In just a few hours, we will start celebrating the minor holiday of Lag B'Omer in Israel. Israel is Beautiful wants to share some history and celebratory ideas to enhance the holiday for all of you!
So, what is Lag' B'Omer? Before we answer that, we have to ask, "What is the Omer?" The omer is 49 days, beginning on the second night of Passover and ending on the harvest holiday of Shavuot. It marked the beginning of the barley harvest. An omer is a measure of barley and that explains the derivation of the name. And, to answer our original question, Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the 49 days of counting. The word “Lag” is made of of the Hebrew letters lamed (ל) and gimel (ג), which together have the numerical value of 33. “BaOmer” means “ 33rd day of the omer. ”What is so special about this date? While the counting of the omer is biblically ordained some traditions evolved later
The Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
15‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. 16Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a 2nd century rabbi who is associated with the mystical teachings of the Zohar. He died on Lag B'Omer but before he passed, he instructed his students to treat the day of his death as a day of joy and celebration. And, it also commemorates another important event in Jewish history. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's teacher was Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud teaches us that many of Rabbi Akiva's students were killed by a plague that miraculously ended on the 33rd day of the omer. The Jewish community, then and now, was so grateful for the plagues end that after Lag B'Omer, the community was able to discontinue the mourning practices of avoiding celebrations, haircuts and other visible signs of sadness.
How do we celebrate the holiday? For centuries, it has been custom to build bonfires on the holiday. Why? The rabbis explained that it was to remember the spiritual light that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought into the world. Every generation of Jews celebrated by building a bonfire. It was a common way for Jews across the globe to mark the holiday. But times have changed. We now know that bonfires, while fun, are destructive to the environment. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who, according to tradition, lived on carob and water for years while he hid from the Romans in a cave with his son, would not have wanted his memory to be commemorated by harming nature. And so, over the last few years, communities have created new, environmentally-sensitive festivities to mark the occasion. Throughout Israel, municipalities are opening public fountains (using recycled water) at night so that children can enjoy splash parties. Others have announced song competitions to create iconic Lag B'Omer melodies for future generations. And other communities are offering live music extravaganzas so that people can come together and celebrate the memory of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai while protecting the world we live in.
Israel is Beautiful wishes you a fun, meaningful and safe Lag B'Omer