Lag BaOmer

Besides being the day on which the plague affecting Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased, Lag BaOmer is traditionally observed as marking the commemoration of the death (Yahrzeit in Yiddish) of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, a famous 1st-century Jewish sage in ancient Israel. After the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, Rabbi Akiva taught five students, among them Rebbi Shimon. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation. According to tradition, on the day of his death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Torah in a Kabbalistic work called the Zohar.

According to the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon’s house was filled with fire and light that entire day as he taught his students. At the end of the day, the fire subsided and Rabbi Shimon died.[13] On successive years, his students sought to recreate that experience of light and mystical revelation by kindling bonfires and studying the Zohar in the light of the flames.

Although the anniversary of the death of a righteous person (tzadik) is usually a mournful day, the anniversary of Rebbi Shimon’s death on Lag BaOmer is a festive one. Bonfires are lit and people sing and dance by the flames. Weddings, parties, listening to music, picnics, and haircuts are commonplace.

Mark (behind blue fence) over cave in which Rabbi Ele’azar bar Shim’on is buried. This main hall is divided in half in order to separate between men and women.
Mark (behind blue fence) over cave in which Rabbi Ele’azar bar Shim’on is buried. This main hall is divided in half in order to separate between men and women.
According to the Talmud, Rebbi Shimon bar Yohai criticized the Roman government and was forced to go into hiding with his son Elazar for thirteen years. They sheltered in a cave (which local tradition places in Peki’in). Next to the mouth of the cave a carob tree sprang up and a spring of fresh water gushed forth. Provided against hunger and thirst they cast off their clothing except during prayers to keep them from wearing out, embedded themselves in the sand up to their necks, and studied the Torah all day long. He and his son left the cave when they received a Heavenly voice saying that the Roman Emperor had died and consequently all his decrees were abolished.[14] According to tradition, they left their place of hiding on Lag BaOmer, and while when they were in hiding in the cave they studied Torah together in their cramped space accepting each other’s presence and from that study there came forth the basis of the Zohar’s mystical revelations which in a sense was regarded as a “replacement” for the Torah that was “lost” as a result of the death of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. This is another reason to celebrate the “light” of the Zohar which means “splendor” or “radiance” in Hebrew.

Kabbalistic interpretation
The period of the counting of the Omer is considered to be a time of potential for inner growth – for a person to work on one’s good characteristics (middot) through reflection and development of one aspect each day for the 49 days of the counting.

In Kabbalah, each of the seven weeks of the Omer-counting is associated with one of the seven lower sefirot:

Chesed (loving-kindness),
Gevurah (might),
Tipheret (beauty),
Netzach (victory),
Hod (acknowledgment),
Yesod (foundation),
Malchut (kingdom).

Each day of each week is also associated with one of these same seven sefirot, creating forty-nine permutations. The first day of the Omer is therefore associated with “chesed that is in chesed” (loving-kindness within loving-kindness), the second day with “gevurah that is in chesed” (might within loving-kindness); the first day of the second week is associated with “chesed that is in gevurah” (loving-kindness within might), the second day of the second week with “gevurah that is in gevurah” (might within might), and so on.

Symbolically, each of these 49 permutations represents an aspect of each person’s character that can be improved or further developed. Rabbi Simon Jacobson (b. 1956), a Chabad Hasidic teacher, explains these 49 levels in his book, The Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer,[15][16] as do Rabbi Yaacov Haber and Rabbi David Sedley in their book Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement through Counting the Omer.[17] A meditative approach is that of Rabbi Min Kantrowitz in Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide[18] which includes meditations, activities and kavvanot (proper mindset) for each of the kabbalistic four worlds for each of the 49 days.

The forty-nine-day period of counting the Omer is also a conducive time to study the teaching of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avoth 6:6, which enumerates the “48 ways” by which Torah is acquired. Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891–1962) explains that the study of each “way” can be done on each of the first forty-eight days of the Omer-counting; on the forty-ninth day, one should review all the “ways.”[19]

13^ Simmons, Shraga. “Lag B’Omer: Remembering Rabbi Shimon”. Aish HaTorah, Israel. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
14^ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat, 33b.
15^ Jacobson, Simon. “Your Guide to Personal Freedom Counting the Omer: Week One”. Excerpt from “A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer”. Archived from the original on 10 March 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
16^ Jacobson, Simon (1996). Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer. Meaningful Life Center. p. 72. ISBN 978-1886587236.
17^ Yaacov Haber with David Sedley (2008). Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer. TorahLab. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-60763-010-4.
18^ Kantrowitz, Min (2009). Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide. Gaon Books. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-935604-00-6.
19^ Weinberg, Noah. “Counting with the 48 Ways”. Aish HaTorah, Israel. Retrieved 8 April 2013.

Friday, April 30, 2021 at sundown (18th of Iyyar, 5781)