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May 16, 2003 - Image 135

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-05-16

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Count Me In

The story behind Lag VOmen

AppleTree Editor

Lord, King of the universe, who has
sanctified us with His command-
ments and has commanded us
regarding the counting of the
Omer"), then the relevant day's
count is announced.
The count includes both the day
and the week of the Omer, as direct-
ed by the Torah. For instance, one
would say, "Today is 19 days, which
are two weeks and five days of the

The Holiday: Lag b'Omer, the 33rd
day of the counting of the Omer,
which this year falls on May 20.

Why We Celebrate: Jews are of very
different opinions as to exactly why
the holiday is observed. Some say it
celebrates the end of the plague that
killed Rabbi Akiva's students.
Kabbalists mark the day because of
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, traditional-
ly regarded the author of the Zohar,
the main book of Kabbalah.
Lag b'Omer marks various impor-
tant moments in his life: the rabbi's
yahrtzeit (anniversary of his death),
the time he was ordained by Rabbi
Akiva, and the date when he came
out from a cave where he had been
hiding from the Romans.

What Do We Count?: "Lag" is an
acronym formed by the two Hebrew
letters that make up the numeral 33.
This number marks the 33rd day of
Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the
In Parshat Emor (Leviticus Ch. 23),
God designates the festivals of the
Jewish year, including Pesach.
Rabbinical interpretation of verse 9
holds that on the second day of
Pesach, Jewish farmers of Israel were
to bring to the Temple in Jerusalem
an offering of an omer of barley flour
(about 2.2 liters), along with gifts of
meat, flour and wine. Once this was
performed, the people could use the
new grain of the spring harvest.
In verse 15, God commands that
the Jews begin counting, starting
with the omer offering and continu-
ing for 49 days. On the 50th day,
they were to mark Shavuot.
After the Temple was destroyed,
the Jewish people could no longer
bring sacrifices, though they contin-
ued to perform the counting com-
To this day, Torah-observant Jews
count the days between Pesach and
Shavuot. This is usually within the
daily evening service. A blessing is
recited ("Blessed are you, God our


A young Israeli archer practices to commemorate the battles of Shimon Bar

There are no tears for this 3-year-old, who is about to have his first haircut to
commemorate Lag b'Omer on Mt. Meron in Israel.

How To Celebrate: Lag b'Omer is
enhanced by the many weddings
that take place and by parents giving
their 3-year-old sons their first hair-
cuts (another Kabbalistic tradition)
along with hosting a party to cele-
brate the event.
In Israel, thousands of Jews gather
in the northern Israeli town of
Meron for prayer and festivity at the
tomb of Shimon bar Yohai. Others
go to the tomb of another ancient
sage, Shimon HaTzadik, in
For unknown reasons, some light
great bonfires and children play with
bows and arrows on Lag b'Omer.
They also commemorate Bar Kochba
and his rebellion against the Roman
occupation of Israel (132-135 C.E.).
Why Bar Kochba is associated with
Lag b'Omer is a matter of scholarly

A Sad Connection: Despite the fes-
tivities, this time is associated with a
number of painful events in Jewish
history. During the first 33 days of
the Omer, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's
students died in a plague because,
the Talmud says, they did not treat
each other with respect.
Later, there were a series of mas-
sacres of Jewish communities in the
Rhineland during the Crusades in
1096 and 1146, and then during the
Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49.
Consequently, Torah-observant Jews
to this day refrain from haircuts
(some men also do not shave), do
not have weddings and other cele-
brations and do not play or listen to
live music during the period. ❑



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