Ziv HaOlam – Radiance of the World

Trombones, Drums and Trumpets dancing up the street towards the cemetery, forming a 2nd line to the formal funeral procession. This custom of the Crescent city is one of the unique and most celebrated customs of New Orleans. 

Not everyone gets a second line. It’s normally reserved for the most celebrated citizens of the city, who’ve brought joy to its residents through music, good works and leadership.

Not such a Jewish custom, except on one day of the year, Lag B’Omer.  Lag B’Omer, whose letters “Lamed” and “Gimel” make the number 33 is the holiest day of the Omer.

On Lag B’Omer there are Bonfires, Parades, Bows and Arrows and Haircuts! ( Halevai)

Wait, what’s the Omer again? The Omer is a 7 week accounting of days from Pesach to Shavuot which marks a wheat harvest. According to tradition, it also follows the path of the Israelites from Egypt to the receiving of the Torah.

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famous author of the Zohar, book of Jewish mysticism, died on this day.

His is the only death that is celebrated in the entirety of the Jewish year. Why? Because it is regarded as an attainment of total humility, the ultimate pursuit of a Tsaddik ( righteous person).

Rabbi Shimon’s ability to reduce himself allowed him to shine his teaching upon his community while keeping the glare away from himself.

The kabalisic tradition holds that Lag B’Omer is a day of Beauty within Beauty; cultivating ones own ability to shine upon the world. 

In this way, you do not shine so that others will look at you, but rather so they can see better.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the context of the COVID 19 protests as we witness  of protesters bring their weapons of choice to state capitals and restaurants alike.

Yes It’s horrific to see these weapons of war in public, but it also aggrieves me for these people that they feel they need several pounds of steel to feel secure in this world. 

We speak daily about those who are sick and suffering from COVID, but surely someone who feels the need to express their fears with a fatal weapon, is also suffering a great sickness. 

Lag B’Omer is the holiday of radiance;  a holiday of bonfires and  bows and arrows, an ancient weapon that has been repurposed to signify the ability of one’s prayers to fly heavenward. 

Let us not only pray for those who share our worldview, but even harder and more compassionately for those who do not. Who live with a fear we cannot understand. 

On Shabbat we sing Y’did Nefesh, a Kabbalistic poem in which God is referred to as Ziv HaOlam “ radiance of the world”.  Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s death was an ultimate achievement of that radiance that shines from those who put themselves aside to create healing and unity for others. 

On this week of Lag B’Omer, let us be that radiance, that bonfire, that lights up others, melts the fear of our fellow Americans and brings more beauty into this world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hazzan Fradkin

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.

1 comment

Sarah Birnbach

Beautiful post. Thank you for giving me a different prospective on the armed protesters whose assault weapons gave me a chill.

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