Study and Theory/
Lag Ba'omer

Customs of Lag Ba’Omer

according to [the Hebrew] alphabet

(This could be presented as a quiz)

On the thirty third day of counting the Omer, on 18th Iyar, a sort of small date on which the mourning during the counting of the Omer is ceased and it is time to be joyous, The origin of the festival is unclear. There are those who opine that it was determined to remember the act of heroism or refers to the good of the Bar Kochba forces in the rebellion or to remember the end of the plague that attacked the pupils of Rabbi Akiva and caused many deaths. There are also those who believe that it denotes the beginning of the great rebellion in Yehuda, in which torches were carried throughout the land to notify the start of the rebellion. The reason that this day was not given a name relating to its content testifies, it would seem, to the fact that they could not declare it and its contents in public due to being cautious with the enemy governments. During the time of Ha’Ari Rabbi Yitzhak Luriah in the 16th century Lag Ba’Omer was declared as the date of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and a celebration in his memory.

 

Customs and concepts according to the alphabet:

  • Mourning during counting of the Omer – the mourning at this time originates, it would seem, in the agricultural period in which agricultural crops were at risk from the hot winds. After the destruction of the Temple the sadness of cancellation of the commandment of brining the sheaves to the Temple was added, and after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt this period, the mourning for the fallen of the rebellion and its failure were added. For the Ashkenazi Jews mourning was added following the persecution and extermination of the Jewish communities during the time of the Crusades.

  • Painted eggs – a custom against mourning (Ashkenazi communities)

  • Bar Yochai – a song that is sung on Lag Ba’Omer. Written by Rabbi Shimon Ibn Lavie. The song deals with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – it is written in the language of the Kabbalah and the ten stanzas of the song connect to the ten spheres of the Kabbalah.

  • Bar Kochba – he led the Jews of the Land of Israel in the revolt against Rome in 132-135 AD. His talents were mainly in the military and not the spiritual, and Rabbi Akiva and other sages saw him as a Messiah. There are sources in the Sages who talk about his heroism and there are other sources that describe him as “Bar Kozeva” because he disappointed.

  • Lighting candles in Synagogue – it is customary to light many candles in synagogues to remember Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and other righteous sages.

  • The celebration for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron – according to Ha’Ari Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba’Omer and the date of his death is considered in the eyes of his disciples to be a day of joy, happiness and disclosure of Kabbalah secrets. The custom to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on this day was renewed by Ha’Ari and since then it is customary in Israel to be joyful with dance, singing and lighting bonfires proximate to the tomb. In certain communities it is also customary to burn clothes and possessions in the bonfire, a custom which is in dispute between the commentators. The Sephardic communities customarily carry the Torah with singing and dancing under a canopy from Zefat to Meron.
     

  • Mount Meron – it is the custom to carry out the first haircut for boys at age 3 on the morning of Lag Ba’Omer at the tomb of Shimon Bar Yochai at Meron. All their hair is smoothed down apart from the side locks which remain. It is customary to weigh the ends of the hair in gold and donate the money to charity.

  • Bow and arrow - a custom amongst the Ashkenazi Jews which is common today in Israel is to go out to the field with a bow and arrow. The reason for the custom is:”Teach the sons of Yehuda to use a bow” – and there are some who say that on Lag Ba’Omer you will see a rainbow in another colour and the redemption shall come. Another reason is found in the sayings of the Sages at the time of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai that a rainbow was not seen in the sky as it had the power to protect against troubles, and the world did not need the symbol of the bow. From the beginning of Zionism a tradition developed to carry out on Lag Ba’Omer sports days, camping and trips.

  • Weddings – pursuant to the “Shulchan Aruch” it was not customary to marry during the counting of the Omer, due to the mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s pupils. On Lag Ba’Omer it is customary to stop the mourning during the counting of the Omer and hold weddings, as an expression of joy.

  • Death of Moses – in order to emphasize the connection between Moses our Father and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the 7th Adar was determined as the date of the death of Moses. This is the same day in the week on which Lag Ba’Omer falls – the date of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

  • Bonfires – a custom originating in the celebration for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron to light bonfires and light many candles as the date of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is considered as a day of light. The custom to light bonfires has been prevalent since the start of Zionism throughout Israel.
     

  • The Book of Zohar – The Zohar is a foundation book of Kabbalah, and is attributed by believers to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Some Hassidic sects turned Lag Ba’Omer into a day “of joy of the Torah” on which they finish studying the Zohar.

  • Omer – according to Leviticus 23, on 15th Nissan it was customary to raise a sheaf of the crops that had just been harvested. The custom was renewed during the working settlement in our times. From this day it is customary to start counting the Omer, forty nine days which are seven weeks until the festival of Pentecost; on the thirty third day of counting the Omer Lag B a’Omer falls.

  • Rabbi Akiva – the third generation of the sages of the Mishnah, lived in 1-2 AD, he supported Bar Kochba and the rebellion against the Romans, and even considered him to be the Messiah.

  • Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – a pupil of Rabbi Akiva, according to legend he hid in a cave in Pekiin for 13 years, and during the time of his hiding he wrote the Zohar. He died on 18th Iyar, which is Lag Ba’OPmer, and was buried high on Mount Meron.

  • Tikun prayers – also called “the Lag Ba’Omer Seder”. In various communities it is customary to read chapters of the Zohar and to celebrate throughout the night.

  • Hair cutting – it is customary to stop the mourning that is customary during the counting of the Omer and the hair cutting is an expression of this.

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Chagim Center

Home for the Jewish Holidays

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