Lag BaOmer: Wikis

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Lag BaOmer
Official name Hebrew: ל"ג בעומר
Observed by Jews and Judaism
Type Religious
Significance 33rd day after Pesach
Begins Iyar 18
2009 date May 12
2010 date May 2
2011 date June 22
Related to Pesach, Shavuot, Counting of the Omer
Kids playing next to their Lag Ba’omer bonfire, Tel Aviv 2009

Lag BaOmer[1] (Hebrew: ל"ג בעומר‎), also known as Lag LaOmer amongst Sephardic Jews, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer which is on the 18th of Iyar.

Contents

Etymology

Lag BaOmer is Hebrew shorthand for 33rd of Omer (Lag, or L"G (Hebrew: ל"ג‎) is the Hebrew numerals for 33). It falls on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, as counted from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot. This corresponds to the 18th day of the month of Iyar. An omer is a measure of barley. In Biblical times, on the second day of Passover, it was a commandment to bring barley the size of an omer to the Temple in Jerusalem. Then, fifty days later, on Shavuot, or Pentecost, it was a commandment to bring the first offering of the wheat harvest.

Sephardic Jews have the custom of calling this holiday Lag LaOmer, which has been claimed to be more accurate according to the rules of Hebrew grammar. Lag La'Omer means the thirty-third day "of the Omer", as opposed to BaOmer - "in the Omer." In reality, Sephardim who follow the "Mechaber" or Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch) celebrate "Lad BaOmer," or the 34th day of the omer.This has been disputed with the argument that in Hebrew, the prefix used when counting is "B'" or "Ba", as in Tu BiShvat, Tisha B'av, etc. The "Ba" prefix in Hebrew can mean "relating to", as opposed to "la", which denotes "belonging to". The argument however does not apply to the case of Lag La'Omer, since, unlike Shevat and Av, Omer is not a month or a period of time.

Origins

The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer is Lag BaOmer. The origins of the Omer count are found in the Torah itself, in Leviticus 23:15-16, which states that it is a commandment 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 (Yevamot 62b) 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, the anniversary of the death, of bar Yohai,[2] who is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. According to tradition, on the day of his 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. Indeed there is a source in the Kabbalah that Moses was reincarnated as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to give this mystical element of the Torah to the Jewish people.

Many Jews make a pilgrimage to bar Yohai's tomb in Meron on Lag BaOmer.

There are those who dispute that Lag BaOmer is indeed bar Yohai'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').[3] However, the day of death of a saint or tzadik is generally considered a day of celebration so this appellation is not surprising, especially given the fact that the Zohar tells the story that bar Yohai revealed a vast amount of mystical teaching at that time. The Ben Ish Chai, and the Chida both confirm that bar Yohai did not die on this date – additionally the Chasam Sofer discouraged the idea of celebrating on the day even if it would in fact be his Yahrzeit.[4]

Lag BaOmer has another significance based on the Kabbalistic custom of assigning a Sefirah to each day and week of the Omer count. The 33rd day is the 5th day of the 5th week, which would be the day of Hod, or Majesty, within the week of Hod. As such, Lag BaOmer represents the level of spiritual manifestation or Hod that would precede the more physical manifestation of the 49th day, Malkhut within Malkhut, which immediately precedes the holiday of Shavuot.

Some say the holiday marks the temporary victory of Bar Kokhba's men over the Romans.[5] The holiday became a symbol emphasizing the struggle for national liberation and freedom. The bonfires and the archery games coincide with Bar Kochba's revolt.

Customs and practices

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

Lag Ba’omer is special in that the prohibitions of the Omer period may be suspended for the day, or cease, according to custom. It is a time of dancing and singing. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and (rubber-tipped) arrows, and bats and balls. Tachanun, the prayer for special Divine Mercy on one's behalf is not said, because when God is showing one a "smiling face," so to speak, as He does especially on the Holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.

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. As restrictions of mourning are lifted on this 33rd day of the count of the omer, weddings, parties, listening to music, picnics, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with this day. In Israel, many Orthodox Jews traditionally delay cutting a boy's hair until after his third birthday; the upsherin hair-cutting ceremony is often held on Lag BaOmer in the area near bar Yohai's tomb.

In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar bar Simeon, tens of thousands of Jews, if not more, gather to celebrate on the "Yahrzeit," (or more properly, the Hillula) the anniversary of the death of the "Godly man," the great scholar who lived in the immediate aftermath of the Second Temple. With torches, song and feasting, the Yahrzeit is celebrated. This may seem somewhat odd, but was a specific request by Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai of his students. It is a custom at the Meron celebrations, dating from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts or Upsherin, while their parents distribute wine and sweets.

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Bonfires

The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. Some say that as bar Yohai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. It is also Jewish custom to light a candle in honour of the deceased on the day of the Yahrzeit. As his passing left such a 'light' behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit. The Bnei Yissoschor cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said "Now, it's 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, a 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.

First haircut for children

It has been proposed that originally pilgrimages for an Upsherin were made to the Tomb of Samuel the Prophet on the 28th of Iyar (his Yartzeit). He was a Nazirite bound by oath not to cut his hair, and as such the location of his tomb more appropriate for the occasion. However at some point towards the end of the Middle Ages, the area had become prohibited to Jews – it is around this same time pilgrimages began to be made to Meron, location of the tomb of Shimon bar Yochai whose Yartzeit is the 18th of Iyar (Lag B’omer). Possibly the tradition of Upsherin during this period was thus transported to a new location and date. Bolstering evidence for this theory is that Sefardic minhag prohibits hair cutting until the 34th day of the Omer, as such Upsherin at Meron would be in contradiction with the tradition of segments of the Jewish community on this basis it seems more likely that the Upsherins were originally held on the 28th of Iyar – a more universally tenable date as it is past the 34th day of the Omer.[6]

In Israel

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. Hundreds of weddings are held on Lag BaOmer, adding to the festive character of this holiday.

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. As Lag BaOmer approaches, building contractors employ extra night watchmen to make sure that wooden planks and scaffolding are not carried off by youngsters.

A Haredi custom is the giving of Chai Rotel. Chai (literally life, but equivalent to 18 in gematria) Rotel (a rotel is a liquid measure of about 3 liters; 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons). It is popularly believed that if one donates or offers 18 measures of liquid sustenance to those attending the celebrations at the Hilula of R' Shimon bar Yochai in Meron on Lag BaOmer then the giver will be granted miraculous salvations. R' Ben Zion Halberstam, the second Bobover Rebbe, is alleged to have written to one of his acquaintances in 1912 "I heard from the holy sages of Eretz Yisrael that they have a kabbalah that barren women (God forbid) should donate Chai Rotel on the yahrzeit of R’ Shimon bar Yochai."

Dates

  • 2008: Thursday night/Friday 22-23 May
  • 2009: Monday night/Tuesday 11-12 May
  • 2010: Saturday night/Sunday 1-2 May
  • 2011: Saturday night/Sunday 21-22 May
  • 2012: Wednesday night/Thursday 9-10 May

References

  1. ^ Lag BaOmer Jewish Agency for Israel
  2. ^ ben Shimon, AsherLag B'Omer and Rashbi Arutz Sheva. May 18, 2003, accessed April 30, 2007.
  3. ^ Machon Shilo A Fresh Look at Lag B'OmerAudio lecture by Rav David Bar-Hayim
  4. ^ Esser Agaroth Um,...Hello?! RaShB"I Didn't Die on Lag b'OmerEssay by Yaaqov ben Yehudah
  5. ^ Israel Ministry of Tourism
  6. ^ The Twenty Eighth of Iyar Aish

External links


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