It happens without fail that this mini-holiday that we call Lag B’Omer always falls on the day of Humility within Humility. The “lag” of Lag B’Omer is actually a number: it stands for the number 33 (Hebrew letters represent numbers, as well). Lag B’Omer literally means “the 33rd of the Omer.”
I might add here that 3 is my lucky number, for whatever that’s worth — and it’s actually worth a lot when you consider how many weird experiences I’ve had waking up in the middle of the night and my clock reading either 11:33 or 2:33 or 4:33. It started before I turned 33 and since I believe in signs, I thought it was some kind of message for my 33rd birthday. But it kept happening, and is still happening twenty+ years later. I now wonder, is the message about Lag B’Omer?! (If so, maybe my “day” in the Omer is not the 31st day, after all!)
The Omer period is traditionally understood to be a period of semi-mourning. In observant Jewish communities, weddings don’t take place during the Omer — or at least not until either ON or after Lag B’Omer or, in other communities, not even until the new moon/the 1st of the month of Sivan (Shavuot itself is on the 6th of Sivan), very close to the end of the Omer period.
It is rare for a progressive Jew to get hung up about the mourning aspect of the Omer period, but there is one tradition I do keep. It’s not because I consider this a period of mourning — I would, in fact, officiate at a wedding during this timeframe. However, what can I say? I happen to like this particular and quirky tradition: I get my hair cut before Passover but then not again until Lag B’Omer. So at 8:30 tonight when I got out of the office, I recited the Omer in the car and rushed to get my hair cut before the salon closed at 9 PM, as I wasn’t sure I’d have time tomorrow.
So, I ask myself: what is the connection between this mourning period, the one-day reprieve of Lag B’Omer, and humility-in-humility?
The Omer was not considered a period of mourning according to Torah. This tradition is first mentioned in the Talmud where we are taught that 24,000 (the term “12,000 pairs” is used to indicate the disunity among them) of Rabbi Akiba’s students died in the period between Passover and Shavuot because of lack of respect for one another. (Talmud Yevamot 62b)
It is that extreme, murderous lack of respect for one another that demands a deflation of ego, a call to arms not just for humility, but for humility-in-humility. Lack of humility can kill, the Talmud seems to be saying. Lag B’Omer with its extra dose of humility on top of humility is the antidote to that rampant hubris. It is a day of reprieve.
When we only hold the “For me was the world created” without the counterbalancing “I am but dust and ashes” (this is a practice that R. Simcha Bunem of Peshischa prescribed to hold a well-balanced humility), the world would literally self-destruct.
Here is the quintessential humility-in-humility poem, by one of my very favorite poets, as it reminds us of all that could go wrong if our ego is imbalanced:
The Place Where We Are Right
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
“From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring… And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.”
Are we humbled yet?
Happy Lag B’Omer — Enjoy your reprieve!