Did you know that the same word for LAND in Hebrew, also means, HEART in Yiddish? The word ‘Ha’aretz’ land, is pronounced, ‘Hartz’ in Yiddish. In fact, the blessing over bread, “Hamotzi Lechem min Ha’aretz,” usually translated as, ‘who brings forth bread from the earth,’ can also mean, ‘who extracts war from the heart!’
For several months I have been watching a long running TV series called “HEARTLAND.” I am still in the middle of this 13 season heartwarming and engaging story about a family whose primary focus is horses, not just owning them but caring for them in both body and spirit. The primary caretaker is a young woman named Amy who has an amazing knack for understanding and even communicating with horses.
In recent times, there is more and more evidence about humans and horses having a special connection, as I wrote in an article about the moving film, “Mustang,” about a prisoner who learned to bond with horses. What is the transporter that connects people to horses, and to each other? It is the heart.
I wondered what was it about the Bartlett family in “Heartland” that was enough to engage interested viewers for 13 seasons. As I thought about the development of the characters, I realized that many went through a similar process as we are meant to work on during the 49 days of the counting of the Omer- that of refining our personal character traits. The Bartlett family had their fair share of clashes and conflict, both between each other as well as with the horses. But the one thing I realized was that at least one point in their lives, all the main members of the family said ‘I’m sorry,’ both to each other and even to the horses when relevant! In fact, the horses themselves had their own way of saying ‘I’m sorry!’ The people, and the horses too, grew from being self-centered, or at least self- focused, to becoming more and more concerned about how their actions or even words and judgements, might affect the significant others in their lives. That is drama at its best- even if it is called soap opera- and can impact its viewers in very positive ways.
As Lag B’omer- the 33rd day of the Omer approaches, we are reaching a milestone. There are 32 days preceding Lag B’Omer- the equivalence of the word for LEV, in Hebrew. The following 17 days until Shavuot equal the word Tov-good. Together these numbers which spell out, LEV TOV, good heart, add up to 49, the 49 days of the Omer which we count to help us prepare for the 50th day- the revelation at Sinai.
This Friday is Lag B’omer, a day of celebration for several reasons. One is that the 24 students of the great Rabbi Akiva perished in a plague because, as the Talmud puts it, these twelve pairs of students didn’t respect each other. Following the plague, Rabbi Akiva didn’t throw in the towel, or the tallit; instead he went to the south of Israel and ‘recruited’ five new students who became the leading scholars of the next generation. One of these students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who taught the mysteries of Torah learning that became the basis of future teachings known as the Kabbalah.
So how does a good heart fit in to this picture? For four weeks after Pesach, we are meant to go inward- a task actually made easier by Covid isolation. That is the 32, the heart part of our focus. Then for the next 17 days till Shavuot, we are directed to turn our unique inside personalities to envision how we can repair a damaged world.
Is there an apt symbol for this turning inward and then outward? As a matter of fact, the primary artifact of Lag B’Omer is a bow and arrow! What is the connection? One reason the sages explain is that during the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, no rainbow (same Hebrew word for bow with arrow) appeared during his lifetime. So whatever multiple associations with a rainbow, the Rashbi manifested those connections.
Furthermore, as the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, the message of a bow and arrow is: ‘The deeper you pull internally, the further you can reach externally. What is the day that bridges the internal work of our heart (lev=32)? It is the 33rd day of the Omer, the day that leads us into the good (Tov=17) we radiate into our lives and our universe. Thus we move from the 49 days to the 50th day- the revelation of the Torah. This is a special season of the epic Jewish drama- the journey from the departure from Egypt to the arrival at Sinai. Speaking of uplifting drama, please join me and others at the JCC zoom talkback on Thursday evening, May 13, about the Israeli 3 series drama that has captured the entire world-“Shtisel.” Much like in “Heartland,” though sans horses, the characters in “Shtisel“- perhaps more like Fiddler- live their unique Jewish lives working through universal human emotions and relationships. May we all, especially during these days of separateness, learn to tap into the ‘land of the heart’ and bring forth fruits of peace, love, and connection, to each other and to the divine flow of blessing in the world, with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days!