This is the long-overdue first segment of this feature, which will take a look at my life (or just that area around me) and contrast it with how I/the world should be managing things based on the perspective of living as an Observant, G-d fearing Jew.
Today is one of my favourite days of the year – here’s why:
For the past 32 days, Jews have been counting the days after Passover until the holiday of Shavuot – which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. But on the 33rd day after Passover, we celebrate a little holiday of Lag B’Omer.
During the first 32 days of the Omer (the name for the series of days in between Passover and Shavuot), 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva (who during the time of the Babylonian Talmud, was the top Torah scholar), passed away. For this tragedy, do we take upon the customs of not shaving, not listening to music and more during this period.
But on the 33rd day (in Hebrew, the combination of the letters Lamed (30) and Gimmel (3) make 33) the students stopped dieing, and we celebrate this miracle!!
So in addition to shaving/getting a haircut once again and listening to music, other customs include having festival-like celebrations, such as barbecues and bonfires. Personally, I look forward to the big game of baseball/football or whatever sport whomever is around likes to play.
Not only was Rabbi Akiva the top Torah scholar of his generation, but it was through his teaching and the Torah learned from his students that helped make up what is known today as the Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud). One of the most complex pieces of Jewish text, it is composed of numerous rabbinical commentaries and conversations over Jewish law. Many observant Jews will spend their entire lives learning the intricacies contained within these holy texts. If not for Rabbi Akiva and the (only) five students alive after Lag B’Omer, who were responsible for their origins and compilation – so much Torah would be lost! Better yet, imagine how much Torah was lost due to the death of the other students!
We learn that the cause for their deaths was due to a lack of mutual respect between one another. Though they may have been the pinnacle of Torah knowledge of the times, that didn’t refrain them from being nice to one another. Of course we have no clue to what extent this lack of mutual respect existed, rather it’s vital that we today not just dwell on these teachings. We should be looking at ourselves and seeing how we can learn from their mistakes and how we can improve our own shortcomings in treating each other with respect. That’s a vital thing we Jews have had in mind over the last 32 days.
But just because the death ended today on the 33rd day, it doesn’t mean we’ve been cured. The contemplations over these days should be an example for the entire year. And if you haven’t even though about it until now, don’t worry, it’s never too late to start.
Here’s to a happy and meaningful holiday!