God upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt  -(Deuteronomy10:19)

 

Lag'B'Omer

 

The Grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron   on Lag BaOmer.

Lag BaOmer is Hebrew for "33rd [day] in the Omer". The Hebrew letter ל (lamed) or "L" represents "30" and ג (gimmel) or "G" represents "3". A vowel sound is conventionally added for pronunciation purposes.

Some Jews call this holiday Lag LaOmer, which means "33rd [day] of the Omer", as opposed to Lag BaOmer, "33rd [day] in the Omer."

The biblical mandate to count the Omer appears in Leviticus 23:15-16, which states that it is a mitzvah to count seven complete weeks from the day after Passover night ending with the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day. The 49 days of the Omer correspond both to the time between physical emancipation from Egypt and the spiritual liberation of the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot, as well as the time between the barley harvest and the wheat harvest in ancient Israel. There are a number of explanations for why the 33rd day is treated as a special holiday.

The Talmud states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva 24,000 of his students died from a divine-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud then goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level; they begrudged each other the spiritual levels attained by their comrades. Jews celebrate Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the count, as the traditional day that this plague ended. This is the view recorded in the legal code of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 120:1-10. Another possible interpretation of this legend is that the students died as part of the Roman attempt to wipe out Judaism after the Bar Kokhba revolt.

After the death of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students, he taught just five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation. The day of Lag BaOmer is also celebrated as the Hillula or yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of bar Yochai, who is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. According to tradition, on the day of bar Yochai's death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah. Indeed this day is seen as a celebration of the giving of the hidden, mystical Torah through Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as a parallel to Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the revealed Torah through Moses.

During the Middle Ages, Lag BaOmer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was called the "scholar's festival." It was customary to rejoice on this day through various kinds of merrymaking.

There are those who dispute that Lag BaOmer is Bar Yochai's yahrzeit on the basis that it appears that in the original texts of Shaar HaKavanot by Hayyim Vital it refers to Lag BaOmer as being 'Yom Simchato' ('Day of his Happiness'). The day of death of a tzadik is generally considered a day of celebration. However, on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai instructed his students to celebrate this day as a holiday to commemoration the vast amount of mystical teachings which he revealed at that time.

In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hundreds of thousands of Jews gather to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting. This was a specific request by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of his students.

In Israel, Lag BaOmer is a school holiday. Youngsters and their parents light bonfires in open spaces in cities and towns throughout the country. Students' Day is celebrated on the campuses of the various universities. Lag BaOmer is also a favorite day for weddings.

In Israel, one knows that Lag BaOmer is drawing near when children begin collecting wood boards, old doors, and anything made from wood that can burn. This happens from 1 to 2 weeks before Lag BaOmer; the bonfires are erected by the children the day before Lag BaOmer and the adults light them at night.

The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. Some say that as bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. As his passing left such a "light" behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit.

The Bnei Yissaschar cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, "Now it is my desire to reveal secrets...The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and died. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, and particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.

At the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, the honor of lighting the main bonfire traditionally goes to the Rebbes of the Boyaner dynasty. This fire is lit on the roof of the tomb at 2:00 a.m.

-music: Bar Yochai
 

             


 

 

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