Lag BaOmer: Jewish commaraderie around bonfires and brews

A large bonfire at dusk with onlookers standing behind the fire

Lag BaOmer bonfires symbolize that spiritual light triumphs over any other form of light. Photo in public domain

SUNDAY, APRIL 28: Each evening since the second night of Passover, Jews have collectively kept track of passing days—or, as the traditon is known, counting the Omer. From that first night, Jews count upward, pausing today for a special occasion: Lag BaOmer or the 33rd day in the Omer. A number of events are recalled at Lag BaOmer, especially focused on the famous Rabbi Akiva and the death later of one of his pupils, another famous teacher known as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. (Learn more at Judaism 101.)

So, what is the reference to “brews” in the headline today? For Lag BaOmer 2013, the Jewish  Telegraphic Agency (JTA) has just posted a fun story headlined “Brewing up a New Connection to Lag BaOmer.” The Omer wasn’t actually a measure of time; the Omer was an ancient measure of barley, offered day by day in the temple. The JTA suggests: “What better way to mark the coming holiday than by downing a barley beverage, cold and carbonated?”

LAG BaOMER:
THE TRADITIONAL STORY

The Talmud states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a plague. By the 33rd day of the Omer, just five students had survived: among them was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a disciple who would go on to become a Mishnaic sage.

On his deathbed many years later, it’s written that Rabbi Shimon revealed the secrets of mystical teachings within the Torah. (Get details from Wikipedia.) Since Rabbi Shimon allegedly extended daylight hours to complete his teachings, many Jews light bonfires tonight to symbolize that all light is submissive to spiritual light. Others light bonfires to symbolize Rabbi Shimon’s passing of spiritual light to the rest of the world. Upward of 250,000 attendees are expected this year on Lag B’Omer at Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon and his son. An enormous bonfire lights the night sky at Meron each year, as onlookers sing, feast and carry torches.

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