The Pope Who Stole Lag B'Omer

In 2009, Rome took over Jerusalem.

Renee Chernin

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Arutz 7

One recent afternoon I left the Old City of Jerusalem at one o'clock to meet my husband David for a slice of what I think is absolutely the world's best pizza (at Big Apple on Jaffa Road) before running a few errands. This left me plenty of time to get to ulpan (Hebrew class for immigrants) by four. Or so I thought.

Walking up Keren HaYesod at 3:30 pm the city suddenly came to a standstill. Giant empty tour buses were
Sounds like a siege, doesn't it? It certainly felt like it.
parked sideways across the main streets to block traffic. A barricade manned by half a dozen police officers stopped me and a dozen pedestrians in front of the Kings Hotel. Some of us siphoned off to side streets. I joined scores of others and tried a back way to my destination, but the end of every single street I tried was blocked; and when I tried to backtrack, they had sealed those streets too.

I was late, lost, hot and thirsty in Rehavia, and had nowhere to go. But it was worse for others who could not leave their homes for miles and parents who could not get home to their families for hours. Police manned barriers at hundreds of intersections and tiny cross streets all around the center of town. An alive Jerusalem of the early afternoon, in just a few moments, was transformed into a ghost town; not a civilian in sight.

Police and soldiers stood every 20 meters in the sunshine. Cafes emptied. Helicopters hovered, their oppressive guttural "whop-whop-whop" obliterating the sounds of daily life. Sirens asserted loud whines. Sounds like a siege, doesn't it? It certainly felt like it, too.

Lag b'Omer is supposed to be a very happy day of song in the golden air, of holiday picnics, weddings and joyful prayer. But we in Jerusalem came under siege again. Buses to Meron were short of passengers who could not get to the terminals. Guests missed attending the wedding of friends and family, disappointing many a groom and bride on their happiest day. Thousands of Jerusalem residents were not able to leave their homes with the simple comfort that they will be able to return at an appointed time. Children stuck at school; planes missed; G-d forbid, everyday emergency care hindered.

Jews could not even go to our holiest site, as the Kotel was shut down for the visit of "his holiness"; we could not even get a glimpse, because every visual access was blocked too. All those people trying to have the segula ("treasure" that brings a salvation) to pray 40 consecutive days at the Kotel may have to begin again. Regular minyanim and Tehillim groups were disrupted, too. I spoke with a woman who said she waited 30 years to pray at the Kotel on that day. Rabbi Gold said that in 28 years he has never seen this kind of clamp on our freedom.

What would it be if we Jews could have a religious figure (l'havdil) that we so universally respect? Maybe this is why HaShem is allowing the Pope to steal Lag B'Omer.

My friend Feigel pointed out that Lag B'Omer is the day we remember Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was forbidden to teach Torah. By whom? Rome. Who sentenced him to death? Rome. When did most of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students die? In the rebellion against Rome. Who tortured and killed Rabbi Akiva? Rome.

Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yocahi made no secret of their abhorrence for the Roman occupation of Eretz Yisrael, and they put themselves in grave danger by their refusal to buckle to the demands of the world power of the time. In 2009, Rome took over Jerusalem. Frightening.

If only we also could learn to say "no" to Rome - its influence, its immorality, its selfishness - and say "yes" to Torah. "No" to their demand to take our land. "Yes" to our people's desire to live in peace on our land.

When the Jewish world united around one leader and Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 scholar-warriors, Rome was threatened. We held Jerusalem in our reach; it looked like Bar Kochba was bringing the final redemption. But we erred in our mission and the result was devastating beyond belief. Neither we nor Rome have recovered.

Rabbi Akiva lost his students because they did not observe the mitzvah of "loving your neighbor like yourself" to the best of their capability. Rabbi Akiva stated this was a major tenet in the Torah, because without unity we
If only we also could learn to say "no" to Rome.
cannot learn or disseminate the Torah's truth, let alone live it.

Even though we have the first sovereign Jewish fighting force in 2,000 years to protect us, our leadership does not know their Torah. Even though the West, with its roots in the ancient Roman empire, are today's world leaders, our growing physical strength threatens them. They tighten the clamp and we have no backbone of Torah to resist.

Like everything Jewish, there is another extreme. In the darkness of those times, there was a spark of hope. One of Rabbi Akiva's students, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, not only survived, but revealed a great light of the future redemption hidden in the Zohar. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches us that there is always - always - hope.

May we soon celebrate our release from the suffocating clamp of Rome - and from our own limitations, which hide our greatness.