Lag B'Omer represents many concepts.
How are Sefirat Haomer (counting of the days) and positive relationships related to each other? Sefirat Haomer is the practice of counting up the 49 days from Passover until the festival of Shavuoth, the date which the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Jews count up the days leading to Shavuot, rather than down, to convey gladness at receiving the Torah and to display spiritual elevation. Jews commemorate the awe and anticipation their ancestors experienced at this holy event, where G-d made Himself accessible to all. During the Sefira (counting), Jews across the globe are extra cautious when it comes to dealing with relationships. Why is working on having positive relationships so important during this time period? How does the concept of positive relationships relate to Positive Psychology?
In anticipation of receiving the Torah, Jews are working on their character refinement, a cornerstone of Positive Psychology and founder Professor Martin Seligman’s PERMA model. PERMA is an acronym that stands for the five elements that constitute living a good life. The R in PERMA stands for [Positive] Relationships, the third element of PERMA. What we can contribute towards building positive relationships is essentially our goal during the Sefira period.
What constitutes a positive relationship? We know that no relationship can be perfect at all times as this is impossible; there is a steady rhythm of ups and downs we experience even in healthy relationships. But not all relationships are steady and some can even be described as a roller coaster. The choice of remaining in any relationship is ours alone. Do we remain in relationships that will ultimately enrich our lives or do we stay in relationships where there are more lows than highs, constantly hoping for a better future? It is only with the passage of time that we will know whether a certain relationship can be classified as negative or positive.
In her book Positive Relationships (2011), Sue Roffey describes relationships as the heart of our lives. We find ourselves surrounded by others interacting with people on a daily basis. We rely on others to meet our needs for love, laughter, care, and encouragement. What motivates us to add positively to our relationships? The giving process is largely cylindrical. We give positively to others because our relationships support us as human beings. We perpetuate the cycle of giving because this helps us feel good about ourselves and our connections. As human beings, we play an active role in maintaining relationships which are good for us. There are many ways we can benefit others in a positive way, such as:
· Being a good influence and sending the right messages to others.
· Hearing with our eyes and speaking with our heart.
· Respecting the differences of those we interact with.
· Trusting others and sharing our lives with them.
· Showing gratitude towards others on a consistent basis.
During Sefira, we work on our relationships in order to enhance their positivity. While it is natural to think of what we stand to gain from our relationships, our primary goal should be practicing humility. Just as the Jews humbled themselves to receive the Torah, we should also humble ourselves to attain character refinement. This will result in more positive relationships. Positive relationships are, as Sue Roffey notes, at the heart of our existence and working on them can greatly enhance our quality of living. With this knowledge, we can go about creating relationships that will not only benefit us but those we interact with as well.
What is the Perfected Community and how do we go about achieving it?
One of the greatest sages recorded in Jewish history was Rabbi Akiva. He had 12,000 pairs of students from Gabbatha to Antipatris, who died during between Passover and Shavuot due to their lack of respect for one another. Rabbi Akiva’s students had not only attained a high level spiritually but they also attained greatness in their Torah learning. Yet, they did not feel happy for each other’s accomplishments. Lag B'Omer represents the time this stopped. With the world of Torah learning desolate, Rabbi Akiva went about assembling new students to take the place of the old ones.
During the time of Sefirat Haomer and especially on Lag B'Omer, Jews across the globe are working towards the goal of achieving the state of the Perfected Community. To become the Perfected Community, writes famous Jewish scholar and kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, we must work on attaining true good and spiritual greatness.
“The Highest Wisdom decreed that [true good] would best be attained if man would first exist in the present world, bound and limited by its natural laws. This is actually the true and proper preparation necessary for the desired goal… readying man for this ultimate purpose.”
(The Way of G-d by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 2:2)
In Rabbi Luzzatto’s book, The Way of G-d, he elaborates on how we can create the perfected community. The preparation toward the Perfected Community has two components: the individual and all of humanity. The goal of the individual is to attain spiritual perfection through his deeds. Each individual possesses a good inclination and an evil inclination, as well as free will. Those who pursue and choose good (positive) will be chosen to establish the Perfected Community. “It is for this Community that the Future World and all its attained good are intended.” (ibid)Lag B'Omer to Positive Psychology