Food For the Soul
Lag BaOmer—this year, Friday, April 30, 2021—is a festive day on the Jewish calendar, celebrating the anniversary of the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. It also commemorates another event. In the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged among the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities proscribed by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of loving and respecting one’s fellow (ahavat Yisrael).
All over the world, it is customary to spend the day outside, enjoying the natural beauty of G-d’s world. At this time of restrictions about how and where people may gather in groups, some Jewish communities have organized car parades and other innovative events to celebrate Lag BaOmer. Check with local shuls and Chabad houses for an event near you. If you can safely make your way to a park in your area, go for it. If not, make do with what you have, whether it’s your backyard or even sitting out among the potted plants on your balcony. Find some lively Jewish music or just play your own favorites as loudly as you can without upsetting your neighbors. If you can have your own barbecue, kosher hotdogs or steaks, depending on your budget and taste, make for a memorable and fun afternoon outdoors.
Lag BaOmer is also a day when some of the deepest secrets of the Zohar, the foundational text of Jewish mysticism, were communicated. What better activity for your Lag BaOmer celebration (especially for adults) than actually learning some Zohar? Visit Chabad.org for information and inspiration about Lag BaOmer.
Ethics: Chapter 4
In preparation for the festival of Shavuot we study one of the six chapters of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) on the afternoon of each of the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot. Tomorrow we begin to study Chapter Four. Among the wonderful sayings in this chapter is from the sage Ben Zoma. He would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): “From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.” Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated (Proverbs 16:32), “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”
Mind Over Matter
Delusions of anger
There are people who go about life believing G-d is angry with them. “After all,” they say, “why shouldn’t He? I’ve abandoned Him. I’ve done things He doesn’t like. In fact, I hardly ever think of Him any more. Why should He care about me?”
They delude themselves. At the core of their consciousness shines a spark of Him, awake and pulsating within everything they do. Indeed, that spark does not let them alone. And from Above pours down only love, an infinite love that neither subsides nor changes. What blocks entry of that love? What holds back the spark within? Nothing more than those deluded dreams.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“You shall love your fellow like yourself.” (Kedoshim 19:18)
This is the eternal mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael, loving our fellow Jews, which Rabbi Akiva called “the great principle of the Torah.” It is also a mitzvah of which we are told that its fulfillment will bring about the Messianic redemption.
In the same context we are taught in Pirkei Avot 1:12: “Be of the disciples of Aaron: loving peace and pursuing peace, loving (G-d’s) creatures and bringing them near to the Torah.”
It is certain that nowadays, as we are so close to the redemption from the galut (exile) which was caused by gratuitous hatred and discord, we have greatly improved in the observance of this mitzvah. At present, therefore, we have to move to a new level. During these last days of the galut we must try to experience a taste of the wondrous quality of ahavat Yisrael of the Messianic era, an absolute ahavat Yisrael of soul to soul, which transcends all trivial differences that cause strife.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Rabbi Michoel Gourarie writes of a man who related the following incident: “The other day someone cut me off while I was driving, almost causing an accident. I lost my temper, cursed the driver and continued screaming for a while. My wife suggested that I calm down and learn how to control my rage. I argued that while I know that anger is a negative and destructive trait, this time it didn’t matter as the subject of my temper could not hear what I was saying. I was just venting to feel better. What do you think?”
Rabbi Gourarie’s answer was this: “Losing your temper and cursing the driver who cannot hear is bad for you as a person. In the Book of Leviticus there is a verse (19:14) that states: You shall not curse a deaf person. Our sages explain that this prohibition is obviously not limited to someone who cannot hear. It is a transgression to get angry, curse or use bad language with anyone. Why then would the Torah single out the deaf?
The great philosopher Maimonides explains that the Torah is teaching us a fundamental lesson in our growth as a human being. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that negative behavior or language is only problematic when it hurts someone else. We think that we have a license to behave as we wish, as long as we keep it to ourselves. One could therefore erroneously believe that cursing a deaf person is not so bad because he/she cannot hear what is being said.
By focusing on the deaf person the Torah corrects this mistake. The purpose and benefit of appropriate behavior is as much for ourselves as it is for others. We have a responsibility not only to help others and protect their dignity, but also to ensure that we refine and develop a sensitive, compassionate and respectful identity for ourselves.
Losing your temper and cursing the driver who cannot hear is bad for you as a person. You will need to explore alternative and effective strategies to control your temper and manage your anger. If you learn to do it in your car, you will be calmer with friends and family as well. Once again, your wife is right. Drive safely and calmly.”
Rabbi Yossy Goldman writes: “Many years ago I was trying to help a man organize a get (Jewish religious divorce) for his estranged and already civilly divorced wife. The problem was that she refused to cooperate. (Usually, the problem is the reverse.) So I engaged an attorney friend of mine to help with the case. The next day he called me to say it was all sorted out. I couldn’t believe my ears. “How did you do it?” I asked incredulously. He answered with such genuine directness that I was completely taken aback. “I called her up and said, ‘I believe you are not an ogre.’ Immediately, I received a favorable response and the deal was done.”
Nobody is really an ogre, Rabbi Goldman adds. “If we can learn to give people the benefit of the doubt we might be surprised at how friendly and cooperative they really can be.”