Your Guide to a Lit Lag Ba’Omer
Is it a Jewish holiday today?
Spoiler: Yes! It’s Lag Ba’Omer!
What is Lag Ba’Omer?
Lag Ba’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period of time on the Jewish calendar between Passover and Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Omer is traditionally a time of mourning when people may abstain from listening to live music, cutting their hair, and attending celebrations like weddings or engagement parties. Lag Ba’Omer marks the end of that mourning period and is often a time when couples will get engaged or married, and other deferred life cycle moments will be celebrated.
Where did these practices come from?
Rabbi Akiva, a prominent Mishnaic and Talmudic sage, was one of the great teachers of Torah in his time. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) writes that Rabbi Akiva was such a prolific teacher that he had 12,000 pairs of students, or chavrutot, that studied with him. The Talmud goes on to share that all of Rabbi Akiva’s students lost their lives in a plague that started on Passover and ended on Lag Ba’Omer. The mourning practices of the Omer are in commemoration of the loss of life and Torah knowledge described in this story.
In the face of the devastating loss he faced, Rabbi Akiva was determined to reestablish the community of learners that he built. He gathered five new students to start the process and community once again.
One of Rabbi Akiva’s new students, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, became a Torah scholar and a forefather of Jewish mysticism. On the day he passed away, Lag Ba’Omer, he named that day to be one filled with his joy. In honor of his teaching, Lag Ba’Omer has become a day of joy and connection for Jewish people around the world.
How do Jews around the world celebrate Lag Ba’Omer?
Over the years, Jewish people developed the custom of spending Lag Ba’Omer outside in appreciation and wonder of the natural world. Here are some traditions that Jewish communities celebrate all over the world:
- Picnics with family and friends
- Field days for young students
- Bonfires and barbecues
- A custom specific to Israel is to hold Lag Ba’Omer celebrations at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron to fulfill his wish that the day be filled with joy
While the Lag Ba’Omer stories are from thousands of years ago, the symbolism and meaning behind them still resonate today. Finding joy and meaning in our identities and sharing that joy with others is core to Jewish life at Hillel.