Today marks the 33rd day of the Omer, known as Lag b’Omer. Pesach marked the first day of the Counting of the Omer, an incredibly potent and transformative period of 49 days during and following Passover. I like to refer to this process as a spiritual marathon; it is an acceleration of growth through focused self-work.
The kabbalist Rav Avraham Azulai wrote, “When the world was created, there was also a creation of 50 Gates of Purity and elevation, which are controlled by the angel, Michael, and all of the angels that support him. So, too, were 50 Gates of Impurity (Tumah) and darkness created, which are controlled by the most negative of angels, the Samech-Mem.”
The Arvei Nachal explains that to move through the next gate, we must complete an eight-day cycle of transformation. Let’s say a person begins their spiritual process and are between the 50 Gates of Purity and the 50 Gates of Impurity. They set an intention to grow, and, if they do their work of spiritually connecting and transforming for eight days straight, they will have completed the process necessary to elevate into the next gate of purity.
The time of the Omer can be a challenging one; we seem to be met with opposition and setbacks at every turn, but this is because the opportunity of this time is so great. Lag b’Omer arrives, nearly halfway through, to give us a break and an infusion of Light. This Light arrives as we observe the day that the great kabbalist, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, left this world. The kabbalists teach that on the anniversary of a righteous person’s death, all of the Light, all of the energy, that they manifested during their entire lifetime is available for us to draw into our lives. The righteous leave behind an imprint of their deeds on the world — the entirety of their wisdom and strengths. On the anniversary of their deaths, we are able to connect with and receive this very energy.
Turning darkness into Light was the essence of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. He knew that the only way to remove hatred and negativity was to meet it with Light. Tonight, we have the ability to awaken the spark of Light within us, to strengthen this inner Light, and transform the negativity in our lives.
When someone wrongs us, when someone disagrees with us, when someone lives in a way that we judge as wrong, how do we respond to that person? If they have harmed someone we love we may wish harm upon them. We might find ourselves excluding or avoiding a person who holds a different political or religious view from ours. We may behave in less-than-respectful ways when confronted with someone whose choices or behaviors we disagree with. These are human responses, and while they may be the way we were conditioned to react, they are not of the Light that exists within each of us.
If you’re thinking that the idea of being nice to someone who hurt you is disrespecting yourself, I challenge you to look a little deeper. Accepting someone’s hurtful behavior is not okay, ever. However, setting firm boundaries while treating that person with human dignity and kindness is what makes for great change.
Take the story of Ted Bundy, for example. I think we all react with revulsion at the sound of that name and understandably so; he was charged with the rape and murder of 36 women between 1974 and 1980. At Ted Bundy’s execution in 1989, one of the attorneys who fought tooth and nail for the death penalty was present with the families. As Ted Bundy was situated into the electric chair and electrocuted, the attorney described how he and the families felt a deep sense of joy and victory, as did many others. A crowd had gathered outside the prison facility to tailgate, sell t-shirts and pins, and cheer as the news that he died came forth.
Years later, that same attorney describes the event much differently. Surprisingly, he does not hold this memory in victorious or joyful esteem any longer. In fact, he expressed feeling remorse. He felt regret and shame that he would ever feel that much elation in the face of another human being’s death, no matter how much he felt they “deserved” it.
A more recent event was the capture and summary execution of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Many cheered in the streets at the news of his death, yet there were many who couldn’t summon up those feelings of victory. For them, if it was a victory at all, it was hollow. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t protect ourselves from dangerous people, but nothing will bring back the thousands we lost on 9/11.
As Rav Shimon taught, hatred cannot be stamped out with hatred. Tonight, and through tomorrow morning, we are able to tune into an open channel of abundant Light created by Rav Shimon. We can choose to meet hatred with kindness. Harboring hatred for any reason is profoundly self-harming. I love this saying, “Hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Following Rav Shimon’s example, commit to being a beacon of Light in even the darkest of situations.
Thought Into Action
In what ways have you met hatred with hatred? Be prepared for the next time you are offended or hurt by another’s words or actions by writing down ways you can respond with kindness that still protect your safety and boundaries.