Lag BaOmer, the 33rd Day of the Counting of the Omer

May 17, 2014Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser

Tonight begins the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, four weeks and five days. It is the day of the divine quality of hod within hod, humility within humility. This is Lag BaOmer, a minor holiday that recalls the end of a plague among the students of Rabbi Akiva.

According to tradition, the plague was a punishment for the students' lack of respect for one another. Before it ended, the plague killed 24,000 of Akiva's students (B. Yevamot 62b).

My nephew, Dovid, pointed out a teaching to me that observes that Rabbi Akiva was a great teacher of the ideal, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). In the Talmud, Akiva is quoted to say that this a great principle of the Torah. So how is it possible that his students would act so unkindly to each other? So much so, that they were punished with a plague?

One interpretation is that Akiva's students took the "as yourself" part of the commandment too literally. They were willing to love each other, but only to the extent that they saw their fellow students to be like themselves. If another student had a different opinion or a different understanding of the tradition, they saw no need to love the part that was not "as yourself."

This is a plague in our times, too. How often do we see people who claim that they love everyone, but who are willing to spit venom at people who disagree with them? In politics and in the Jewish community, we see that we are like Akiva's students who resent each other for seeing things differently.

Why did the plague end on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer? Every day of the Counting of the Omer is connected to the pairing of two divine attributes. This is the day of hod within hod — humility within humility. This is the day that teaches us that the real way to love others is to lower our egos, put aside our personal opinions, and see that creating peace between us is more important than being right, or proving that somebody else is wrong. It is humility before each other that allows us to love our neighbors in the way that God intends us to.

Happy Lag BaOmer!

Originally published at Reb Jeff

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