Lag B’Omer: Jews count 33rd day in the Omer with bonfires, parades, archery

Tall bonfire with dusk sky in the background, people standing around fire

A bonfire for Lag BaOmer. Photo by TLV and more, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 6: Colossal bonfires blaze against the night sky across Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide for Lag BaOmer. During daylight hours, celebrants venture outdoors for picnics and children’s activities. The commemorations of Lag BaOmer are twofold: the holiday marks end of an ancient plague and, duly, the passing of the mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. On Lag BaOmer, thousands of Jews gather in Meron, Israel, at the tomb of Bar Yochai.

Literally 33rd day in the Omer, Lag BaOmer marks traditional anniversaries in the Jewish calendar. Between Passover and Shavuot, Jews are, per the Torah, obligated to count the days. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) The omer is a unit of measure, and each night from the second of Passover until Shavuot, Jews recite a blessing and count the omer in both weeks and days. During this period, men and women recall a plague that struck during the time of Rabbi Akiba; haircuts, weddings and parties are put on hold. On Lag BaOmer, the mourning restrictions are lifted. (Find local events, audio classes, related videos and more at Chabad.org.)

The Talmud relates that during the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague hit Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, because of their disrespectful conduct toward one another. On Lag BaOmer, the dying ceased and, among the surviving students, was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Later, he became the most esteemed teacher of the Torah in his generation. He penned the classic mystic text, the Zohar, still revered by those who study Kabbalah. Today, the importance of love and respect is emphasized on Lag BaOmer, as is the great “light” that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai brought to the world. (Find stories, articles and more at Aish.com.)

Some also are emphasizing Lag BaOmer as an anniversary of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. In Israel today, Lag BaOmer is marked in varying ways. In 2004, the Israeli government began designating Lag BaOmer as a day for honoring the Israeli Defense Forces reserves.

Lag BaOmer: Jewish bonfires honor Shimon bar Yochai

Tall bonfire in background with dark shadows of people in foreground, at night

A Lag Ba’Omer bonfire burns in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 17: With Lag BaOmer (English spellings vary), Jewish families enjoy a day of joy in the midst of the solemn seven-week period of Counting the Omer (a period of days after Passover).

Families pack picnic lunches, young children receive their first haircut and the initial weddings of the spring season commence, as Jews far and wide recall the death anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage known for sharing secrets of the Kabbalah. For the symbolic light that Rabbi Shimon brought to the world on this, the 33rd day of the Omer, enormous bonfires are lit. (Wikipedia has details.) Hundreds of thousands of devotees gather annually at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, in Meron, Israel.

COUNTING THE OMER (AND A RECIPE)

In this week’s FeedTheSpirit column, Bobbie Lewis explains the idea of “Counting the Omer” in fairly simple language. She provides lots of fascinating background on the observance, including this: “In the Middle Ages Lag B’Omer became a holiday for rabbinic students, when they engaged in outdoor sports. Today it’s a great day for holding picnics, barbecues and sporting events. And because it’s the only day during the 50-day Omer period when weddings are permitted, it’s considered an auspicious day to start a marriage; in Israel, hundreds of weddings take place.” Click on the link to Bobbie’s column to read more—plus she provides a tasty recipe for barbecue chicken wings on the grill. Mmmmm. Mmmmm.

You may also be interested in a simplified and annotated edition of the Zohar for general readers from our friends at Jewish Lights Publishing.

In Israel today, many also recall the Bar Kokhba revolt against the the Roman Empire, and the Bar Kokhba rebels who lit bonfires to relay messages—despite being forbidden to do so.

In the news: In response to requests by pilgrims and visitors, improvements are being made to accommodate persons visiting the site at Meron, where Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Read more here.

Need tips on building a proper bonfire? Look no further than this article, which is complete with tips from a Jewish Boy Scout.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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.