Here in the United States, election season is well underway. Three candidates have had ample opportunity to answer questions as well as to convince the American public audience why they are deserving of their vote.
With so much at stake, it is perhaps understandable that some negativity should creep in. Although it is reprehensible, some of those campaigning for office will descend to any depths in an attempt to raise one’s profile and fame — at the expense of others. The tragedy is that this behavior is not restricted to politicians. Most people wouldn’t think twice about saying, or implying, something derisive about another individual — particularly if they feel that there is something to be gained from it.
This is the key lesson of Lag Ba’omer, which just took place on Thursday. While it is a day of tremendous joy and celebration, it cannot be ignored that it occurs in a period of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who perished during this time (an indescribable loss). The cause of their demise was their lack of respect towards each other. In truth, they were good people, fine scholars and companions. But they couldn’t accept each other’s point of view. They were adamant that their view was correct and would not tolerate dissent.
To seek recognition is one thing. To do so at the expense of others is shameful and demeaning. To paraphrase a story I heard as a child: one can either stand tall by pushing someone else to the ground, or by climbing onto a chair. I know which one I would choose. Lag Ba’omer emphasizes this concept. To be courteous, respectful and kindhearted towards others — in their presence and even in their absence. Fame will have to come from elsewhere.