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year, (5774-2014), Lag B'Omer,
the thirty-third day of the Omer,
the 18th day of Iyar, is on Sunday,
May 18, 2014.
Lag B'Omer - (The word "Lag" is not really
a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew, as if you were to call
the Fourth of July "IV July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals). It
is the letters Lamed
numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letter "lamed" is
thirty. Similarly, the numerical equivalent of the letter "gimel"
is three. Together, they add up to - (I bet you said 33).
Anyway, Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of S'firat Ha'Omer
(the counting of the Omer).
What's it all about?
starts the grain harvesting season. Hashem commands that
the barley cannot be harvested until the Korban Omer is
The Korban Omer is also a starting point in the countdown
to Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah). According
to the Torah (Vayikra, Parshat Emor, 23:15-16),
we are obligated to count the days from the second night of Pesach
to the day before Shavuot, seven full weeks. This period
is known as the Counting of the Omer.
These 49 days represent the 49 days of preparation from Yetziat
Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) to Matan Torah on
the seventh day of Sivan.
commands the Jews that on the fiftieth day of counting the Omer
we must celebrate the Yom Tov of Shavuot.
In the Bait Hamikdash the Kohanim would offer
the Shtay Halechem (two loaves) baked from the first wheat
of the new harvest.
Hashem promises that as a reward for the wheat offering
He will bless the fruit of your fields.
After the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, the practice
of bringing the Korban Omer was discontinued but Jews
continued to "count the Omer period," a custom which
has continued throughout the ages.
the years, the Omer period has become identified with sad
memories for Jewry. Massacres occurred during the period of the
Romans and later still during the Crusades. In the days of the Roman
Emperor Hadrian, the Jews - led by Bar Kochba - attemped to drive
out the foreign oppressors from Judea. The revolt was unsuccessful
and during the fighting thousands of Jews lost their lives.
According to the Talmud, (Tractate Yevamot 62b), 24,000
students of Rabbi Akiva died in one short period, because "they
did not show proper respect to one another!" And all of them died
between Pesach and Shavuot as a result of a
mysterious G-d-sent plague that raged during the days of the Omer
counting. For that reason, it is customary to observe a period
of semi-mourning during this time, 16 Nissan - 5 Sivan,
most prominently during the whole month of Iyar, (with
one exception), when weddings are not held, hair is not cut, and
music is not heard. Some do not shave during this entire period.
Some count the mourning period from Pesach to Lag
B'Omer. Others go from Rosh Chodesh Iyar to Shavuot.
This period is a time to reflect upon our middot and
improve our relations with others.
on one day only, Lag B'Omer, (the eighteenth of Iyar
-- The 33rd day of the Omer) - Rabbi Akiva's pupils did
not die. It was made into a festival in the middle of days of mourning
that precede and follow it. The ban on weddings and joyful occasions
Lag B'Omer is also the Yahrtzeit (anniversary
of the death) of the Talmudic Sage and disciple of Rabbi Akiva,
Rabbi Shimon bar (son of) Yochai, author of the Zohar.
The Zohar which means "The Shining Light," deals with
the mystical teachings of the Torah and is the basis
for Kabbala, whose secrets will bring about the coming
Lag B'Omer is characterized by a day of outings. In Eretz
Yisroel and throughout the Diaspora, the day is celebrated
with picnics, ballgames, and mock bow-and-arrow play-fighting. it
is also customary to light bonfires and sing and dance around them.
Tens of thousands of Jews congregate at Meron, in Eretz
Yisroel, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai,
and his son, Rabbi Elazar b'Rebbi (son of Rabbi) Shimon,
where the day is celebrated with bonfires and songs. Many parents
wait until their son is three to cut his hair, and on Lag B'Omer
they cut his hair for the first time at the burial place of Rabbi
This odd celebration of a Yahrtzeit
was a specific request by Bar Yochai of his students.
Even though the death of such a great sage is a sad event, there
is also joy surrounding the fact that he attained his final reward
(as the Zohar explains), and the fact that he revealed
many deep secrets of the Torah to his students on his dying
day. The Zohar says that
on the day Rabbi Shimon died, a great light of endless joy filled
the day because of the secret wisdom he revealed to his students.
That secret wisdom was recorded in the Zohar. The sun did
not set until Rabbi Shimon hd revealed all that he was allowed
to. As soon as he was done, the sun set and he died.
The fire which surrounded the house, preventing any but Rabbi
Shimon's closest students from approaching, serves as a basis
for the custom of lighting bonfires on Lag B'Omer.
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