Why No “Lag BaOmer” at Beth El of Manhattan?

“The Jewish world has as much to learn from what ‘Two-Testament Judaism’ chooses not to do from among standing Jewish traditions, as what we choose to do.” – Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

Shalom. As Erev Lag BaOmer falls tonight, it seems appropriate to share why we, as a Jewish synagogal community, choose not to celebrate it.

Put simply, Lag BaOmer marks an occasion and a line of theology we consider unhealthy for Judaism.

Its focus is The Zohar (“The Radiance”), the keystone literature of the Jewish mysticism called, “Kabbalah“) – and its author, “Rashbi” – an acronym for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai – who died as tradition reckons on the 18th day of the Hebrew calendar month Iyar – now memorialized as Lag BaOmer – in the Hebrew year 3920, or 160 years “c.e.” (our modern era, also denoted “a.d.”). He is remembered with honor, Kabbalah acolytes make pilgrimages to his gravesite, young Jewish boys are given their “abshorren”  (first haircut at 3 years of age), and bonfires are lit on beaches in Israel to affirm “Rashbi” and his writings as great lights to the Jewish nation and the world.

Lag BaOmer – is the 33rd day of the 50 days of repeated barley offerings brought to the ancient Temple until the start of the wheat harvest. In the Hebrew language, letters also stand for numbers: the letters L and G are 30 and 3 respectively: thus, L(a)G BaOmer means “the 33rd day of the Omer (barley offering).” Those 50 days take us from the major Biblical holiday, Passover to the major Biblical holiday Shavu’ot. Among Christians, Shavu’ot is called “Pentecost” because that is the Greek word for “fifty.”

We at Beth El of Manhattan do not see Bar Yohai or his writings as deserving such focus or honor as present Lag BaOmer customs accord him. Below we explain why.

Kabbalah is, in this rabbi’s view, not “Judaism” – it is for the most part, attempted sorcery.

 The main body of Kabbalah is allegedly special “higher” (mystical) knowledge about the supposed architecture of the universe physically and spiritually, and how to use that knowledge for “better” results from prayer and spiritual activity than people without that knowledge might obtain.

 The descriptions The Zohar gives of the universe are not proven or provable by any objective means: they are extrapolative ravings with no basis for acceptance, in the model of healthy skepticism held forth by the New Testament:

 “Do not just believe everything ‘spiritual,’ my brothers! Test it first, to see if it is really from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world!” (1John 4:1) 

They also violate the proof-requirements affirmed in Isaiah 8:20, and going back to Deuteronomy 18:21 and our People’s question to Moses, when we were told prophets would be coming, and we would need to heed their voices: “How shall we know the word the Lord has not spoken?” It is great question. How shall we know? Not guess, not surmise, not allege, not postulate … how shall we know?

It was there and thereafter God installed the tests of harmony with already confirmed revelation (Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Isaiah 8:20), and proving new revelation with 100% accurate predictive prophecy (Deut. 18:22).

When the 1st-century Shaliakh, Rav Saul, as recorded in the New Testament, told the new Two Testament congregation in Corinth, Greece he was concerned that their “hearts were being corrupted from the simplicity of faith in Messiah” (2Cor. 11:3)  – he was voicing a similar concern back then.

Paul feared the Parent-Child relationship between Creator and Human Being was being replaced with the idea of learning special tricks that improved your spiritual standing, or gave you more power in the prayer than others.

Kabbalah also uses trinkets and talismans in prayer: a good example is the way in which the simple command in the Torah about celebrating Sukkot with fruits and fronds from Israel is, in the Zohar, made into an esoteric, exacting ritual of aiming the leaves and fruit into the points of the compass to “extend God into the Ain Sof (Eternity).” As if mere humans have the power to extend any of God in any way with trinkets and talismans!

We are to pray to Our Father in Heaven, as Messiah directly demonstrated when His followers asked him, “Teach us to pray.” We ask for things, with our child-hearts trained to accept a decision on our requests from a wiser Father in Heaven. We do not manipulate Him: we would not do so if we could. We want what He thinks best.

God responds: “Yes, No, or Wait.” – or with wisdom, direction, (James 1:5) or provision (Luke 11:3,8). He can’t be controlled, coerced, or compelled to respond because we wave a trinket at or for Him.

Even the Messiah got a “no” from His Heavenly Father about the thing He wanted most in His entire human lifetime!

Messiah asked for God to provide another way for Himself and Humankind toward atonement that did not require Messiah to suffer and die on a Roman cross. God answered, “No.” Yeshua of Nazareth replied, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Kabbalah draws people away from what we are told “is eternal life: to know the One True God, and Yeshua the Messiah whom He sent.” (John 17:3) It focuses people on learning tricks and spells (disguised as special prayers not in accord with the Parent-Child model Messiah taught), not learning to know God and Messiah.

I offer here a link to The Zohar. Please page forward  in it to the chapter called, “The Rose.”

If you read much of it, especially the totally arbitrary charts of the structure of the universe – I am sure you will understand why we are lighting no bonfires.  

Yeshua our Messiah taught us the standard, “We speak what we know.” Spirituality in Judaism is not composed of guesses, ruminations, or unproven and unprovable “visions” – that is how the world got Islam, a religion resulting from an ecstatic visionary experience by an illiterate person who often made broad statements about the contents of the Scriptures of Israel he was incapable of reading: which makes it little wonder Mohammed is so often misquoting and misapplying The Scriptures in his book, The Quran (The Written or Readable) – which was dictated because he was illiterate. The Zohar is likewise a collection of ravings by a visionary – the source of whose visions is by no means affirmed as God according the standards of the very Hebrew Scriptures he claims to affirm – just as did Islam’s Mohammed.

The Zohar is no gift to our people or humankind.
It is, in great part, a distraction – and in part, a danger.

So – we do not celebrate the holiday marking the death of its author. And – we do not light the traditional bonfires declaring him a great light to our people and the world. No more than we light Jack O’Lanterns on Hallow’een – which we also choose not to celebrate.

So – if anyone asks you if you celebrated Lag BaOmer – now, not only can you confidently answer, “No” – but, as Scripture exhorts us, you can “make an answer for the faith that is in you” (1Peter 3:15) by explaining why :-).

Happily – real holidays are near: Yom Yerushalayim and Shavu’ot will be upon us soon. As your Rabbi, I look forward to celebrating those wonderful holidays in accord with Isaiah 8:20 with you.

For Zion’s sake,

Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
Erev Lag BaOmer 5780 • 11 May 2020

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