My mom’s dead. And, I’m single. So, there’s no celebration of Mother’s Day this weekend. (Pay attention kids- your mom’s alive. Don’t forget her.) And, I was somewhat confused last week, when the Phillies celebrated Mother’s Day. (That’s because there will be no Sunday home game this weekend. )
But, I do have a fun holiday this Sunday. I’ll be going on a picnic. (Admittedly, for the first time in a long time, my kids won’t be joining me. Because they should be celebrating Mother’s Day with their mom.)
Sunday is the 33rd day between Passover and Sh’vuot. It’s called Lag B’Omer- not a very original name, since Lag means 33 and Omer is the counting we do as we await the next holiday; it was the time that Jews used to bring daily offerings of barley to the Temple. (The reason we count the 50 days from Passover because we are waiting to receive the Tora- that is what happens on Shvuot.)
I have celebrating this special occasion (it’s not a holiday) since I was 5 years old. (Maybe, earlier, but my memory of the picnics starts at this age.)
You see, way back to the time that Jesus was traveling about the land of Israel, another famous rabbi was around. His name was Rabbi Akiva. And during the Roman occupation, his students were all dying after the holiday of Pesach. But, none of the 24000 deaths happened this day, the 33rd day. So, it became a day of celebration.
Now, we follow special rules during first 32 days after Passover. These days comprise a period where Jews cannot marry, cannot have voluntary celebrations, and where cutting one’s hair is forbidden. (Yes, I am getting my hair cut Sunday, too.)
But, on this day, we have picnics. And, when I was younger, my fellow students and I had outings at the Hempstead Lake State Park- complete with color wars. And, when my children were little, we went together to various open spaces to celebrate the day- Monticello, Skyline Drive, and later to Mount Vernon (when we moved to Northern Virginia). A day to just relax, celebrate, learn, and enjoy the day with fantastic food.
The omer (the counting of the days) is to help us get ready for Sh’vuot. While Passover is the celebration of our freedom, the 50th day is the day the Supreme Being gave us the Tora. A set of rules and mores to which we should adhere. The alternative name of Sh’vuot is “the time of Receiving the Tora”.
Unfortunately, Sh’vuot is among the least celebrated of holidays, even though it is one of the 6 mentioned in the bible. (The important ones, the Festivals, are Pesach (Freedom), Sh’vuot (Tora), and Sukkot (Harvest, the Festival of Booths). Plus the holy days, Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kipur (Day of Atonement). And, the minor holiday of Rosh Chodesh (for each of the new moons, or the beginning of the month), a holiday for women.]
Sh’vuot is the bookend to Pesach. After all, what is freedom without a code of law to which citizens should adhere? Complete lawlessness would not afford one freedom- because a lawless society involves the tyranny of the weak and less strong.
The basic issue is to balance freedom and the law, human rights and order. Freedom is what the Passover holiday commemorates. Leading a life with purpose, leaving the world a better place each and every day (tikun olam)- that’s Sh’vuot.
The rabbis surmised that this plague, this series of deaths during the Omer period, resulted because while the Romans were oppressing us, while they were trying to annihilate us, we did not treat one other with respect and instead harassed one another. This intolerance – of one of us for another- was unacceptable. (Do you see the parallels in the American political discourse? Baltimore? Ferguson? The Donald?)
And, the 33rd day between them affords us a celebration of life. A time to remember that we are all humans and must respect one another and treat each properly. Which is why it has become a celebration of fun and family frolic. A day to stop mourning the dying and celebrating the living- with full and utter respect.
So, come on, feel free to join me on this glorious day. Let’s all have a picnic!