Sunday, May 2, 2010
ל"ג בעומר שמח - Joyous moments on Lag B'Omer
In Hebrew, every letter has a numerical value. The letter lamed = 30 and gimmel = 3. Thus the thirty third day of the Omer is called (L"G) Lag b'Omer. We know that Rabbi Akiva's disciples were plagued until, miraculously, on the 33rd day of the Omer, the plague ceased. During the first 33 days of the Omer, traditional Jews commemorate the death of those thousands of disciples by refraining from joyous celebrations, not shaving or cutting their hair, or engaging in any kind of overtly joyous behavior. On Lag B'Omer, however, we celebrate the end of that plague and rejoice.
A few years ago, a friend and I were looking at a wedding invitation and the friend turned to me, with disdain and remarked, "They're getting married on Lag B'Omer....ughh, that is SOOOOO Jewish!" I never really understood that. I understood, of course, the significance of Lag B'Omer being a moment in time during the counting of the Omer that is one of great joy, where weddings are permitted, men can cut their hair, and big bonfires are created to celebrate the LIGHT and joy of the holiday. What I didn't understand was her disdain. Why shouldn't a Jewish couple, who clearly adheres to Jewish beliefs, rejoice in this day, by marking it with their wedding? True, they are Reform Jews who don't consider themselves to be highly observant, but if that makes the day more special and meaningful for them, who am I to judge the importance of that tradition or ritual? I should only hope to be so lucky to be able to mark significant days in my life with other important external significant events, as well. It can often make tradition more meaningful and more beautiful. Instead, every Lag B'Omer I am reminded of this person's disdain for another couple's choice.
Today is a day of great celebration. Not only is it Lag B'Omer, it is also the day that many of my classmates and new colleagues are being invested as cantors and ordained as rabbis from the New York campus of Hebrew Union College. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of each and every one of them. In some ways, the hard part is over and today is a day of rejoicing. But just like Lag B'Omer, we're not done counting yet and the journey continues onward. So, too, do my newest colleagues have a lifetime of learning, experience, and counting ahead of them. Each one of them is going to have great achievements, a few setbacks, and continue on their own journey to fulfill the sacred work of guiding the Jewish people. There will be so many moments that lift their hearts up and that help them remember why it is that they do what they do. There will be other moments of great difficulty and strife. But that's true of every journey. That's what makes the days count - really count. For today, I wish them each MAZEL TOV and I rejoice in the celebration of that journey with them. And how lucky that they get to celebrate on Lag B'omer - how very, VERY Jewish....indeed!