Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Philosophy Of Lag

My father passed away at the beginning of Adar. We got up from shiv‘a (stage 1 of mourning) a few days before Purim, which meant that I was going to be celebrating Purim while still in the period of sheloshim (stage 2). One of the first post-shiva questions I asked my decisor/consultant on aveilut matters was how to go about doing that. The interaction of personally-legislated solemnity and comunally-legislated rejoicing is a complicated field of inquiry; it changes with each type of event and with each stage of the mourning process.

When I asked my rav about Purim, I certainly didn't expect that I would end up going back and revisiting the same topic almost every other week or more. But the music of the spheres doesn't stop for human frailty (shemesh beGiv‘on dom notwithstanding), and the calendar keeps cycling through. From Purim during shloshim, to the power of holidays, including Hhol Hamo‘eid Pesahh, to suspend restrictions; from Pesahh to Yom Ha‘atzma’ut, and the principle that 'communal celebration trumps personal aveilut'; and now to Lag Ba‘omer.

I had assumed — based on its greater universality, longer history, and pivotal role within its own context of Sefirat Ha‘omer — that the Thirty-Third Day of the Counting of the ‘Omer would have at least as much "yomtov-ness power" as Yom Ha‘atzma’ut, thereby authorizing activities of celebration for the day, such as live music and parties, that would otherwise be inappropriate for the mourning period of yud-bet hhodesh (stage 3). However, my rav informed me that of all the books on aveilut at his disposal, none of them mention Lag Ba‘omer at all — implying that it has no power to suspend mourning practices — and that one cannot build a qal vahhomer argument from Yom Ha‘atzma’ut to L"G ba‘Omer. After all, we (for some values of 'we', at least) say Hallel on Yom Ha‘atzma’ut; no one says Hallel on LäG Ba‘Omer.

At that point it hit me:
La̋G Ba‘Omer is meaningless out of context.
Lag Ba‘omer is about the cessation of bad, while Yom Ha‘atzma’ut (and even more 'real' holidays) are about the inauguration of good. The only reason that Lag Ba‘omer is significant [leaving aside the later Qabbalistic overlay] is that it marks the end of the period of the death of Ribbí ‘Aqiva’'s students. It's not a song of celebration; it's a sigh of relief. The only reason that Lag Ba‘omer cancels the pseudo-aveilut customs of the Sefira is because that is its only reason for existence. When it comes to real mourning, on the other hand, it's just another ordinary day...


Blogger Lipman said...

You're right. The whole Sfire mourning is modelled after personal eveiles, but it's only a minnek, while eveiles-eveiles is a law (the details of which are determined by minnek).

This is why in given cases (see a tshuve by R' Hirsch, e.g.), a chasne is allowed even in the core time of Sfire.

Add to it that of the shittes when to keep eveiles between Pesech and Shvues, not all exclude Lagboumer, and that for a good rationale.

Add to it that the whole grave worship and celebration of a great man's death, who died many centuries before the writing of the Sefer "hazzouhar" is suspicious and the like.

5/06/2007 9:01 AM  
Blogger rabbi without a cause said...

Not to disagree with the central theme, but see the Pri Chdash to Orach Chaim 493; Lag ba'Omer, he argues, is the day when R' Akiva began to teach his new students, so that there was a new beginning.

This makes a great deal of sense; after all, would you really celebrate when a plague ended if the reason for the end was that the entire candidate population was dead?

5/06/2007 2:25 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

hirhurim had a post just last week based on what rabbi without a cause cites

5/06/2007 5:36 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

The only reason that Lag Ba‘omer is significant [leaving aside the later Qabbalistic overlay] is that it marks the end of the period of the death of Ribbí ‘Aqiva’'s students

Supposedly (according to the Maharil, I believe, who lived 1300 years after R. Akiva) the students of R. Akiva didn't die on the days between Pesach and Shavuos when tachanun was not said; that's 17 days and therefore they died on the other 32 days. There is no source to say that they stopped dying on Lag B'Omer itself. The whole holiday is contrived.

5/06/2007 6:30 PM  
Blogger Elie said...

May your continued aveilus provide the release and closure that it is intended to, and may you have a full measure of nechama.

5/07/2007 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, regardless of what the specific rules are for mourners on Lag- (and it makes total sense what you were told about Lag being a cessation of bad) I hope that this period of mourning for your father continues to deepen your understand of the critical role he played in your life and that you continue to heal after his loss

5/07/2007 3:46 PM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Hunh. I thought eveiles qua avelut was a minhag, and only the first day was a din. Been a while since I learned Moed Qatan, though, so I'm probably wrong.

5/10/2007 7:55 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


you're talking about real aveilut, right? what i was told is that there's a mahhloqet rishonim where at least one opinion is that real aveilut is only through sheloshim, and the rest of the year is a kibud av va’eim issue. but i'll be learning more about it after Shavu‘os.

5/10/2007 8:57 PM  

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