R’ Efrem Goldberg: Keep The Fire Burning

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I was once talking to a mother in our community who has several significant challenges in her family. I asked her an innocuous question, something like, how are you doing or how is your day. Her response has stayed with me ever since. She said, “Rabbi, any day which ends with the same head count in my home as it began is a good day, no matter what else is going on.”

We can sometimes be so caught up in insignificant and even significant things going on, we forget to be grateful for the simple fact of ending the day with the same head count in our home as when it began. Tragically, October 7 and the last seven months have taught us, that isn’t a given.

This week we will celebrate Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. Each day of the Omer is characterized by another kabbalistic attribute. Lag B’Omer is Hod sh’b’hod, the glory of glory, reflecting our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory. The Hebrew word hod can be understood as coming from the same word as hodu, or modeh, meaning thanks. Lag B’Omer is a day characterized as “thankfulness within thankfulness,” or a day to celebrate gratitude.

The Chassam Sofer, Rav Moshe Sofer says that the miraculous mann that fell from Heaven began to descend on Lag B’Omer. On the first day, the mann was undoubtedly greeted with great enthusiasm and appreciation, but as time went on and there was an increasing expectation the heavenly bread would descend, it became much easier to take it for granted and to forget to be appreciative for it at all.

Therefore, Lag B’Omer is a time that we identify and say thank you for all of the blessings that regularly descend into our lives, but unfortunately, like the manna, that we take for granted.

It is so easy to fall into a sense of entitlement and to forget to be grateful. Why should I thank my children’s teachers? They’re just doing their job. Why should I be so appreciative to the waiter, or the custodian, or the flight attendant? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do? When was the last time we said thank you to the person who cleans our dirty laundry? Do we express gratitude regularly to our spouse who shops, cooks dinner, or who worked all day to pay for dinner, or in some cases did both?

As we celebrate Lag B’Omer, let’s remember to say thank you to the people who do extraordinary things in our lives. But even more importantly, let’s especially express gratitude to the people and to Hashem for the ordinary things that make our lives so filled with blessing, like having the same head count in our home at the end of the day.

There is another theme of Lag B’Omer that is particularly relevant this year. The Pri Chadash in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch asks, why do we celebrate it as a happy day? Most would answer, because on that day the students of Rebbe Akiva stopped dying. But who makes a party because people stopped dying? And moreover, they only stopped dying because there were none left. Why would we celebrate it as a joyous and festive day?

He answers, we don’t celebrate because the dying ended, we are marking what came next. Rather than be defeatist or despondent, rather than give up or give in, despite all the loss, Rebbe Akiva didn’t walk away or close up shop. When the funerals were over and the shivas concluded, Rebbe Akiva identified five new students and he began again. He remained optimistic, positive and resolute in forging forward with the future of the Jewish people. He took the time to mourn and grieve and then he began to build again. Lag B’Omer celebrates our commitment and resolve to continue to light up the world, to dispel the darkness, to be true to our mission and our purpose, even after horrific loss and tragedy.

October 7 was the most tragic day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. In the months that followed we have buried too many of our heroic soldiers who paid the ultimate price to defend our people. But like Rebbe Akiva, rather than cower or fold, rather than flee or give up, the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole are tenacious and determined, fully committed to continue to light up the world.

Like all of the holidays since Simchas Torah, each community and individual needs to navigate how to observe and experience Lag B’Omer while a war rages in our homeland. But this year, whether Lag B’Omer for you means only omitting tachanun or means a bonfire or a tisch, pause to be grateful for what we too often take for granted and further consider what you can contribute to keep the fire of our people burning stronger than ever.



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