Lag BaOmer

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Lag BaOmer
Lag BaOmer bonfire.jpg
A Lag BaOmer bonfire celebration in Israel, symbol of the holiday
Official nameלַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר
Observed byJews
TypeJewish
Significance33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which begins the 2nd day of Pesach
Begins18th day of Iyar
Date18 Iyar
2020 dateSunset, 11 May –
nightfall, 12 May[1]
2021 dateSunset, 29 April –
nightfall, 30 April[1]
2022 dateSunset, 18 May –
nightfall, 19 May[1]
2023 dateSunset, 8 May –
nightfall, 9 May[1]
Related toPesach, Shavuot, Counting of the Omer

Lag BaOmer (Hebrew: לַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר‎), also Lag B'Omer, is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.

According to kabbalistic tradition, this day marks the hillula (celebration, interpreted by some as anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, "the Rashbi", a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendor, literally 'radiance'), a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. This association has spawned several well-known customs and practices on Lag BaOmer, including the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimages to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the northern Israeli town of Meron, and various customs at the tomb itself. However, the association of Lag BaOmer with the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai may be based on a printer's error.[2]

Another tradition that makes Lag BaOmer a day of Jewish celebration identifies it as the day on which the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples came to an end, and for this reason the mourning period of Sefirat HaOmer concludes on Lag BaOmer for some believers.[3]

Etymology[edit]

Children watch Lag BaOmer bonfire in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Lag BaOmer is Hebrew for "33rd [day] in the Omer". (The Hebrew letter ל (lamed) or "L" has the numerical value of 30 and ג (gimmel) or "G" has the numerical value of 3. A vowel sound is conventionally added for pronunciation purposes.)

Some Jews call this holiday Lag LaOmer, which means "33rd [day] of the Omer", as opposed to Lag BaOmer, "33rd [day] in the Omer". Lag BaOmer is the traditional method of counting by some Ashkenazi and Hasidic Jews; Lag LaOmer is the count used by Sephardi Jews. Lag LaOmer is also the name used by Yosef Karo, who was a Sepharadi, in his Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 493:2, and cf. 489:1 where BaOmer is inserted by a glossator).[4] (The form Lag B'Omer ["33rd day of an Omer"] is also sometimes used, though it is not grammatically correct in this setting.) The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, writes in his Likkutei Sichos that a deeper reason for the term Lag BaOmer is that the Hebrew words Lag BaOmer (ל״ג בעמר, spelled without the "vav"), have the same gematria as Moshe (משה, Moses). He writes that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose yahrzeit is traditionally observed on this day, was mystically a spark of the soul of Moses.[5][6]

Origins[edit]

Entrance to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Eleazar

The origins of Lag BaOmer as a minor festival are unclear. The earliest clear reference to the observance of Lag BaOmer is a brief statement by Isaac ben Dorbolo (12th century, northern France). It is found in his annotations to Mahzor Vitry. He points out that Purim and Lag BaOmer always fall on the same day of the week, but he says nothing about the origin of the holiday.[7] Lag BaOmer is also mentioned in the early 13th century by Avraham ben Nathan in his Sefer HaManhig.[8] The Talmudist Menachem Meiri in his gloss to Yevamot 62b cites the Talmudic passage which states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a divinely-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. Meiri named Lag BaOmer as the day when, "according to a tradition of the geonim", the "plague" ended.[9]

According to Jewish religious tradition, after the death of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students, he was left with only five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation, and is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. The actual authorship of the Zohar has been disputed, and scholarship generally points to Moses de León as the author of the Zohar, pseudepigraphically attributed to Bar Yochai by him in an attempt to legitimize the work.[10]

The Zohar calls the day of Bar Yochai's death a hillula.[9] Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria and author of Etz Chaim, was the first to name Lag BaOmer as the date of Bar Yochai's hillula.[9] According to the Zohar (III, 287b–296b), on the day of Bar Yochai's death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah.[11] Lag BaOmer therefore became a day of celebration of the great light (i.e., wisdom) that Bar Yochai brought into the world.[12]

Nachman Krochmal, a 19th-century Jewish theologian, among others, suggests that the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students was a veiled reference to the defeat of "Akiva's soldiers" by the Romans, and that Lag BaOmer was the day on which Bar Kokhba enjoyed a brief victory.[9]

During the Middle Ages, Lag BaOmer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was called "Scholar's Day". It was customary to rejoice on this day through outdoor sports.[13]

Kabbalistic significance[edit]

Lag BaOmer has another significance based on the Kabbalistic custom of assigning a Sefirah to each day and week of the Omer count. The first week corresponds to Chesed, the second week to Gevurah, etc., and similarly, the first day of each week corresponds to Chesed, the second day to Gevurah, etc. Thus, the 33rd day, which is the fifth day of the fifth week, corresponds to Hod she-be-Hod (Splendor within [the week of] Splendor). As such, Lag BaOmer represents the level of spiritual manifestation or Hod that would precede the more physical manifestation of the 49th day (Malkhut she-be-Malkhut, Kingship within [the week of] Kingship), which immediately precedes the holiday of Shavuot.[citation needed]

Customs and practices[edit]

The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron on Lag BaOmer

While the Counting of the Omer is a semi-mourning period, all restrictions of mourning are lifted for Ashkenazim on the 33rd day of the Omer. The Sephardic custom is to cease mourning the following day, celebrations being allowed on the 34th day of the Omer, Lad BaOmer (ל״ד בעומר).[14][15] As a result, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with Lag BaOmer among Ashkenazi Jews, while Sephardi Jews hold weddings the next day.[16] It is customary mainly among Hassidim that three-year-old boys be given their first haircuts (upsherin). While haircuts may be taken anywhere, if possible, the occasion is traditionally held at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, Israel, or at the Jerusalem grave of Shimon Hatzaddik for those who cannot travel to Meron.[17]

Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows. Tachanun, the prayer for special Divine mercy on one's behalf, is not said on days with a festive character, including Lag BaOmer;[18] when God is showing one a "smiling face," so to speak, as He does especially on the holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.[citation needed]

Bonfires[edit]

Religious[edit]

Israeli boys collect wood for a Lag BaOmer bonfire.
A wood pile awaiting Lag BaOmer celebration

The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. The custom symbolises the "spiritual light" brought in to the world by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who according to tradition, revealed the mystical secrets found in the Zohar.[19] Bnei Yissaschar writes that the reason bonfires are lit is because on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said "now it is my desire to reveal secrets... The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and then died. This symbolised that all light is subservient to spiritual light, and particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.[20]

Throughout the world religious Jews gather on the night and during the day of Lag BaOmer to light fires. The main celebration is held at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazar in Meron, where hundreds of thousands usually celebrate with bonfires, torches, song, dancing and feasting. In 1983, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz of Boston reinstated a century-old tradition among his Hasidim to light a bonfire at the grave of Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias on Lag BaOmer night. The tradition had been abandoned due to murderous attacks on participants in the isolated location. After the bonfire, the Rebbe delivered a dvar Torah, gave blessings, and distributed shirayim. Later that same night, the Rebbe cut the hair of three-year-old boys for their Upsherin.[21]

For many years, New York based Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum of Satmar discouraged bonfires saying it was not the custom to light them outside of the Land of Israel.[22] However, when his father Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum instructed him to organise a large bonfire in the Satmar enclave of Kiryas Joel tens of thousands turned up.[23]

Zionist[edit]

For Zionists (see section below), the bonfires are said to represent the signal fires that the Bar Kokhba rebels lit on the mountaintops to relay messages,[24] or are in remembrance of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans, who had forbidden the kindling of fires that signalled the start of Jewish holidays.[25]

Bows and arrows[edit]

Religious[edit]

Historically, children across Israel used to go out and play with bows and arrows, reflecting the Midrashic statement that the rainbow (the sign of God's promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood; Genesis 9:11–13) was not seen during Bar Yochai's lifetime, as his merit protected the world.[19][26]

Zionist[edit]

In Israel, Lag BaOmer is a holiday for children and the various youth movements. It is also marked in the Israel Defense Forces as a week of the Gadna program (youth brigades) which were established on Lag BaOmer in 1941[dubious ] and which bear the emblem of a bow and arrow.[24]

Parades[edit]

A Lag BaOmer parade in front of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, in 1987

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged Lag BaOmer parades to be held in Jewish communities around the world as a demonstration of Jewish unity and pride.[27] Chabad sponsors parades as well as rallies, bonfires and barbecues for thousands of participants around the world each year.[28]

Songs[edit]

Several traditional songs are associated with the holiday; these are sung around bonfires, at weddings, and at tishen held by Hasidic Rebbes on Lag BaOmer. The popular song "Bar Yochai" was composed by Rabbi Shimon Lavi, a 16th-century kabbalist in Tripoli, Libya, in honor of Shimon Bar Yochai.[29][30] Other songs include "Ve'Amartem Koh LeChai", a poem arranged as an alphabetical acrostic, and "Amar Rabbi Akiva".[31]

Tish meal[edit]

Most Hasidic Rebbes conduct a tish on Lag BaOmer, in addition to or instead of a bonfire. A full meal is usually served, and candles are lit. It is traditional to sing "Bar Yochai", "Ve'Amartem Koh Lechai", and "Amar Rabbi Akiva". Among the Satmar Hasidim, "Tzama Lecha Nafshi" is sung at the tish in addition to the other songs. Teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both from the Talmud and the Zohar, are generally expounded upon by Rebbes at their tishen. In some Hasidic courts, the Rebbe may shoot a toy bow and arrow during the tish, and three-year-old boys may be brought to have a lock of hair cut by the Rebbe as part of their first haircut.[citation needed]

Rabbinic controversy[edit]

Some rabbis, namely the Chasam Sofer[32] and the Shoel Umeishiv,[33] have opposed the celebration of or the practice of certain customs observed on Lag BaOmer. These halachic scholars pointed out that the way Lag BaOmer is observed differs from the traditional manner in which anniversaries of deaths are observed, as Lag BaOmer is observed in a festive way, whereas usually a yahrtzeit is marked by observances that "bring out the solemn and serious nature of the day".[34] Other issues raised include the practice of throwing clothes into bonfires, which is perceived as wasteful, the fact that the holiday has not been celebrated by earlier sages, and the prohibition of establishing holidays. Nevertheless, these authorities did not ban the holiday.[35]

Other rabbis responded to the aforesaid opposition by explaining that it has been observed by many great rabbis and that expensive clothes are never burned. They relate what happened on the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's death as evidence that the day is very holy and should be celebrated.[36]

Zionism[edit]

A first-grade classroom in Tel Aviv in 1973 with holiday displays; the Lag BaOmer display showing Bar Kokhba is on the left.

In modern Israel, early Zionists redefined Lag BaOmer from a rabbinic-oriented celebration to a commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire (132–136 CE). According to work published by Yael Zerubavel of Rutgers University, a number of Lag BaOmer traditions were reinterpreted by Zionist ideologues to focus on the victory of the Bar Kokhba rebels rather than their ultimate defeat at Betar three years later. The plague that decimated Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples was explained as a veiled reference to the revolt; the 33rd day when the plague ended was explained as the day of Bar Kokhba's victory. By the late 1940s, Israeli textbooks for schoolchildren painted Bar Kokhba as the hero while Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Akiva stood on the sidelines, cheering him on. This interpretation lent itself to singing and dancing around bonfires by night to celebrate Bar Kokhba's victory, and playing with bows and arrows by day to remember the actions of Bar Kokhba's rebel forces.[13]

This interpretation of the holiday reinforced the Zionist reading of Jewish history and underscored their efforts to establish an independent Jewish state. As Benjamin Lau writes in Haaretz:

This is how Lag Ba'omer became a part of the Israeli-Zionist psyche during the first years of Zionism and Israel. A clear distinction became evident between Jews and Israelis in the way the day was celebrated: The religious Jews lit torches in Rashbi's [Shimon bar Yochai's] honor and sang songs about him, while young Israelis, sitting around an alternative bonfire, sang about a hero "whom the entire nation loved" and focused on the image of a powerful hero who galloped on a lion in his charges against the Romans.[37]

In modern Israel, Lag BaOmer is "a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit". The Palmach division of the Haganah was established on Lag BaOmer 1941,[dubious ] and the government order creating the Israel Defense Forces was issued on Lag BaOmer 1948.[38] Beginning in 2004, the Israeli government designated Lag BaOmer as the day for saluting the IDF reserves.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Dates for Lag BaOmer". Hebcal.com by Danny Sadinoff and Michael J. Radwin (CC-BY-3.0). Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  2. ^ Brodt, Eliezer. "A Printing Mistake and the Mysterious Origins of Rashbi's Yahrzeit". seforimblog.com. As of May 2020, also to be found here. Retrieved May 7, 2015.CS1 maint: location (link)
  3. ^ Walter (2018), p. 192.
  4. ^ "Count D'Omer". Ohr Somayach International. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Cohen, Rabbi Tzvi (1985). Bein Pesach L'Shavuos (Hebrew). Chapter 17: Lag BaOmer, p. 301.
  6. ^ Lebovits, Moishe Dovid. "Lag BaOmer" (PDF). Halachically Speaking. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 12, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  7. ^ Mitchell First, The Mysterious Origin of Lag Ba-Omer, Hakirah 20 (2015), pp. 205-218 (available at hakirah.org)
  8. ^ Sefer HaManhig, Jerusalem, 1976-7 (5737), section 106, page 144, https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14615&st=&pgnum=144
  9. ^ a b c d Feldman, David M. (2008). "Omer". Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  10. ^ Scholem, Gershom (1995). "Fifth Lecture: The Zohar I. The Book and Its Author.". Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York, NY: Schocken Books. pp. 156–204. ISBN 978-0-8052-1042-2.
  11. ^ Miller, Moshe (2013). "Rashbi's Passing". chabad.org. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  12. ^ Orlofsky, Rabbi Dovid (2013). "The Fire Within: Some thoughts on Lag B'Omer". Moshe Yehuda Institute. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2013. Also here
  13. ^ a b Zerubavel, Yael. "Bar Kokhba's Image in Modern Israeli Culture", in The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: New perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, Peter Schäfer, ed. Mohr Siebeck, 2003, pp. 282–286. ISBN 3-16-148076-7.
  14. ^ Orach Chayim 493:2.
  15. ^ Travis, Rabbi Daniel Yaakov (April 29, 2010). "Mourning's End – Understanding Sefira and Lag B'Omer". Beyond BT. Archived from the original on May 1, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2010. Also here
  16. ^ "Lag B'Omer: A day for weddings". Jewish Wedding Network. 2009. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2005.
  17. ^ Rossoff, Dovid. "Meron on Lag B'Omer". The Jewish Magazine. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  18. ^ "Jewish Prayers: Tahanun". Jewish Virtual Library. jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  19. ^ a b Silberberg, Naftali (2008). "6 Lag BaOmer Customs and Traditions You Should Know". chabad.org. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  20. ^ Boruch Altein (2014). "The History of Lag BaOmer – A rich overview of the many customs that surround this special day". www.chabad.org. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  21. ^ Horowitz, Y. F. and Morgenstern, Ashira (November 24, 2010). "Seasons: The Bostoner Rebbetzin remembers and reflects on the occasion of the first yahrtzeit of Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzchak HaLevi Horowitz, ztz"l, 18 Kislev 5771". Mishpacha, Family First supplement, p. 52.
  22. ^ "Satmar Kiryas Joel Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum Speech Against Lag BaOmer". YouTube. 1995. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  23. ^ Amdurski, Noam (May 9, 2012). "50,000 Expected at Lag Ba'omer Celebration Tonight in Kiryas Yoel". matzav.com. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  24. ^ a b "Lag BaOmer". The Knesset. 2010. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  25. ^ "Lag Ba'Omer". Jerusalem Municipality. May 27, 2005. Archived from the original on June 1, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  26. ^ Prero, Rabbi Yehudah (2007). "Lag B'Omer". torah.org. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  27. ^ "Parades in Central Israel Draw 1,000 Children". chabad.org. May 12, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  28. ^ Grodnitzky, Reuvena Leah (April 28, 2010). "From South Africa to Finland, Excitement Builds for Unity Parades". chabad.org. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  29. ^ Goldwurm, Hersh (1989). The early acharonim: biographical sketches of the prominent early rabbinic sages and leaders from the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries. Mesorah Publications, Ltd. p. 93. ISBN 0899064884.
  30. ^ Vining, Peggy A. (2008). Galatians and First-Century Ethical Theory. p. 137. ISBN 978-0549956112.
  31. ^ Barzilai, Shmuel (2009). Chassidic ecstasy in music. Peter Lang. p. 104. ISBN 978-3631584521.
  32. ^ Responsa Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 233. Cited by Walter 2018.
  33. ^ Responsa Shoel Umeishiv, volume 5, chapter 39. Cited by Walter 2018.
  34. ^ Walter 2018, p. 195.
  35. ^ Walter 2018, p. 196.
  36. ^ Walter 2018, p. 197.
  37. ^ Lau, Benjamin (May 3, 2007). "Portion of the Week / The fires of Lag Ba'omer". Haaretz. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  38. ^ "Lag B'Omer". Ynetnews. May 13, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  39. ^ "Cabinet Communique". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. May 6, 2007. Retrieved December 5, 2011.

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