Lag BaOmer and Be Kind
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.
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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.