The Sisterhood Scoop
Volume 2 Number 19 – May 18, 2019 – 13 Iyar 5779
Lag B’Omer: Better than Love
– adapted from Rabbi Benjamin Blech
How do we understand the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students?
Lag B’Omer is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the days between Passover and Shavuot. It marks the day which brought to an end a terrible plague responsible for the deaths of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. The students of Rabbi Akiva who perished were almost certainly intellectual giants, but the Talmud tells us, they were guilty of a moral failing – “they did not treat each other with mutual respect.” The profound implication is: Knowledge alone does not establish our righteousness. Scholarship without character forfeits its claim to piety. The students of Rabbi Akiva failed their earthly mission and were taken before their time to serve as spiritual warning for the ages.
And further, how was it possible that these brilliant disciples of Rabbi Akiva were guilty of violating precisely that one precept which served as the core principle of their teacher’s understanding of Judaism? After all, it was THE Rabbi Akiva who daringly selected from amongst all 613 mitzvot the verse, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the underlying concept of the entire Torah. How could his student body be the ones to ignore the core idea of their master’s spiritual teachings – that love of fellow man is the very essence of his curriculum? Yet it was his disciples who failed to treat each other with mutual respect.
It was a woman in my community who came to me to discuss her desire for a divorce from her husband that helped me understand the difference between the two ideals of love and respect, and how emphasis on the first does not ensure compliance with the second. “But I know,” I tried to dissuade her, “that he loves you very much.” “I know that,” she told me. “He too tells me that – and I believe him. The problem is that he loves me but he doesn’t respect me. And that is something I cannot and will not live with for the rest of my life.”
Love and respect, much as we often connect them, aren’t really the same thing at all. One of the most profound pieces of advice for newlywed couples is that given by a prominent expert in the field who says, “It is not a lack of love but a lack of respect that makes unhappy marriages”. A lovely sign for purchase by honeymooners I spotted in a shop in Niagara Falls years ago expressed the same idea -– “Secret of marriage: Protect her like a daughter, love her like a wife and respect her like your mother.” Love and respect are the two most important aspects not only of marriage but of parenting and of all significant relationships as well. Another expert writes: “Love without respect is dangerous; it can crush the other person… To respect is to understand that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product. In a relationship of respect, your task is to understand the other person as a unique individual and learn how to mesh your needs with his and help that person achieve what he wants to achieve. Your task is not to control him or try to change him in a direction that you desire but he does not. This applies as much to parent-child relationships as to husband-wife relationships.” Perhaps the area in which the difference between love and respect becomes most clear is with regard to one’s self. The biblical commandment reads “love your neighbor as yourself” because self-love is assumed – who doesn’t love and want to do everything possible for their own selves? Yet self-respect is an ideal so often found wanting, especially among those who say that they love to pursue anything that makes them happy. So the Beatles were wrong after all. Love is not all you need. You fall in love but you gain respect. Love is an emotion but respect is an attitude. Love is about attraction; respect is about connection.
It is fascinating that the Torah did not command us to love our parents. It told us to honor and respect them. Love can worship without reason. Respect adds worth and esteem to the equation. It clothes love in admiration, approval and appreciation. The students of Rabbi Akiva must’ve acknowledged the religious requirement of their teacher to love their fellow man. Perhaps they even verbalized affection and willingness to help their colleagues. The one thing however they failed to do was to live their lives with mutual respect for each other, because they didn’t understand that that was the next step their Rabbi intended for them to master as necessary part of their spiritual growth.
For 32 days students died. The number 32 as a Hebrew word has special significance. It spells the word lev – heart. The heart is the source of love. But love alone, without respect, will perish. And so the students died until they went beyond that number. The plague ended on the 33rd day, observed as Lag B’Omer. Hopefully we learn from the holiday’s profound message that respect is needed to complete love.
Mark Your Calendars
Save the Date • Save the Date • Save the Date
- St. Louis Jewish Legacy Bus Tour Sunday, June 23, 1:00 – 5:00 pm
SEATS ARE LIMITED – Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your space
- Book Club – Next selection is: The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, by Michael David Lukas – at the home of Amy Feit – Monday, June 24, 7:15-8:45PM
- Craft Central Art Project honoring Israel Date and Time –TBD
- 4th Annual Dine ‘N’ Style Fashion Show and Luncheon with lots of Shopping!
–Sunday, August 18
Counting the Omer – Weeks
During the fifth week of counting the Omer, we examine and refine the emotional attribute of Hod or humility. Humility ― and the resulting yielding ― should not be confused with weakness and lack of self-esteem. Hod or humility is modesty ― it is acknowledgment (from the root of the Hebrew word “hoda’ah”). It is saying “thank you” to God. It is clearly recognizing your qualities and strengths and acknowledging that they are not your own; they were given to you by God for a higher purpose than just satisfying your own needs. Humility is modesty; it is recognizing how small you are which allows you to realize how large you can become. And that makes humility so formidable.
– Excerpted from “A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer,” Rabbi Simon Jacobson
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