Lag B’omer

Lag Ba’ Omer is a holiday that falls between Passover and Shavout. Lag is a combination of the Hebrew Letters Lamed, (30) and Gimmel (3). The Omer means, “sheaves of a harvest crop.”  In ancient times Jews brought the Omer  to Temple as an offering for 49 consecutive days beginning on the second day of Passover and ending on the Eve of Shavout. Today, the Omer is simply counted on each of the 49 days. Hence, Lag Ba’ Omer always falls on the 33 day of the Counting of the Omer or the 18 day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.

The Romans attacked Israel and destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem over 2000 year ago.  Jews were prohibited from studying or teaching Torah. Fortunately, there were a number of Rabbis who defied the Romans and taught Torah in secret.  One such brave and clever teacher was Rabbi Akiva.  To fool the Romans, he and his students pretended they were hunters.  They dressed as hunters, carried bows and arrows and picnic lunches and went into the fields.  They would then meet Rabbi Akiva in a cave where he would teach Torah.  The Romans were outfoxed for a while, but soon caught on and Rabbi Akiva was eventually put to death.  Another Rabbi who is important in the Lag B’Omer story is Shimon bar Yachai, Rabbi Akiva’s best student. He bravely fought the Romans.  To avoid being put to death, he and his son went into hiding in a cave in the Galilee area of Israel.  While in hiding they studied Torah all day and prayed at night. Rabbi bar Yochai also had time to write the Zohar, the book that is the basis of the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism).  After 12 years in captivity the Rabbi and his son were freed when the Roman leader died.

Today Jews celebrate Lag B’Omer on the 18 day of Iyar.  While the days of Counting the Omer are generally sad, because of a plague that killed many of Rabbi Akiva’s feuding followers, it is ironic that the 33 day of the Counting of the Omer is a very happy and joyous day.  Why is that so? It is the day that Rabbi bar Yachai died.  On that day, he decreed to his disciples that the 33 day of the Counting of the Omer be marked as, “The day of my joy”.

Also on that day fires raged in his home only to die down at his death.
Therefore, today we celebrate Lag B’Omer with bon fires and barbecues (to recall the flames in Rabbi Yachi’s house) and other joyous activities.  In Israel many people visit the tomb of Shimon bar Yachai in the town of Meiron.

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