“Man should rather jump into a fiery furnace than offend another in public.”-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Today is Lag B’Omer. Bonfires, bows and arrows, music (MUSIC!), haircuts, weddings, celebration. This is the day that the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying in the plague. Today is the yahrzeit of the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva, who famously hid in a cave with his son and learned massive amounts of Torah, and who the Zohar was revealed to.
There’s plenty to read on Rabbi Shimon (I link to a number of articles at the end of this post), and his journey from being so immersed in the holy work of learning Torah that literal fire came from his eyes to a champion of compassion for every Jew is deeply inspiring.
It was tricky to pick a quote (obviously, I was going to choose a quote from Rabbi Shimon on his Yahrzeit!) because they are all so good, and so deep, but in the end I went with this important reminder of the importance of being considerate to the effect our words and choices have on other people.
Our sages teach that embarrassing a person is like killing him. And Rabbi Shimon flips this around, a bit, stating that it would be better for us to jump in a furnace (again with the fire) than to, G-d forbid, embarrass someone in public.
For a religion that values life so deeply, that’s a strong statement.
And right now, when shaming culture is alive and well, it is a worthwhile reminder. When tensions are so high and every choice carries life or death consequences, when anger and outrage simmer right on the surface, it is all too easy to react, to not take that beat and think before words come flying out of our mouth (or out of our fingers, on the keyboards and phones we are using as our way to peek into the outside world).
And now, enjoy these pictures from last year’s Lag B’Omer celebration
-sources/further reading: The Wisdom of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, A Bond of Oneness: The Legacy of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, The Life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
—Photo of bonfire by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash