Spoiler alert: I’ll be talking about Lag B’Omer. And Rabbi Akiva. Soon. But first, today’s Omer quality.
Hod. Splendor. Also Gratitude. And Humility.
Hod she’b’Hod? What can we make of that? Practically speaking, I mean. Something simple, personal and real that’s a perfect blend of splendour, gratitude, and humility.
Here’s an idea: finding a role model. Someone you think is splendid. Whose life or work you’re grateful for. You aspire to be like them. Even though, in your humility, you know you aren’t yet.
I’ve admired and copied many role models. In every activity I do! But most of the time I do it unconsciously. Instead of thinking “I admire this person,” I just get busy learning from them. So, some of my role models may never know how much they have influenced me. Heck, I may never know. And thus, not even say “thank you.” (I feel bad about this.)
Today is day 33 of the Omer, four weeks and five days.
That means today is Lag B’Omer! A holiday with a humble name. Lag just means 33. Also a holiday of mysterious origins. It seems to recall the second Judean revolt against Roman occupation (132 C.E.). And it celebrates the intellectual heroes of the resistance. Like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. And, speaking of role models, Rabbi Akiva.
Scholars sketch a timeline of Rabbi Akiva’s life. But it’s hard to separate fact from legend. For example, Akiva is an Aramaic variation on Yakov, Jacob. So there’s a whole story about him working seven years to impress his wife Rachel with his learning. And then another seven years. And, finally, showing Rachel’s nasty father how competent he is.
So, why not honour Akiva as a kind of second Jacob? The first Jacob is an early spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people. Akiva, is a spiritual ancestor of modern Judaism. He lived through the destruction of the Temple and the birth of Christian mission. True, he didn’t work alone. But, without him, Judaism might not have found a future.
What, specifically, did he do? He organized all the early rabbinic teachings about law and custom. Put them in logical categories and arranged them in logical order. Yes, he created the oral Mishna. He explored mysticism, yet integrated it with his rational side. Also, he encouraged close reading of the Torah. Every detail counts, he said! So keep reading with fresh eyes and spinning creative interpretations. Not just about law and practice, but about love and legend, too.
Love, he taught, is the Torah’s most important message. If we love, suffering can point us towards the future. And towards others, so we can help them, financially and spiritually.
Yes, Rabbi Akiva is my role model. We share some skills. We’re both intellectual and mystical. Close readers of Torah. Hopeful we can impress our partners. That’s why I’m drawn to Rabbi Akiva.
But some skills we don’t yet share. And those are the ones I aspire to. Seeing love in everything. Finding meaning in suffering. Being hopeful about the future. Knowing how to practice justice.
So what’s stopping me from learning?
That’s today’s question.
Today, the day 33 of the Omer, i.e., four weeks and five days.
New to counting the Omer? Here’s a primer.