Ancient Approaches to Modern Exile


Direct pathways are built in our history, for navigating the questions of today or any day, indicating which corner to actually turn, and what to do for this world that is suffocating under the weight of uncertainty and danger, coming and going in nearly every direction. At the intersection between religion and politics, and spirituality and science, there is a certain logic to applying biblical wisdom to international problems, in proportion to the overwhelming spread of current, critical issues that need immediate attention, resources and healing.

Today, we’re counting the Omer, marking and blessing each day between the 2nd of Passover and the Shavuot holiday and mourning an intense historical tragedy; the 2nd century death of 24,000 of the greatest scholars alive, all students of the great sage, Rabbi Akiva. Their plague-induced deaths were considered divine punishment for their collective lack of kindness and respect toward one another, and after 24,000 died, only 5 students remained alive as the leading Jewish minds of their day.

May 26 of this year is the 33rd day of the 50 day count, the Lag B'Omer It is when day the plague ended, and 1 of the 5 remaining students revealed the secrets of the Kabbalah. Lag B’Omer is also a celebration of the life and the occasion of death for that same student, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. All at once, we celebrate the end of death and the end of one specific life, a life that brought the most esoteric and far-reaching light of the Kabbalah to our world, a life so holy it is ritually commemorated by wild and passionate dancing and many, many bonfires lit throughout Israel and wherever Jews live in the world.  The 50th day, which falls on the night of June 11, 2016, we honor Shavuot, and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai to the entire nation of Israel; the essential foundation of our faith.

The process of counting the 50 days serves to directly connect the suffering of Exodus with specific tool that led our people, and could lead any people, toward an eventual redemption; toward peace and the actual, tangible end of suffering. I think it’s important to look even further in the calendar, to Purim, and what it teaches on the value in mystery; lessons on the failures of assumptions, and of the daring power of shifting perspective in order to shift the fate of an entire nation. Purim, when the entire Jewish nation saved by the unlikely connection between a Persian King and his Jewish Queen, contrasts brilliantly against the tragedy of the 24,000 scholars, their lives ended for a lack of brotherly love. Somehow, from that same group of men, one of the greatest minds known to Jewish history and the most profound revelations of universal wisdom since the time of the giving of the Torah came to be. Somehow, as told in the Book of Esther, an entire nation survived an otherwise certain destruction through the words and choices of a mere few.

Through the struggle and journey across the deserts of our contemporary exile, It’s comforting, and inspiring to recognize that there is more light along the way than is easily apparent. The history of Purim, Lag B’Omer, and Passover show that the most illuminating forces of change and peace are at some point, almost completely hidden. Perhaps more than anything else, our work is to to keep eyes and hearts open, and to have the will and ability to search for the sparks, to recognize them, and spread their light as far and wide as possible.