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.