Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Ongoing Confusion About Sefirah

I grew up as an observant pre-1975 Conservative Jew for whom Halacha was clearly the authority. As part of that upbringing I was acutely aware of the lack of music and celebrations between the Hagim of Pesah and Shavuot, those days known as the Counting of the Omer, or Sefirat HaOmer. This was not merely a function of my mother’s Orthodox background and the fact that she was the Morah D’atra of the home, but also the fact of the matter was that this was universally observed in our congregational community’s world.

Now, after living squarely in the center of the Orthodox community for my entire adult life, Sefirah has become quite the curious time for me. Some people only observe the restrictions with which I was brought up from after Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, others stop the restrictions at Lag B’Omer, and still others count a certain number of days. These Sephardim to this, those Ashkenazim do that. I even remember one wedding years ago on Yom HaShoah, clearly not observed at all by the Orthodox community in which the wedding was held. All I know is that I have gone to festive parties, weddings and other celebrations during a period of time that was basically quiet and void of these things when I grew up…. So, it is clearly understood that I am confused.

It is a confusion that I can, and obviously do, live with. That is not the problem. It is the lesson of this confusion that I find so curious. We actually know that if a family in our Orthodox community has a simcha and their celebration occurs on a day which is during the period of restrictive behaviors that we observe as the standard that I have known my whole life, we are able to join with them – that is to yield to their minhag, their custom, while temporarily suspending ours in order to join in the simcha, an important mitzvah in its own right. What a wonderful way to build community and to show that in the end we are all connected to each other enough that we can put aside such personally held observances, and even stringencies, dare I say.

My question is why we can not apply this to other areas of our life. We, who are so lenient on this point, which was admittedly difficult and uncomfortable for me (and I think still is to some degree), will not budge one bit on other matters, which are probably analogous, or even less profound. For example, there are specific matters of personal stringencies of Kashrut that, while important to the individual, need not be fodder for embarrassment of others in the community. The extension of what is mukseh (not to be touched for purposes of improper use) on Shabbat is one of my personal favorites. Years ago, my children and their friends were playing nicely when a neighbor really overreacted to their personal understanding of whether or not it was proper for ME to allow MY children to play with Connectix (which are yielding only temporary connections between pieces, and therefore, in our understanding do not quality as mukseh – truly a whole other discussion), but trust me, not anywhere near the cause for the reaction and concern it caused.

We are a community and I continue to believe that G-d is much more lenient on what we forego as individuals to make that community than are many members of the community. Ironically, it is these very members of the community who often have their semachot during the time that was “black out time for celebratory events” in my younger years. No problem – I am glad to celebrate with them. I just wish others would agree that it is more important to live as a whole and caring community than to not be willing to yield when G-d is!

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