn't understand how important an uncontained fire is to help one connect with Gd.
I put down my groceries. I went to join in more fire parties. I was not a bystander anymore. Once I noticed the police joining in, I became an accomplice. An accomplice supported by the cops.
Is this legal? They were doing it for tradition. Hence, it is OK. Only in Israel do cops let you do things that could be illegal and unsafe if you are celebrating a holiday. On Sukkot, they let you run through the streets holding a sharp spear looking palm branch, facing out. Why? Because it is tradition. And the cops in Israel know that if it is tradition, it is safe.
What a beautiful country. In America, when you do something dangerous, the police make you stop. However, in Yerushalayim, they know what a Mitzvah is.
I learned the tradition of fires and kids running around them with bows and arrows. Some kids were running with knives facing out. That wasn't a tradition, but it was also dangerous. So, it represented the Emunah that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had. What a beautiful Mitzvah?!
I turned around and my groceries were gone. The kids burned them. Bag too.
At one point I saw a kid burning wood. I believe he ran out of plastic.
The following year I stood by my door. A kid tried to take it. I told him it belongs to my house. To help with his fire, I gave him a microwave that had broke.
One of the people told me that the fire was for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's Yahrzeit. Though I had lit a Yahrzeit candle before, I have a ways to go in my Emunah. I still don't feel comfortable lighting a bonfire on my kitchen counter.
Next year, we'll talk about my trip up north and how I made it to Mairon following fires.
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The Falafel of Etan
Israelis are very possessive of their falafel. Even when they have a shop, they don't like to share it… That's Etan. Standing over them while they eat. Making sure they don't run away with his falafel.