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Sounds Of Silence


Schmutter-041213

Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we delve into questions sent in by readers. We might as well. It’s not like we can listen to music.

Dear Mordechai,

What should I do about Sefirah and the whole “no music” thing?

Awkward

Dear Awkward,

A lot of people go crazy about it. “A month without music! Oh no!” This is because they’re afraid to be alone with their thoughts.

Why not talk to yourself, like the rest of us?

One of the huge benefits of music has always been for when you’re so uncomfortable with the people you’re talking to that you need a break. Kind of like at Shabbos meals, when someone always starts singing just as the conversation gets weird. Or interesting. And the same goes for weddings. This is why school dinners are so awkward — you can’t suddenly break into song. The speeches don’t help.

Also, a lot of people like having music on in the background while they do other things, because they want to feel like they’re in an inspirational movie montage. How are we supposed to work off a whole Yom Tov’s worth of weight when there’s no inspirational background music?

Oh, well. I guess we’ll start working out after Sefirah.

So a lot of people try to come up with strategies to cope. For example, many people use the same strategy they do before a fast day – listen to as much music as they can right before Sefirah, and hope it will hold them over. Even though it doesn’t really work with fasts either, and that’s just one day.

Or maybe their plan is to get so sick of music that they can go for a while without it, kind of like we do with noodles before Pesach. We eat them 3 meals a day for a month straight, and then we feel like maybe we can go for a week without noodles. So we listen to music the entire time that we’re cleaning. This isn’t something you can do with haircuts.

“Yes, I’d like 3 haircuts, please!”

But if you really can’t get along without music, you might be able to try listening to something that’s not music, such as a cappella.

(Ask your rabbi, though. Some rabbis say you can only listen to bad a cappella.)

Of course, there is a limited amount of a cappella albums out there, and you can easily get sick of them. But the upside is that you can make your own, and no rabbi would question that that’s okay. Some rabbis also permit classical music, because those don’t usually lead to joy (except maybe “An Ode to Joy”). At best, people are sitting there going, “Wait. Which part is the chorus?” or “When are they gonna get to the words?” And you can’t even hum it without at least 20 people, which means that it’s probably not something you can sing in the shower.

Dear Mordechai,

Why is there a minhag to cut a 3-year-old’s hair on Lag Ba’Omer specifically, even if it’s not his birthday?

Meir Rhone

Dear Meir,

I don’t know that it’s necessarily a minhag. I think it just seems like more people do it then because it’s basically the culmination of 34 days of birthdays where you couldn’t cut hair, plus all the days before Yom Tov when you didn’t really have a chance because you were busy cleaning and cooking and listening to music, and all your relatives were like, “I’m not going to drive 2 hours each way to watch them cut their kid’s hair. There’ll be other haircuts. It’s not like he’s balding yet.” And the last thing you want right before Pesach is to get hair over everything you own, which is what happens when you have all your relatives take turns cutting hair off a 3-year-old boy and then giving him honey.

I think some people do have a minhag specifically for Lag Ba’Omer, though. It has something to do with Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, which, as with most things about Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, we don’t really understand. But to emphasize the connection, those people incorporate the Bar Yochai song, which goes, “BAR Yochai, nananananananai nananananai nanananana-nai, BAR Yochai nananananananai nanananai mei chaveirecha.”

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