Since spring has now truly started, I feel obligated to mow the lawn so that the kids can actually play outside without stumbling over abandoned cars and refrigerators hidden by the prehistoric forest in my back yard.  Mowing the lawn got me thinking about the fact that it is OK for me to cut the grass now, but not to trim my beard. We are now in the period of time between Passover and Shavuot, which is the period of time between the Exodus from Egypt, the physical birth of the Jewish people and Shavuot which is the celebration of the revelation at Sinai, which was the spiritual birth of the Jewish people. This period is known as Sefirat Ha’omer – the counting of the Omer and it is a very, very beautiful time. It is a very holy and happy time, because here we are going from physical birth to spiritual birth, going from freedom of the body to freedom of the soul, going from the exodus in Egypt to an encounter with G-d at Mount Sinai.

Later in history this period unfortunately took on a negative, mournful aspect for two reasons. First, during this time about 2000 years ago many, many students of the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, died.  The Talmud tells us they died as a result of a plague, and the reason for this plague was because they were not sufficiently respectful to each other.. I’m sure they had respect. Just not enough respect!! Because the students died during this time, it took on a mournful component. We don’t shave, have haircuts or have weddings during this time. Later on, certainly for European Jews, mourning became even more intense as a result of the horrific tragedies of the first and second Crusades. The Crusaders massacred  thousands of Jews in France and in the Rhineland on their way to the land of Israel.

In the words of Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  It was the best of times because it was the time of growth, the time that we prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah at Sinai. But it is also a sad time because of the tragedies that occurred in history.  And so, because of the mourning I am not trimming my beard or getting a haircut. My face and the backyard are looking very similar. I am afraid that once I mow the yard, it will look better than my face.

Mowing the lawn and not trimming my beard has also made me think of the uniqueness of the human.  Humans need to do a lot of grooming that animals don’t seem to need. We need to cut our hair, shave, trim the beard, cut our fingernails, cut our toenails – all unnatural activities that wild animals do not need to do. I think that this indicates the status of the human as not merely being a part of nature, but as being above nature.

We don’t believe in just letting it all out, being natural and having no limits.  We have rules, self-control, and the possibility of changing ourselves for the better.

When G-d placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He said to them, le’ovada u’leshomra. Le’ovda means “work it”, shomra means “guard it.” Ovda means that we should cultivate, nurture and grow. Shomra means that we need to weed, prune and restrict. We don’t believe that just because something is natural therefore it is correct, moral or appropriate. We have to take our natural inclinations, and if they are moral and noble, nurture them, direct them positively and expand them. If our natural inclinations are leading to immorality then we must control them and channel them, just as I have done with my grass and will do, in  few weeks to my beard.

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