Also known as
the 18th of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar
Taking place between Passover and Shavuot, Lag B'omer—also known as Lag BaOmer or Lag B'Omer—is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar and on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. While this is the name by which it is known by Ashkenazi and Hasidic Jews, it is called Lag LaOmer by Sephardi Jews. The name of the day literally means "33rd in the Omer." The day was first mentioned in writing in the twelfth century. It was celebrated by rabbinical students in the Middle Ages—they called it "Scholar's Day" and played outdoor sports to celebrate it.
The previous days of the Counting of the Omer are a period of mourning and spiritual growth, but the mourning is lifted on the 33rd day, and people celebrate with parties, parades, bonfires, weddings, music, picnics, barbecues, and other outings. These celebratory festivities also take place because Lag B'omer is a hillula—a celebration marking the anniversary of a death—for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He was a Mishnaic sage, great teacher of the Torah, and disciple of Rabbi Akiva. Bar Yochai died in the second century, on the day that he revealed the secrets of the kabbalah in the Zohar, an important text of Jewish mysticism. The day is a celebration of the great light and wisdom that bar Yochai gave to the world. The day is also celebrated because it marks the anniversary of the day when the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples ended. When the 24,000 died, Akiva only had five students left, one of them being Shimon bar Yoachai.
The lighting of bonfires is the most common practice of the day. They are lit in Israel and around the world, and symbolize the light that Zohar brought to the world. It also is said that on the day that bar Yochai died, daylight extended until he finished his final teaching, even though it should have turned dark. This showed that spiritual light had power over other light, and it is another thing that the bonfires symbolize.
Pilgrimages to the tomb of bar Yochai are an important part of the day. Hundreds of thousands of Jews come to the Israeli town of Meron to celebrate with a bonfire—the main bonfire lit anywhere on the day—and with torches, feasts, and songs. Chai rotel is also given out near the tomb. Chai has the numerical equivalent of 18, and rotel is a liquid of about 3 liters. Therefore, chai rotel is a liquid of 54 liters. There is a belief that those who give out this much of a liquid refreshment of grape juice, soda, wine, or water will be granted a miracle. For example, couples without children often offer chair rotel hoping that it will bring the miracle of childbirth.
The day is marked with other happenings. Three-year-old boys are often given haircuts for the first time on the day. Throughout history, children in Israel have played with bow and arrows on the day. The bows symbolize rainbows and recall God's promise that a flood will never destroy the earth again. Most Hasidic rebbes hold tishes on the day, where meals are served, candles are lit, songs are sung, and they speak on the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Songs sung include "Bar Yochai," "Ve'Amartem Koh LeChai," and "Amar Rabbi Akiva." Besides being sung at tishes, the songs are also sung at weddings and bonfires.
How to Observe Lag B'omer
The following are some ideas on how to observe the day:
- Light a Bonfire.
- Read the Zohar.
- Make a pilgrimage to the tomb of bar Yochai.
- Attend a party, parade, picnic, or barbecue being held in observance of the day.
- Make and eat some Israeli foods associated with the day.
- If you are Jewish, you could get married on the day, give your three-year-old boy his first haircut, or sing songs associated with the day.