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Lag B’Omer 2010: Celebrate Being Kind

Sunday May 2, 2010 will also be Lag B’Omer — the 33rd day in the 49 day countdown (mentioned in Leviticus 23:15-16) from Pesach to Shavuot, or Passover to Pentecost if you prefer. According to the Talmud, it was on the 33rd day of the Omer that the students of Rabbi Akiva Stopped dying of some kind of plague. In honor of that relief, the day became one of celebration, even in the midst of the Hadrianic persecution/Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132-135 CE.
Interestingly, the Talmud describes the reason for the plague as the disrespectful way in which the students treated each other. And while I will not comment on the notion of God punishing people with illness, I think that the lesson is a worthy one. Terrible things happen when those with the greatest knowledge of a tradition use that knowledge without human decency and genuine sensitivity.
We all say we know that, but how often are religious ideas invoked in ways that simply tread over people because they are wrong? The Talmud never says that all of the students were equally right. It simply reminds us that being right is never an excuse for being obnoxious. Now that is a novel thought in light of much of today’s religious discourse!
I am also intrigued by the way in which the LGBT community has adopted Lag B’Omer.


Frankly, I don’t really understand it all, but am intrigued by the possibility that it hinges on the way in which a particular community found relief during a time of persecution.
Clearly, Pesach celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people. And I honestly don’t think that it needs to be about a great deal more. But it’s interesting that on the journey from our own liberation to receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we might stop and think about what other communities could use a little liberation and how we might contribute to it.
I am not suggesting which community we should identify, but I am willing to bet that we will all be better prepared to receive the Torah we need when our sense of who needs relief is an expanding category. The torah we receive will be much richer when we appreciate that being right is only so valuable, and that it’s actually toxic if it is not combined with an equal commitment to being kind.

  • R

    Here’s another interesting question: It’s one thing to celebrate holidays described in the Bible–Passover, Shavuoth, Yom Kippur, etc. But Lag B’Omer is a holiday decreed (if you will) by Rabbis (i.e. by men, not God). Why should we be celebrating “extra-Biblical” decrees that have no basis in the text of the Tanakh? Brings to mind an old joke about 3 rabbis outvoting God and Moses.

  • Gil

    Does it really matter who declares a holiday? Life has enough problems and as the philosopher Schopenhauer said: ” the little happiness we enjoy is to offset the misery. Men lead lives of quiet desperation. Remember we are not Torah Jews but rabbinic Jews. You are allowed to add spices to your kosher food.

  • http://Aesop Rhonda H.

    “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” The Lion and the Mouse.
    I guess the author of “Everything I Needed to Know, I learned in Kindergarten” knew what she was talking about!

  • Claire Cameron

    AGAIN, I applaud Rabbi Hirschfield … on so many counts!
    I especially love AND live this idea: Being right does NOT give us the right to be obnoxious. Being kind, to me, is of utmost importance, and rings a strong bell .. in that it was my father’s (Rabbi Edward Shapiro, Norwich Jewish Centre, Norwich, NY) way of living and loving humankind. “Always be kind, be good, be compassionate. That’s all I ask of you, my girl.”

  • Rabbi Brad

    As a rabbi-father of of daughters, I thank you. You are evidence that we can pass that message on to our girls (boys too, I hope but I don’t have any of those). Your father, wherever he is, must be very proud of your kindness.

  • Panthera

    “The torah we receive will be much richer when we appreciate that being right is only so valuable, and that it’s actually toxic if it is not combined with an equal commitment to being kind.”
    Rabbi Hirschfield, how very very true.
    Thank you.

  • Paul of Palleywood

    I would like to humbly suggest that the annual Jewish observance of Lag B’Omer is about our being spared the total loss of the Sinaitic tradition. That loss would have destroyed not only R’ Akiva’s generation but every successive one right down through the present. Period.
    The reason the Talmud doesn’t attach significance for Lag B’Omer to public homosexuality advancement or other temporally popular social causes may be because the Talmud explicitly forbids them; I don’t know. What I do know is that the Talmud calls on Jews to be a light to the nations not by campaigning for the PC cause du jour, but by adhering to the eternal ethical conduct standards it prescribed for the Jewish people in every generation–not only is that literally the mission of every Jewish person on a deep, spiritual level, but it also happens to be a blast. So if you find yourself fixated on Lag B’Omer with “liberation” of a so-called “oppressed community” and you’re not really caring about or appreciating the fact that you have Torah and mitzvos today, then I’d say you’re really missing the boat about what Lag B’Omer, and indeed what life for a Jew in this phenomenal world, is all about.

  • J LaLone

    Celebrate Being Kind! Yes, indeed. It is to be celebrated when someone is kind to us, and we have to celebrate when we are kind to others…not feel self-righteous, but be happy and celebrate. For God, I don’t think punishes by illness, but it just happens. Unkindness causes illness. If not the illness like the young girl recently in Massachusetts who commited suicide, but all of the others who become physically ill because they are being bullied, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, rejected. The unkindness causes illness, not God. And just like the “sins of the father are visited upon the child,” (is that ours?) Either way, this too just happens. If the father has commited a vile act, or even if he is falsely accused of a vile act, the child will suffer. WE NEED TO CELEBRATE KINDNESS SO THAT KINDNESS IS THE “DISORDER?” THAT BECOMES CONTAGIOUS, INFECTING EVERY LIVING HUMAN. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?

  • Paul of Palleywood

    J: That’s an interesting outlook. The Jewish view is that the world is totally fair even when it doesn’t seem like it, and that nobody gets sick without it being fair, and that nobody gets well without it being fair.
    It’s not the Jewish view that we human beings are capable of understanding the big picture in the way that the Almighty does, so obviously with our mere human senses we may not be able to comprehend, for example, the fate of that Massachusetts girl you mentioned. Nonetheless, that doesn’t detract an iota from the Almighty’s absolute perfection and fairness or His complete administrative power over the universe. That’s the Jewish outlook.
    I’d have to agree with you that it’s always a good idea to be kind, except when someone does something that by right deserves a different response. Jews don’t profess the Christian “turn the other cheek” ethic; obviously that is adopted by Christians themselves only as rhetoric (it’s never practiced since justice isn’t well served when folks refuse to defend themselves against aggressors). But as a general principal Judaism does mandate kindness as one of the three available pathways to sin atonement.

  • Jewish Ideas Daily

    Lag BaOmer has also been connected up with the heritage of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who advocated total immersion in Torah study to the exclusion of all else. Although most Jews today don’t accept this principle, they relate to Rabbi Shimon’s devotion to Torah, and view Lag BaOmer as a day to focus on its importance.

  • Paul of Palleywood

    Jewish Ideas Daily,
    You’ve got the wrong idea.
    The rabbi actually advocated the acts, deeds and works the Almighty eternally commanded Jews in His immutable Torah. At no time did he ever advocate the abandonment of any of the Biblical commandments in favor of additional Torah study. To that end, he authored several important books on appropriate conduct details in light of Jewish religious law; studying the Torah is but one of the many divine Mosaic commandments, which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai never claimed to be able to rank in importance.
    I am curious as to where you found such a perverse misinterpretation of all that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai stood for. What corrupt source are you using?

  • Gene Shlomovich

    Paul, if you want to reach me to finish our conversion in a peaceable manner, use this form:
    (it keeps my e-mail free from of spam if I were to post it here).
    Be sure to leave your e-mail so that I may reply to you directly.

  • AG

    “”Nonetheless, that doesn’t detract an iota from the Almighty’s absolute perfection and fairness or His complete administrative power over the universe. That’s the Jewish outlook.””
    Such understanding confirms absolute reverence in God’s principle unchanging, no matter what power or authority man assumes he has…Man shall die under the letter of the Law; but, those who find True Life shall live.

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