Lag B’Omer through the years


Here’s hoping that one or more of the customs of Lag B’Omer fit my past, present and planned projects. It’s a holiday known for bonfires and weddings and ... haircuts.

Once upon a time many semesters ago, I asked my students at the Rhode Island School of Design to bring to my home a log or a stick for the fireplace, and they did. In fact, too many showed up with an excess of contributions: The flames escaped from the hearth, and, to cleanse the smoke from the walls, I had to totally repaint the parlor!

I like to recall such disasters for the purpose of a balance sheet of victories and defeats in one’s life’s pursuits.  Especially at night, when I list the pros and cons of each year of my life, with every chapter along the way.

As for the haircut, what with the pandemic and the barber’s fear of beards that they cannot trim because of the masking from nose to neck, I therefore rely on my daughter to serve as my coiffeur.  Biweekly.  We drive over the border between Massachusetts and Rhode Island to her kitchen or garden in Brookline.   She willingly, marvelously and cheerfully seats me and wraps me in a towel, and then and there sets to work. We both bond and enjoy this ritual, and I can bring back an almost forgotten holiday within these memories.

I am by nature and practice a hoarder: I don’t like to let anything go and I welcome the coincidences that revive yesteryears.  This may be the secret of all the holidays on the world’s human calendars.  The bonfires of May Day may have once been the Biblical Torah Lag B’Omer – most of the sacred stories share common origins in the seasons and skies and stars we once studied, before our gadgetry stole our personal powers of observation and interpretation, the essential poetry of people of the past, present and likewise our ecological plans for the future.

In my household, the big bonfire of Lag B’Omer turns into a tame little blazing log and kindling on a grate within the hearth and brick chimney in the parlor with its sofa, loveseat and rocker with upholstered velvet cushions.  Or, in the days before city vehicles came to fetch old papers and empty cartons, I used to stuff paper scraps into a steel basket with open gaps all around and set it all ablaze – the mistakes, envelopes, tissues, whatever might be flammable.  It made a Lag B’Omer-like spectacle with a spiritual dimension.

But that was before our concern for the fate of the firmament – the fear of fouling the beautiful blue skyline above our doomed domain of human errors upon the holy land beneath our wanderings and invasions of the sacred wilderness.

So, all our holidays, the “major” ones and the  “minor” ones, have a dimension of responsibility, for the endless tikkun olam, the protective healing and mending of the troubled world, planet and universe through which we spin and whirl as time goes by.

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.