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Lag B'omer

04/29/2021 04:47:19 PM


We are a more than halfway to Shavuot!  Four weeks ago, we were dining on Matzah, and three weeks from now we’ll be up late studying to celebrate receiving the Torah. Our Torah portion, Emor, describes these seven weeks as a time of watchful counting, building excitement and bringing offerings of gratitude as the harvest got underway. However, in later times, the Omer became known as a mournful period- people avoided shaving, musical performances, and joyful events like weddings. One break in that mournful period is Lag B’omer,the 33rd day of that period.  It has become a day known for weddings, bonfires and haircuts.  This week last year, I wrote about our experience of Lag B’omer in the context of experience, and it is amazing what has remained the same, and what is different for us and for our community a year later.

   Why is the Omer a mournful time?  Shouldn’t we be excited to look forward to the giving of the Torah?  One explanation for this practice is found in the Talmud, tractate Yevamot- Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students who perished in a plague because “they did not respect each other.” – the mournful practices of the Omer would then commemorate these students, and Lag B’omer signified the relief that came from the end of that terrible time.

  We can certainly relate to the feeling of hoping for a plague to lift, as well as the tragedies that result when people do not respect each other.     When I wrote last year, there was some hope that we would truly be at the end of both plagues shortly.   That hope is not yet fulfilled on either front, but I do see signs that there is greater opportunity for cooperation in our society between those of different views and approaches. There is work remaining to do in our country and our community to build on those opportunities.

 I also see that many of us are experiencing our Lag B’omer in a more classic way,  a lifting of restrictions the midst of the a crisis that is not yet over.  Many of us have had our first post-pandemic haircut.  Some of us have had the chane to return to synagogue and other activities.   Celebrations are beginning to resume.  At the synagogue, we are now having weekly sign-up for attendance at services in person Friday night and Shabbat morning (indoors or outdoors, as the situation dictates)  and we are adding in person options for other services as more people are ready to return.   Following on our first experiment with kiddush, we also will be having more and more opportunities for congregants to socialize and eat together, taking into account vaccination status and local conditions.

We understand that people are in different places in their own personal omer.  Some are ready to do much more than the guidance would suggest,  while others would prefer to err on the side of caution. We are all in our own places on the curve, and we may all be experiencing, if you pardon the pun,  a bit of "Omer Lag," not quite ready to come back.   B’nai Torah is not alone in trying to figure out how to serve both of these populations.  A year ago this month, I published the guidance that many congregations consulted in the transition to virtual worship.  Now, I am working with the movement’s to create official guidance for the transition back.   Of most immediate concern will be how we navigate that transition, and the times when some are ready to return and some are not.  Of even greater interest and impact is when we declare that life has returned to a "new normal" an what aspects of our virtual experience will remain with us in that time.

These themes will all come together on Sunday night May 16th. Our congregation’s Tikkun Leyl Shavuot will offer both in person and virtual study options.  Then, at 11:00 PM, I will be addressing the Conservative Movement’s international, on line tikkun leyl Shavuot, on some of these thorny topics.   The omer is a time of concern, but also a time of growth, and it ends with Shavuot, a time of harvest and gratitude.  I hope that we can see gratitude ahead!

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784