Cognitive Pearl #074 Iyar 18, 5775 May 7, 15

Lag BoOmer BonFire



The dizzying smoke of a million bonfires lingers in the air of Jerusalem. For some Lag BaOmer was a magical evening; for others it was a night of noise, irritation, closed windows, and coughing.

Isn’t that a fitting epitaph for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (you can read more about him and Lag BaOmer here)? An all eclipsing hero to some; a dangerous and tiresome rebel to others.

Counting myself among the former, Lag BaOmer is a quintessential cognitive therapy holiday. Granted that such a statement seems counter-intuitive; after all, cognitive therapy advocates empiricism (the school of philosophy which holds that only that which can be seen can be truly understood) and Lag Baomer is a celebration of the mystical, of the unseen, of the unknowable mystery of the Universe.

For me however empiricism has it limits just like every body of human knowledge. Everything, perhaps with the exception of death, is subject to the law articulated so poetically by another fantastical character of much more recent vintage, Forrest Gump, ‘it happens’. As much as we strut about with our data, statistics, predictions, and all the other synonyms for human hubris we just don’t know.

Lag BaOmer and its mystical traditions remind me that no matter how clever we get, humanity will never fully know the whole score. As close as we get to figuring it all out, the loving Designer of all stays just beyond our grasp. He sprinkles beauty as a leads us deeper and deeper into the cosmos. 

So what then is the place of cognitive therapy when each of us is immersed in a universe so much out of our control?

There are of course many reasons to do what we can to make our lives better. For me, cognitive therapy has offered one unparalleled gift and for this it is supremely relevant. That is is the pure pleasure of clear thought and the joyous life that results. Once I get all of the traps and tricks of misery-making-embodied-pseudo-thinking out of my head the sky turns blue, the universe opens itself, and I’m swept into the mystery of it all.

So pass me a marshmallow and throw another log on the fire. 

Bar Yochai, the holiest oil has anointed you; you’ve ascended to the loftiest of levels; glory encompasses you.