Meron: Finding Meaning in Tragedy
A thousand years ago, one man opened up the mortal world to the mystical.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought down the universe's complexities and composed the building blocks for Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). It was such a momentous occasion that Jews worldwide honor him every year on the supposed anniversary of his death.
Jews know it as Lag B’Omer since it’s the 33rd day of the omer counting between Passover and Shavuot, the holiday we received the Torah from Mt Sinai.
Thousands upon thousands of Jews travel to Mt. Meron, where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried, to pray and celebrate together. It is said that those who travel there, and those who help others to do so, will be blessed for the coming year.
Unfortunately, over 40 people went there to celebrate, and they never returned home. A horrible tragedy took their lives from us, leaving the country in shock. We’re collectively mourning and lowered our flags to half-mast. People across the country are doing whatever they can to help the injured and the frightened, from donating blood to setting up rest stops and phone lines to call loved ones.
Some of us will naturally attempt to find meaning in tragedies and seek order amidst the chaos. There are always “How” questions that we can answer, but the “Why” ones break our hearts repeatedly. Why these people? Why on such a holy night? What did they do to deserve this? What did we do to deserve losing them?
It’s always so hard facing questions we can never truly answer. When it comes to Judaism, a religion with an element of faith, it’s truly impossible not to feel helpless when seeking incomprehensible answers. The world seems chaotic and empty. One of the boys was recently married. Another was studying for the year in Israel. There’s a father of two. One was a father of five children. People were scrambling to identify their loved ones and bury them before the Sabbath came in.
A Holiday of Unification
I remember my first time going to Meron for the Holiday, about ten years ago. My study program brought us there on a bus, and we needed to take a public bus to get from the parking lot to the main celebration. As we all passed through the opening to the mountain, the quiet anticipation grew to the blaring sounds of instruments and the voices of over 100,000 people. Crowds sang the song “Bar Yochai” at the top of their lungs, huge bonfires and bright lights illuminated the surroundings, and the air tensed with sweat, ecstasy, and Jewish nirvana. It was the biggest, holiest rave party you’ve ever seen.
One moment rings through my head from that night. I saw two men dancing; one was a follower of R’ Nachman of Breslov, the other studying in Yeshiva. One wore white and a knitted yarmulke, the other in a suit and tie with a wide-brimmed hat. Through the smoke of the bonfires, they intertwined around each other in happiness found within spiritual elevation.
Then they swapped hats. The yeshiva student wore the knitted yarmulka, and the other wore the black hat. Their faces held a delicate kind of happiness, a shared joy in finding something true within a long-lost brother. They realized that their clothes and their dialect of Hebrew didn’t matter. They were Jews.
Today and tomorrow were declared national days of mourning. People worldwide are offering to help as medics work around the clock to save over 100 injured. Israelis of all kinds are scrambling to help their brethren.
For now, during these moments, when all we have is questions, and it feels like the ground is pulled away from us, all we have in this world is each other.