Barbeques, bonfires and parties – these are some of the events that occur on Lag B’Omer. But, do most of us really know what and why we are celebrating?
Lag B’Omer – the 33rd day – comes toward the end of the Counting of the Omer. The Counting of the Omer begins on the second night of Pesach and continues until Shavuot. Seven weeks of seven days we count – from our physical liberation and Exodus out of Egypt to our spiritual liberation and receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.
The Counting of the Omer is a time of mourning for the Jewish people. It was during this time in our history that Rabbi Akiva’s students were plagued with death. Over 20,000 students died during these weeks. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest Mishna (the written form of the Oral Law) scholars of all times. He began studying later in his life but was immediately renowned for his wise thinking.
One of the reasons we celebrate on Lag B’Omer is that Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying on this day. Hair cutting, weddings and musical celebrations – that are suspended during the Counting of the Omer - are permitted on Lag B’Omer.
One of Rabbi Avika’s students – Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai – is another reason for our celebration on Lag B’Omer. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the author of the Zohar (Book of Jewish Mysticim). And, on this same date years later – Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died.
On the day of his passing, he shared great Torah insights never before introduced with his students. Thus, Lag B’Omer has become a celebration where bonfires are common sights. The fires commemorate the light Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai brought into this world.
It is said that there were no rainbows during his lifetime. Rainbows were given to us during the time of Noah. The rainbow represented the covenant between G-d and the world and G-d’s promise not to destroy mankind again. While today we may marvel at rainbows when we see them in the sky, their appearance is not all good. It is said that the presence of a rainbow indicates that G-d is “thinking about” the destruction of the world and the rainbow is there to remind Him of His promise to us.
In Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s lifetime, there were no rainbows. His immeasurable merit was enough to protect the world.
Additional traditions on Lag B’Omer call for the eating of carob. During the Roman regime, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son hid in a cave for protection. There was a carob tree that grew outside the cave, offering nourishment to the Great Rabbi and his son.
The Thirty-third day of the Omer, Lag B’Omer, is a day that sails by without much notice in most Jewish homes. Truly, it is a significant and meaningful time in the cycle of the Jewish year.
If you don’t Count the Omer or make a connection to the depth of this time period for the Jewish people, take a moment on Lag B’Omer , to pay tribute to the gifts from our wise sages and the powerful implications their actions from many years ago still have on our world today.