Tonight we will celebrate Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer. Each day of the Omer is characterized by another kabbalistic attribute. Lag B’Omer is Hod sh’b’hod, the glory of glory, reflecting our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory. The Hebrew word hod can be understood as coming from the same word as hodu, or modeh, meaning thanks. Lag B’Omer is a day characterized as “thankfulness within thankfulness,” or a day to celebrate gratitude. Why are we so grateful? Rebbe Akiva’s students stopped dying because there were no more left. Is that a reason to be grateful?
The Chassam Sofer, Rav Moshe Sofer says we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer for an altogether different reason and it is one that teaches us about gratitude. Historically, the miraculous mann that fell from Heaven began to descend on Lag B’Omer. On the first day, the mann was undoubtedly greeted with great enthusiasm and appreciation, but as time went on and there was an increasing expectation the heavenly bread would descend, it became much easier to take it for granted and to forget to be appreciative for it at all. Therefore Lag B’Omer is a time that we identify and say thank you for all of the blessings that regularly descend into our lives, but unfortunately, like the mann, that we take for granted.
It is so easy to fall into a sense of entitlement and to forget to be grateful. Why should I thank my children’s teachers? They’re just doing their job. Why should I be so appreciative to the waiter, or the custodian, or the stewardess? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do? When was the last time we said thank you to whomever cleans our dirty laundry? Do we express gratitude regularly to our spouse who shops, cooks dinner, or who worked all day to pay for dinner, or in some cases did both?
As we celebrate Lag B’Omer, let’s not just say modeh ani in the morning and then quickly transition to feelings of entitlement for the rest of the day. Say thank you to the people who do extraordinary things in our lives. But even more importantly, express gratitude to the people who do the ordinary things that make our lives so filled with blessing.
Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore went on their first long journey to Eretz Yisrael in 1827. On the way from Malta to Alexandria, Egypt, there was a major storm that threatened to capsize the boat. They said tehillim fervently. The captain told everyone to prepare for the end! Finally, the Montefiores had a thought. By Italian Sephardic custom, they had held on to a piece of afikomen — for safe journeys. They retrieved it from their trunk, made their way to the deck and threw it into the stormy sea. Within minutes, the storm calmed, clouds dissipated, and their journey returned to its calm beginning. The Montefiores gave thanks to Hashem for saving them, continued onto Eretz Yisrael, and there rekindled their link to Torah.
Nowadays after Pesach people often ask, “What do I do with all my leftover Matzah?” Based on the Sephardic custom, some still keep a piece of afikomen matzah for protection. More commonly, the practice is to save it for Pesach Sheini, on the 14th of Iyar (this coming Sunday). For the Torah tells us during the time of the Beis Hamikdash that anyone who wasn’t able to bring the Korban Pesach on 14th of Nisan, for reasons out of their control, could bring a Korban Pesach the following month on the 14th of Iyar and eat it on the night of the fifteenth, together with matzah.
Last year I was puzzled with a question. The custom of eating matzah and not saying Tachanun occurs on the fourteenth. Yet, the Torah says they ate the Pesach Sheini on the fifteenth. Shouldn’t we honor these customs on the fifteenth?
Rav Avrohom Schorr quotes the Ramah Mipanau, who praises one who also eats matzah on the fifteenth of Iyar because of this question! The Siddur Yavetz and Ramah Mipanau explain that the matzah that had baked on their backs as they left Mitzrayim lasted until the fifteenth of Iyar and on that day, the mon (manna) started to fall. (Rashi Beshalach 16:1) Rav Avrohom Schorr explains that when they finished eating the last piece of matzah, they complained they had no food left to eat. So why is this a cause for celebration today??
The Sfas Emes notes that when they complained about the lack of food, the Torah does not tell us there was in fact no food. The only indication of the lack of food was their complaint they were going to “die in the desert from hunger” (Beshalach 16:1-3) Unlike other commentators who saw the complaining as a negative, the Sfas Emes says the hunger here was not physical hunger, but rather a spiritual hunger. Even though they ran out of matzah, they were not worried – they believed Hashem was going to give them food. The “food” for which they yearned was a deep connection to Hashem. Just as the matzah they ate was a constant reminder of the miracle Hashem did to take them out of Mitzrayim, they wanted “food” that would connect them to Hashem in a similar way.
As a response to this request, Hashem granted the Bnei Yisroel the gift of Mon – heavenly bread – for forty years.
The following year, on their first Pesach in the desert, the people who were tamei (ritually impure) and couldn’t bring the Korban Pesach on time, said they didn’t want to lose out on the mitzvah. Therefore, Hashem caused the new Yom Tov of Pesach Sheini to come into being.
It’s important to note that Parshas Emor lists all the Yom Tovim, without mentioning the possibility of a makeup date for a Yom Tov. So why did Hashem grant a makeup date for those who were unable to bring the Korban Pesach? Rav Gedalia Schorr explains that precisely because the people verbalized their feeling of loss of the mitzvah, Hashem told Moses He was going to create an ability for them to still perform it – because they asked!
Pesach Sheini is a game-changer in our avodas Hashem (serving Hashem.) It demonstrates that the desire to connect to Hashem can actually afford us another chance! Our interest creates new opportunities.
People tell me sometimes they don’t want to eat a sandwich for a meal since they would need to recite Birkas Hamazon. Perhaps we should look at it in the reverse — by looking for opportunities to eat bread, we can fulfill a mitzvah from the Torah to recite Birkas Hamazon!
Pesach Sheini marks a time period which signifies our yearning to do more mitzvos. It reminds us to look for opportunities. Who can I help? My wife, parents, children, neighbors, friends? What new learning or Torah initiative can I start? Or what existing mitzvah can I reinvigorate?
If we but ask, Hashem will open up the door.