Lag BaOmer: A holiday for loving each other

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Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

For the last 32 days, we have been counting the Omer. During this time of year, we do not get married, and all around us we suddenly see lots of men who have neither shaved nor gotten a haircut since Pesach. These are among the mourning customs associated with the counting of the Omer. The sages tell us that it was during these days that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died as divine punishment for not showing respect to one another. Unfortunately, the days of counting the Omer in 5781 are also not distinguished as far as showing respect for one another is concerned.

So why on Lag BaOmer – that begins this evening – do we stop mourning? What is the message of this day beyond the bonfires, singed marshmallows, and roasted potatoes? Lag BaOmer is the day Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away. More than any other figure, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is identified with the hidden Torah or Kabbalah as transmitted in Sefer HaZohar, a mystical Torah commentary. On this day we are reminded of the secret, hidden aspect of Torah, its inner meaning, how profound and holy the Torah truly is. But how does this help us to respect each other? The commentators explain it like this: understanding that there is something that is arcane and inaccessible – something that is greater and more elevated than ourselves - makes us humble and moves our ego aside. Moreover, the deeper we delve into the Torah, the more we recognize that everyone is created in the image of God, and the more we realize that each person is an integral and precious part of the creation. We see how the external things that separate us are marginal compared to how our souls, which are inseparable from God, unite us. The more we learn, the more we understand how much we need to love each other, that it is forbidden to belittle or disrespect anyone. I really do not understand the hidden, secret Torah, but each time I have met a Torah sage, a tzadik and truly great human being, I have seen the wonderful way he relates to ordinary people. If only we could reach that level.

Have a joyful Lag BaOmer.

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