Tragedy in Meron – coping with external grief

A response to tragedy and grief.
I feel like I need to share some of my thoughts after this devastating tragedy that occurred on Lag B’Omer on Thursday night.

First, a little history about why Lag B’Omer is a holiday for the Jewish people, and not just a holiday, but a spiritual, mystical holiday that is supposed to be filled with great light and inspiration. Between Pesach and Shavuot there is a period of time called the Omer. A great tragedy occurred in the 2nd century where 24 thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died from a plague. On Lag B’Omer, (which means the 33rd day of the Omer), the students stopped dying. The reason they stopped dying is because all of the students died. There was not one left.

One can only imagine the devastation, grief and loss that Rabbi Akiva and the community must have experienced. Not a single student left! One can also understand how someone might respond to such a loss, throwing in the towel and walking away from such a burden. Rabbi Akiva taught us by example of how to respond. He mourned his students, and then he picked himself up and went to find new students to start again. This is called resilience. When we are faced with tragedy, it is easy to give up and become a victim of our pain. Rabbi Akiva gives us the courage to pick ourselves up and start again. He started again with only five students.

One of his new students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in his work, the Zohar. This work has brought much joy, light and spirituality to the world. It is the esoteric soul of the Torah. On the day that Rabbi Shimon died he requested that his students not mourn his passing, but celebrate it by continuing to bring light into the world. So, each year on his yartzeit, we celebrate his great light, physically, by lighting bon-fires, and spiritually by continuing to follow his mystical legacy. What a beautiful message he gave them about grief and mourning. When the ‘light’ of one person’s life is extinguished, those who are left behind can continue to light ‘spiritual fires’ to remember and honour them by. This helps to keep their legacy alive.

So, how do we respond to this great tragedy that took place on this spiritual night, just a few days ago, that has left 45 families without their loved ones? We are mere humans and cannot understand the ways of G-d, but we are challenged in how we will respond. One of my favourite quotes by James Allen is, “Circumstances don’t make a man, they reveal him to himself.” How will we respond? So, logotherapy asks us, “What now?” I heard some thoughts from Charlie Harary who says that as Corona is ending off in Israel, this Lag B’Omer was going to be our first public celebration. Instead it turned into a tragedy. We are puzzled to even try find answers, but we can try and find a response. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai have already shown us how. Rabbi Akiva showed us how important it is to pick ourselves up and continue to to do good in the world, and as he did this, his student Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed great light and spiritual inspiration to the world.

A beautiful message here that I think we can all consider, especially in honouring those whose lives were lost and their light has been removed from the world, is how we can share our own light in the world. Each one of us has our unique light to share, let’s do that, especially now when there is light missing. May the bereaved families be comforted by their tragic losses, and may all those injured in the incident receive a full and speedy recovery.

If you feel you could use some support processing your grief, I am here for you. Please contact me.

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