In the Same Boat Published in the Baltimore Jewish Times May 20, 2005 -- Parsha Behar Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
A person sits on the deck of a boat. He reaches into a toolbox, pulls out a drill, and proceeds to bore a hole in the hull. Suddenly, the people sitting around him (who had been quietly minding their own business) begin to shout, "Stop! What are you doing?"
"I’m drilling a hole. I can do what I want. Why is it any of your business?"
"Are you kidding? We’re all together on this boat! You may be making a hole under your own seat, but we are all going to sink."
This famous parable reminds us how our actions affect others. Our personal choices have ripple effects with consequences not only for ourselves and for those closest to us, but for others as well.
We like to think that we are self sufficient, but in fact, we are interdependent. We see this in the mitzvot of this week’s parsha, Behar. We are given the divine guidelines of justice, property, monetary matters, and contractual arrangements. These laws were constructed so that we would not wrong others in transactions regarding buying, selling, or lending. These provisions also include how to return property and land to their rightful owner during the Jubilee Year, which occurs once in a fiftieth year cycle. Also, we are commanded not to take advantage of a needy person, but rather to help another in time of need and to share with others our good fortune. It states in the parsha (Leviticus 25), "You must come to his aid." Likewise, an employee should be treated with dignity. We are not allowed to break his spirit by working him like a slave or oppress someone verbally.
The essence of all these principles is that we are to be respectful in our dealings with others, always aware of our responsibility to treat people fairly. In order to have a just and moral society, it helps to remember our interconnectedness.
This idea comes to life every year on Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the seven-week Omer period between Pesach and Shavuot that will take place this Thursday night and Friday morning. The Omer is a semi-mourning period, commemorating many thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died in a plague over one thousand years ago. Although they were brilliant scholars, they did not treat each other with Kvod Chachamim– with the appropriate respect.
But on Lag B’Omer, having learned to treat each other with kindness and humility, the plague receded. For this reason, Lag B’Omer is a happy occasion for Jews all over the world and we are permitted to celebrate once again – with weddings, music, and outings. Families and neighbors gather together for bonfires, barbecues, and picnics. It is not a day to sit alone. Rather, we unite to enjoy a day of community and camaraderie – a celebration of our historical roots and connectedness.
On Lag B’Omer, in a mountainside town called Meron, in Israel, this special day becomes a gala celebration. Hundreds of thousands of people come to pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (135 – 170 C.E.), who studied deep secrets of the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) while he hid in a cave with his son, Rabbi Elazar, for thirteen years to escape Roman persecution. It is said that by praying and connecting oneself to the soul of a Tzaddik,a completely righteous person, one can alter the course of one’s destiny. The spirit of the tzaddik is said to inhabit the space around his gravesite. It acts as a conduit for sincere believers seeking G-d’s blessings. Particularly on the anniversary of the death of a tzaddik, the connection to his spirit is intensified.
As we reach Lag B’Omer, we now look forward to Shavuot. We are reminded of the Midrash that teaches that every soul that would ever be born was gathered at Mount Sinai when G-d gave the Torah to the people. Now, like then, we are in the same boat. May we draw strength and understanding from each other and become a more united people. Shabbat Shalom.