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Lag B'Omer
What makes Lag B'Omer different?
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © April 21, 2017 (last updated May 08, 2020)

Recorded live on YouTube Lag B'Omer 2020

Lag B'Omer is an important part of our traditional Jewish observances connecting Pesach (which reminds us of our Exodus from slavery) to Shavu'ot (signifying our freedom from slavery through receiving the Torah at Har Sinai). As the name says, it is the 33rd day of the Omer count: 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 added for pronunciation purposes. LaG b'Omer is part of the traditional observances instituted at Leviticus 23:15: "You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days, and you shall present a new meal offering to G-d."

It has been noted by Rav Chaim Kramer that:
It is well known that there is a debate regarding the wording of the counting of the Omer—whether to say "לעומר" [laomer] or "בעומר" [baomer]. Notice something remarkable: when it comes to Lag BaOmer, everyone calls it by that name; you won't hear anyone refer to it as "Lag LaOmer."

Rabbi Ephraim of Pshedburzh reveals the reason: the gematria (numerical value) of "בעומר" is 345, which hints at Moshe (345) and suggests that the soul of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is akin to the soul of Moshe.

We all pray that we merit to ascend to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai this year and celebrate with all our might, and that all our enemies will fall, whether by helicopters or any other means, and that the celebration of the Rashbi's hilula will not be disturbed.

It is interesting to note that the same obstacles faced when traveling to the Rashbi also occur when traveling to our holy Rebbe in Uman. This reminds us to pray and pray and continue praying with all our might that we may all reach Rosh Hashanah without any hindrances or disturbances.

La or Ba

The variation indicated by "ba-omer" or "la-omer" is based on two traditional texts used for the Sefirat Ha-Omer or the Counting of the Omer. When we say, "ba-omer" we mean in the omer count and "la-omer" means of the Omer count. In the translations below, I use the ba-omer form to be consistant with the Lag Ba-omer tradition. Which is more proper is less a technical issue than a matter of custom. As is normally the case, it is best to follow the tradition (minhag) of your community.

The Torah commands counting the days from Pesach to Shavu'ot. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer or Sefirat Ha-Omer. While the command to count these days is biblical, the way we do it is Rabbinic. While biblically the period is one of joy and excitement about the soon acquisition of the Torah, the days of the omer are observed in a spirit of solemnity for reasons discussed below. Therefore during the annual count there are several traditions including the cessation of weddings, celebrations and parties of all kinds. Haircuts and other optional elements of grooming are also prohibited during the days of the count as a sign of our collective grief. During the period of the Omer Count many Jewish men who traditionally don't observe the halachic shaving prohibitions gradually become more furry as the days pass and their beards grow. Then comes Lag B'Omer, the one day during this period where these rules are suspended. Most Jews not only take advantage of this option, we revel in it and plan for the day, sometimes for weeks in advance.

On Lag B'Omer Jews are encouraged to leave their mourning behind and go out into nature with family and friends for joyous thanksgiving celebrations. Traditionally children play with bows and arrows, women prepare sumptuous feasts and men light bon fires. For weeks before the event, Israeli children (especially) scavenge wood and arrange impressive structures, often 20 or 30 feet high for the big event. Great public celebrations are held as the wooden towers are set to flame. These celebrations occur throughout Israel and in many Jewish areas of the Diaspora.

Chassids especially love to visit Kefar Meron, Israel (near Tzfat/Safed) for these celebrations in memory of the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (aka "Rashbi"), the celebrated Jewish mystic of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. According to our Tradition, when the Roman occupation forces outlawed Torah study throughout Eretz Y'israel, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai publicly rebuked the Romans. An arrest and death sentence was then issued against him. Hunted, Rashbi fled to Kefar Meron where he lived in a cave for twelve years with his son. There are many inspiring accounts of the austerities of Rabbi Shimon and his pious son Elazar, as well as accounts of miracles performed on their behalf by HaShem. For example, living as they did they had no food to eat nor water to drink, and so HaShem caused a carob tree to sprout within the cave, along with a stream of water that bubble up.

It is said:

According to our tradition, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai ordered his talmidim ("students") to mark the 33rd day of the Omer count, the date of his death, as "the day of my joy." This request has been honored ever since. Ahuva and I were in Israel on Lag B'Omer in 2013 and witnessed these bonfires from the Judean hills (from Alfei Menashe). They sparkled over the Holy Land below us as far as the eye could see. This was truly an awesome sight to behold. The lighting of these bonfires is a well established tradition throughout the nation of Israel, especially but not only among the Chassids, and around the globe.

Among his notable contributions to Judaism and Chassidut, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai restored the largely forgotten mystical aspects of Judaism after receiving specific approval and direction from the Heavenly Court to do so. The spiritual revitalization that followed the dark period of Jewish infighting (which had resulted in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash in 70 CE) was short lived however. In time the majority of Jews again allowed their Torah observance to become rote and to wane. The Love of G-d was therefore obscured and cooled. As a result of this concealment, HaShem largely removed this knowledge from the world. We were not ready for it. We still aren't! As a result o this concealment, the inner or mystical teachings of Torah were mainly lost due to our collective unworthiness. Around 1500 years later this Wisdom partly reemerged at the hands of the Baal shems. These were the predecessors of the Baal Shem Tov (circa August 25, 1698 -May 22, 1760), the grandfather of our beloved Rebbe Nachman of Breslov ( April 4, 1772 - October 16, 1810).

A bit earlier however, during the days of the famed Spanish Kabbalist Moses de Leon (c. 1240 - 1305) there was a move to reestablish this knowledge to a cabal of seekers. These men however lacked the inner purity to peer beyond the surface levels of the understanding. Despite their notable contributions they failed to restore this Mystical Wisdom and the knowledge was further "concealed."

Later, the Ari (Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi, 1534 - July 25, 1572) received the Divine inspiration to restore this Mystical Wisdom, from a condensed Oral form he had received, to certain of our people lest it be lost to future generations. Unfortunately many unqualified people also received potions of these instructions and counterfeit Kabbalahs began to appear and spread.

After the Ari -- whose contributions to Jewish mystical thought can not possibly be over stated -- came several holy teachers and masters, eventually including, collectively, the men known as Baal Shems, i.e. Masters of the Name. From among these arose our master, The Baal Shem Tov or the BESHT, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer. The Baal Shem Tov was born circa 1700 and left this plane of existence on May 22, 1760. The Baal Shem Tov, or "Master of the Good Name," established the modern Chassidic Movement and restored Mystical Jewish Wisdom to its proper spiritual foundation as the Loving, Heart-felt Service to HaShem and to the world. His memory is a blessing for all.

The talmidim or students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Ari, and the BESHT brought forward the oral teachings of their masters for future generations. This knowledge quickly spread among the Jews, especially those of Eastern Europe. Rashbi wrote only the first mishna of the Zohar personally. As with our holy Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (great grandson of the BESHT), it was the talmidim of these accomplished masters (most notably Reb Nosen in Rebbe Nachman's case) who elucidated and spread their sacred teachings for the world. We learn an important principles here. HaShem seldom sends true Masters to the earth. The blessings such people offer requires the word of those who receive their words. If the same way, it is incumbent upon all who are blessed to hear the words of the few rare tzadikim to spread them them far and wide. They have their jobs and we have ours.

So, on Lag B'Omer the Chassidim o the various sects are particularly aware of the mystical components of the Omer Count and the holiness of this 33rd day of the count.

Why is the otherwise joyous Counting of the Omer period observed with mourning? It is become HaShem has sent us so much truth and so many opportunities to return to Him and yet time and time again we fail to do so. Our communal failures saddens our hearts. It is true the Rashbi died during the Omer count, but he also said that Lag B'Omer would be remembered as the day of his Joy. So despite our mourning we enter into Rashbi's Joy on this one day. Otherwise the mourning aspect of these days reminds of us many things, including:

However one of the main reasons we mourn is what to happened to Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 talmidim who were potentially lights that could have illuminated our Souls and lead to the Freedom of the Olam Haba. Instead, the Talmud reveals the following:

It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbatha to Antipatris; all of them died at the same time, because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate [of Torah] until Rabbi Akiva came to our rabbis in the south and taught them Torah. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A tanna taught: All of them died between Passover and Shavuot. Rabbi Chama bar Abba, or some say Rabbi Chiya bar Avin, said: All of them died a cruel death. What was it? Rabbi Nachman replied: Croup -- Yevamot 62b.
An added element of our mourning is included here when one considers the four rabbis who were, through their mystical attainments, permitted to enter Paradise and return. We are taught that four great mystic sages entered the Pardes (literally "the orchard"), which is to say, Gan Eden. Rabbi Akiva was one of these sages. Rashi explains that these were all highly accomplished rabbis in Jewish mysticism. They "ascended" by utilizing the Sacred Four Letter Name of G-d as prescribed in certain mystical teachings. These sages were: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Avuya (later called Acher, "the other one") and Rabbi Akiva.

After successfully attaining Gan Eden or Pardes, Ben Azzai gazed at the Divine Presence and died (according to Rashi). Ben Zoma was "harmed" or went mad, according to Rashi. Elisha ben Avuya/Acher became a heretic. Only Rabbi Akiva returned with no apparent damage. Our texts says that, "Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace."

As one considers the mystical aspects of our annual Omer count we do well to remember the associates and talmidim of Rabbi Akiva. Jewish mysticism is not something to take lightly!

The tradition of kids playing with bows and arrows on Lag B'Omer commemorates the midrashic tradition that no rainbow was seen during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime. Rainbows are a sign/assurance that HaShem will never again devastate the entire world as he did during the Day of Noah. During times of evil when the world is deserving of divine punishment, G-d sends a rainbow instead (which is why Jews typically will give no more than a glancing look at rainbows). While alive Rabbi Shimon’s merit was so great that it protected the entire world, rendering the rainbow superfluous.

The Hebrew word for "rainbow," keshet, refers to both the rainbow as well as the bow used in archery (in fact, the rainbow is called G‑d’s "bow." To demonstrate that after Rabbi Shimon's passing there is now a need for the sign of the (rain)bow, many have the custom to play with bows and arrows on this day.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that there must be a more positive reason for this custom as well, because the above reason draws attention to the fact that we unfortunately no longer have Rabbi Shimon’s merit and we therefore need the sign of the bow.

The Zohar tells us that before the coming of the Mashiach, an especially bright rainbow will appear in the sky, heralding the coming redemption. The Zohar explain that at present the rainbow appears in dull colors since it is only designed as a reminder that there shall be no return of the flood as there was in the days of Noah. At the time of the redemption, however, it will appear in its full panoply of colors as a reflection of the everlasting covenant G‑d made with His people. As the children of Israel raise their bows triumphantly they are testifying to the truth that on day this great Bow will appear and all of our enemies will be forever vanquished.

Since Lag B'Omer marks the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who began revealing the inner dimensions and secrets of the Torah, it is the custom to play with the bow, symbolizing the especially bright (rain)bow that will appear to herald the final redemption.

Some have the custom of eating carobs on Lag B'Omer in honor of that miracle.

All of the prohibitions during the counting of the Omer period are suspended on this day. For this reason, many Jews will have haircuts, shave, marry, and so on on Lag B'Omer. For more on the Counting of the Omer see my study here: HERE.

The Omer Counting Period

From Halacha Yomit:

The period of the counting of the Omer is exalted indeed and filled with sanctity, as the Ramban writes in his commentary on Parashat Emor that the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, i.e. the Omer counting period, retain the sanctity of Chol Ha’Moed and are not days of national tragedy and mourning like the Three Weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av. Maran zt"l would mention this Ramban so that that people would not mistakenly think that these were ominous days for the Jewish nation.

Nevertheless, a terrible occurrence befell the Jewish nation during this time, as the Gemara (Yevamot 62b) recounts: "Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students and they all died between Pesach and Shavuot because they did not treat each other respectfully." They all perished from Askara (an agonizing illness leading to acute respiratory failure). This means that Rabbi Akiva had a tremendous, flourishing empire of Torah which served to disseminate the Torah throughout the Jewish nation and would they remain alive, their Torah and that of their descendants and pupils would have served to illuminate the torch of Torah for generations on end. However, it was decreed in Heaven that they all die during this period.

The Responsa of the Geonim (the Sages of Israel of the generation immediately preceding that of the Rishonim) mention that because of this tragic event, the entire Jewish nation observes the custom of not getting married during this period of time as a sign of mourning. It is also customary not to wear new garments, take haircuts, or listen to music during this time.

Nevertheless, we do not observe these mourning customs throughout the entire duration of the Omer period; these customs are only observed until the 33rd or 34th day of the Omer, for the Sefer Ha’Manhig and other great Rishonim write that Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased dying on the 33rd day of the Omer. Indeed, the Rama (in his gloss on Chapter 493) rules that from the 33rd day of the Omer, it is permissible to hold weddings.

On the other hand, the Sephardic custom is to continue these mourning customs until the 34th day of the Omer and it is forbidden to get married on any of these days. The reason for this is based on what the Sefer Ha’Manhig has written in the name of Rabbeinu Zerachya Ha’Levi who had found in any old manuscript that had come from Spain that the students of Rabbi Akiva died from Pesach until "half of Shavuot." This means that the thirty days preceding the holiday of Shavuot are divided in half, i.e. fifteen days before Shavuot, and on this day, Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased dying.

Other Rishonim concur and write that if we subtract fifteen days from the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot, the product will be thirty-four. It is nevertheless permissible to get married immediately from the morning of the 34th day of the Omer, for the rule regarding the laws of mourning is that "a portion of the day is likened to the entire day." Thus, since a portion of the 34th day of the Omer has already passed, one need not observe the mourning customs any longer.

It is permissible to hold an engagement party during the Omer counting period. If the actual Shidduch has been closed at the time of the celebration (as opposed to at an earlier time), there are those who rule leniently and allow for music at this party as well.Taking Haircuts and Shaving During the Omer Period

Abstaining from Taking Haircuts During the Omer

It has become customary among the Jewish nation to refrain from taking haircuts during the Omer counting period: According to the Ashkenazi custom, until the 33rd day of the Omer and according to the Sephardic custom, until the morning of the 34th day of the Omer (as we have already explained regarding getting married during the Omer). Some Sephardic individuals act leniently with regards to haircuts in accordance with the Ashkenazi custom, i.e. taking haircuts beginning from the 33rd day of the Omer. Those who act leniently in this regard (even Sephardic individuals) have on whom to rely.


Those who are truly G-d-fearing customarily abstain from shaving their beard during the Omer period as well. However, there are those who rule leniently for individuals who are truly distressed as a result of not shaving their beard, for the Radbaz writes regarding such matters which are not actual obligations as a result of an edict of our Sages and is merely a custom, in a case of such distress, there is room for leniency. Nevertheless, it is indeed correct and proper to follow this custom which was observed by our ancestors for many generations with regards to refraining from shaving one’s beard during the Omer period (it is especially worthy to be stringent until Rosh Chodesh Iyar).

The Status of Women Regarding these Laws

Women are not included in the prohibition of taking haircuts during the days of the Omer, for even with regards to actual mourning for a relative who has passed away (for which a male mourner must abstain from taking a haircut for the entire thirty-day mourning period), Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules that women are not included in this prohibition and are permitted to take haircuts during the thirty-day mourning period. If so, this would certainly apply to the mourning customs observed during the Omer period in that a woman need not abstain from taking a haircut. The same would apply to the three week period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av that the prohibition to take haircuts applies to men alone, however, women are permitted to take haircuts.

More Customs Observed During the Omer Counting Period

Some have the custom that during the Omer counting period (until the 34th day of the Omer), one does not wear a new garment which requires the recitation of the "Shehecheyanu" blessing (i.e. a new garment which causes the wearer joy, such as a new shirt and the like; however, a new garment which does not require a "Shehecheyanu" blessing, such as an undershirt and the like, may be worn during the Omer period according to all opinions). Some rule leniently and allow wearing new clothing.

Some act stringently and abstain from sewing and altering new clothes during the Omer period; however, our custom is to be lenient in this regard. Even according to those who are customarily stringent, nevertheless, if this is being done for a bride or groom who is getting married on the 34th day of the Omer, there is no custom to be stringent at all.

According to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt"l, there is no reason to be stringent and abstain from reciting a "Shehecheyanu" blessing on a new fruit during the Omer counting period. Those who have observed this custom have done so in error, for they have confused this period with the "Three Weeks" prior to the Ninth of Av during which time one should not recite a "Shehecheyanu" blessing on a new fruit. However, during the Omer counting period, there is no such custom to be stringent, for the days of the Omer are not days of mourning as are the "Three Weeks" during which the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and other tragedies occurred. It is for this reason that it is inappropriate to recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing which translates to "Blessed is He… Who has allowed us to live, to exist, and to reach this time" about a period which is designated as a time of national tragedy. On the other hand, the period of the Omer is not considered a tragic time; on the contrary, the Ramban writes that the holiness of the days of the Omer counting is tantamount to that of Chol Hamo’ed. There is therefore no reason to act stringently in this regard.

Nonetheless, it is proper to act stringently with regards to wearing new garments during the Omer. If there is truly a necessity to wear a new garment, one should try to wear it on Shabbat in which case one may also recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing. Similarly, one may act leniently and wear a new garment during the Omer period in honor of a Bar Mitzvah or Berit Milah celebration.

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