A joyous interlude during
the counting of the Omer.
he 33rd day of the Omer
Count — this year May 2 —
is a festive day on the Jewish
calendar, celebrated with outings (on
which the children traditionally play
with bow and arrows), bonfires and
other joyous events. It is Lag b'Omer.
Many in Israel visit the resting place
(in Meron in the north) of the great
sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai, whose yahrtzeit the day marks.
The rabbi, who lived in the second
century, was the first to publicly teach
the mystical dimension of the Torah
known as the Kabbalah. He is the
author of the basic work of Kabbalah,
the Zohar. On the day of his passing,
the rabbi instructed his disciples to
mark the date as "the day of my joy:'
The chassidic masters explain that
the final day of a righteous person's
earthly life marks the point at which
"all his deeds, teachings and work"
achieve their culminating perfection
and the zenith of their impact upon
our lives. So each Lag b'Omer we cel-
ebrate Rabbi Shimon's life and the rev-
elation of the esoteric soul of Torah.
Lag b'Omer also commemorates
another joyous event. The Talmud
relates that in the weeks between
Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged
among the disciples of the great sage
Rabbi Akiva "because they did not
act respectfully towards each other."
These weeks are therefore observed
as a period of mourning, with various
joyous activities proscribed by law
and custom. On Lag b'Omer, the dying
ceased. Thus, it also carries the theme
of Ahavat Yisrael, the imperative to
love and respect one's fellow.
It is traditional to light bonfires on
Lag b'Omer eve. These commemorate
the immense light that Rabbi Shimon
introduced into the world via his
mystical teachings. This was espe-
cially true on the day of his passing,
Lag b'Omer, when he revealed to his
disciples secrets of the Torah, whose
profundity and intensity the world
had yet to experience.
The Zohar relates that the house
was filled with fire and intense light
to the point that the assembled could
not approach or even look at Rabbi
By far, the largest Lag b'Omer cel-
ebration takes place in and around
Rabbi Shimon tomb in Meron.
Hundreds of thousands attend the
Children customarily go out into the
fields and play with imitation bows
and arrows. This commemorates the
midrashic tradition that no rainbow
was seen during Rabbi Shimon's life-
time. Rainbows first appeared after
Noah's flood, when God promised to
never again devastate the world. When
the world is deserving of punishment,
God sends a rainbow instead. Rabbi
Shimon's merit protected the world,
rendering the rainbow superfluous.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged
the practice of arranging children's
parades on Lag b'Omer in celebration
of Jewish unity.
In some circles, it is customary to eat
carobs on Lag b'Omer. This commemo-
rates a lifesaving miracle that Rabbi
Shimon experienced. For a period of
13 years, Rabbi Shimon and his son
were fugitives from the Roman regime,
hiding in a tiny cave in northern Israel.
Miraculously, a carob tree grew at the
entrance of the cave, providing nour-
ishments for its two holy occupants.
All the Omer mourning prac-
tices are suspended on Lag b'Omer.
Permitted are weddings, haircuts,
music, etc. F.71
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