While death normally evokes emotions of grief and sadness, would anyone suggest that it would elicit joy and celebration?According to one Rabbi – yes!
On Thursday of this week, we celebrated the Jewish festival of Lag BaOmer. The word ‘Lag’ is an acronym of two letters equaling 33 as this is the 33rd day since we began counting down the days from Pesach till Shavuot (known as the ‘Omer’ period). On this day we are told two significant events took place.
Firstly, the plague that was engulfing the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva (1 century CE) ceased on this day. The Talmud tells us that the students were suffering from a rare disease that was caused by their lack of respect towards each other. As the plague ceased on this day – indicating that they had mended their ways – we celebrate on this day every year and challenge ourselves to consider how well we treat those around us.
Secondly, it is the yahrzeit of the great spiritual leader Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ( 2 Century CE) who illuminated the world with his teachings of the inner secrets of the Torah – the Kabbalah. Interestingly, he implored his students to rejoice on the day of his passing as this day represents the fact that he had completed his life’s work and ambition. The custom, therefore, came about to light bonfires on Lag BaOmer representing the spiritual energy and light that he bought to the world. Now that’s an interesting perspective on death!
So we must rejoice and celebrate. Yet at the same time, we ought to reflect on the underlying lessons to be learned from this significant day.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman