Lag B’Omer: The Hidden Light

Question

What is the holiday of Lag B’Omer all about?

3 months

Answers

  1. We are commanded by the Torah to count forty-nine days starting from the second day of Passover. On the fiftieth day we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, commemorating the Giving of the Torah. This 50-day period is called “Counting the Omer.” The Omer was a barley offering which was brought in the Temple on the day we start counting, the second day of Passover.

    “Lag B’Omer” is the thirty-third day of counting the Omer. The word “Lag” means 33 because it is comprised of the letters “lamed” and “gimmel,” corresponding to the numerical values of “30” and “3.” This year, 2020, it is on Tuesday, the 12th of May.

    Two significant events occurred on this date, and though separated by many years, they both contribute to its special status. On the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer, a deadly epidemic that was rampant among Rabbi Akiva’s students abruptly ceased. Because the epidemic lasted 33 days, the common custom is to observe 33 days of semi-mourning during the Omer period, ending on Lag B’Omer.

    It is also customary to mark this day with festive practices. The most colorful of these is a grand celebration at Mount Meron in Israel, at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar (son of) Yochai. Why Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai?

    The greatest scholar of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) who ever lived, Rabbi Shimon died on Lag B’Omer, and on that day he revealed many of the deepest ideas of the Kabbalah to his students. They recorded his teachings in a book known as the Zohar, “the Light.” Jewish custom dictates that the anniversary of the death of a great scholar should be noted as a means of inspiring people with his lessons and teachings.

    For hundreds of years on Lag B’Omer, people have gone to the grave of Rabbi Shimon on Mount Meron in the Galilee region. There they have celebrated by lighting bonfires to symbolize the light of Torah that Rabbi Shimon revealed, and by dancing, singing and studying Rabbi Shimon’s teachings. Today it is common to see people all over Israel celebrating Lag B’Omer with bonfires and singing, while at Mount Meron hundreds of thousands participate in the festivities. This year, due to Covid-19, the celebrations will be much smaller in size and scope according to the regulations of the Israel Health Ministry.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team