Lag BaOmer and Be Kind

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Rabbi Sandra Lawson received ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 2018. She holds a Master’s degree in Sociology with a focus on environmental justice and race, is an Army veteran, and an Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.

Interfaith work is essential to my work as a rabbi. During my time with Interfaith Youth Core as an Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow, I have tried to bring forth content to help Jews and non-jews understand Judaism, particularly through a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) lens.

Last month I wrote about the holiday of Passover in a piece called From COVID to Liberation. In that essay, I discussed the holiday of Passover and how, in this time of COVID, our society can move toward liberation. In that essay, I also discussed the Counting of the Omer, a 49-day period, beginning on the second day of Passover and ending on the holiday of Shavuot. Counting the Omer is a Jewish tradition connecting our exodus from enslavement with receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai as free people. These 49 days serve as a reminder that liberation is not possible until we received the Torah. This month I want to bring forth a minor Jewish holiday that many people may not know. The holiday Lag BaOmer begins this year on the evening of April 29th and ends on April 30th. Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the Omer and marks the halfway point of counting and the midpoint of our journey to receiving the Torah. 

For traditional Jews, the Omer period is a time of mourning; when celebratory acts such as marriage, haircuts, and concerts are forbidden. The prohibitions are lifted on Lag B'Omer. Couples wed, celebrations occur, people get haircuts, and people gather for large bonfires, representing the light of the Torah. Lag BaOmer is a day of celebration during the otherwise solemn period of the 49 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. This past year we have had much to mourn as over 587,000 people have died from COVID in the United States, and we continue to learn about Black and Brown people who have died from police shootings. Lag BaOmer is an opportunity to focus on the joy and celebrations in our lives and a chance to focus on gratitude. 

For those who may not know, one of the things that connect Jews worldwide is that on Shabbat, our Sabbath, Jews all over the world are reading the same section of the Torah. It takes us a year to get through the entire Torah, starting with the book of Genesis and ending with the book of Deuteronomy. When we finish, we celebrate the new year, atone for times when we have missed the mark, and then start the cycle of reading all over again. I love this way of reading the Torah because even though we read the same text every year, we see it through different eyes, reflecting on what is happening to us at that moment in time. 

Which brings me to this week's Torah portion Emor from the book of Leviticus. There are two things I want to point out about this week's Torah portion. The first one is that this is a challenging text because, in Leviticus 21, the Torah specifies a long list of physical disabilities and ailments that would disqualify a man from serving as a priest. This Torah portion is painful to many of us because it elevates the perfect male as one that is best to serve God. Today we no longer have priests, we have rabbis and cantors, but this image of the perfect male leader still remains. Many of our amazing Jewish leaders are women.

The second thing I want to point out is that this week's Torah also focuses on kindness. We are to be kind to the poor, the stranger, and those in need. During the biblical era, most people were farmers, and this Torah portion speaks about harvesting crops and ensuring that poor people are treated with kindness and respect.

The Torah says,

 "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger because I am your God."

The final part of this text is a reminder that all we have comes from God, and God wants us to be kind. The word kind comes from the word kin meaning, "related to," and it's easier to be kind when we remember that you and I are kin; we are related. We are not strangers; we are all created in the Divine image. This also means we should have empathy for those who are different from us.

Therefore I've decided that this week is be kind to others and be kind to yourself week. I know that many of us, because of COVID, are still not able to do many of the things that bring us joy, but as more of us get vaccinated, there is light and celebration at the end of the tunnel. So, be kind to yourself and practice acts of kindness toward others. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Theodore Parker, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let’s bend it together.
In both my work as an interfaith leader and a dancer, rethinking is all about opening our minds, asking questions, and having conversations.
Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.
A global study of the communication patterns of 1.3 million workers during the global lockdown showed the average workday increased by 8.2% during the pandemic, and the average number of virtual meetings per person expanded by almost 13%.
Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.
The solution, said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, is “the loving care of a family, not another orphanage.” He pointed to Scripture passages that say God sets the lonely in families and call on Christians to care for those who have been orphaned.
The following interview features Debra Fraser-Howze, founder and president of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative that fortifies community infrastructure to better address the pandemic in Black communities. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The seven monks have been clearing brush from around the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and running a sprinkler system dubbed “Dharma rain,” which helps keep a layer of moister around the buildings.
Over 800 Muslim Americans are expected to attend the family-focused event at the Green Meadows Petting Farm in Ijamsville, Maryland, making it one of the larger such gatherings around the country in the era of COVID-19.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically.
Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy.
Our Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared in a remote rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Yet the debate about the vaccine in Tennessee is not solely a debate about science. Rather, I believe the vaccine debate is also a referendum on our public capacity to embrace vulnerability.
The study found that while there are many promising signs that students perceive support for their RSSIs on campus, there is also considerable room for improving welcome, particularly for students whose RSSIs are a minority.
Coronavirus deaths among clergy are not just a Catholic problem, said Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, with faith leaders across denominations having elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
Legislation legalizing human composting has encountered religious resistance from the Catholic Church.
From the 26th of November, 2020, a farmers protest has been in existence on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city. For the past eight months, farmers in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, have been fighting three laws that threaten the future of agriculture in the country.
Sivan and I feel that it is crucial to work for increased vaccination rates, particularly with more transmissible and potentially more deadly variants emerging across the country and throughout the world.
We made calls to friends, disseminated flyers, engaged in social media marketing, partnered with faith-based communities, and engaged the local health department to encourage members of our community to come to our upcoming clinic and get vaccinated.
"It’s not about accepting other’s beliefs and pushing your own away - it is about being respectful, while still having the freedom to express your beliefs"

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.