Friday, May 23, 2008

What is Lag B'Omer" (Spiritual Web Journey)

LAG B’OMER falls on Tuesday (for 2009). No Jewish holiday has more obscure origins and diverse explanations. About the easiest thing to explain about it is the name. Since each Hebrew letter has a corresponding numerical value, the letters lamed and gimel add up to thirty-three, and Saturday night indeed is the thirty third night of the counting period between Passover and Shavuot known as the Omer.

What’s the Omer?

OK, so what’s an Omer? It is first mentioned in the Torah portion Emor, read a few weeks ago. It is also known as the Sephira, which means counting, but Jewish mystics have tied that into the notion of the Sephirot, God’s emanations. So let’s see, we’ve got Omer, Emor, Sephira, Sephirot…let’s call the whole thing off!

No, let’s just go to the experts for help. At, you’ll find Eliezer Segal’s excellent tie-in to the portion, including an explanation as to a humdinger of a rabbinic controversy regarding the Jewish calendar. The Omer is considered a semi-mourning period. It is interesting to note that, even within the traditional world, according to the Young Israel of Passaic Website, “In the post-Holocaust era, uniformity of practice is virtually no longer possible to implement, since pockets of population with all sorts of customs have descended upon all Jewish communities. Accordingly, in one city it is no longer surprising to see a host of customs simultaneously observed.” This can often leads to much confusion in the scheduling of communal events, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings at this time of year. You can have a halakhic field day on all this at the OU site,

The Kabbalalists loved the Omer concept both because of the tie-in to the Sephirot. To see how they do that, check out this from Reb Goldie Milgrom, of the New York Center for Jewish Meditation, at IF you really want to learn all about the Sephirot, got to For a Breslaver Hasidic view, see

What’s Lag B’Omer?

Now we focus on the big day itself. is a good place to start. If after that you can figure out the difference between Rabbi Akiva and Shimon Bar Yochai, you’re ready for the Lag B’Omer hot sites at From there you can really go to town on this stuff. I mean that quite literally, for there are several visits to those hotbeds of Lag B’Omer festivities, Meron and Safed, nestled high in the hills of northern Galilee.
will take you to Safed and Meron, describing the white-hot bonfires, and you’ll also be exposed to some relatively palatable selections from the Zohar, that magnum opus of Jewish mysticism. Continue to explore Mount Meron with nice photos, at, and find out at how the Meron scene is really akin to “Meah Shearim meets Woodstock.” On the other hand, the article at says that Meron “’aint exactly Woodstock.” Lots less rain and lots more clothes, I suppose. Finally, go there on YouTube at meron lag baomer 2006 and Meron 2007.

Back on earth, Lag B’Omer is more of a nature festival for those naturalists among us. (I agree with those who see a definite May Day tie in, both holidays sharing ancient pagan roots with other spring nature festivals). In the early days of Zionism, it became a perfect time to celebrate the spectacular spring weather in the Land of Israel, with bonfires and picnics. All the secular youth groups would take part. A nice photographic reminder of that can be found at the kids, a nice story about Rabbi Akiba, one of the heroes of the festival, can be found at For the cooks, some Lag B’omer picnic recipes are at

And one final, sobering note: Yitz Greenberg teaches us the lessons of Lag B’Omer’s history at
“Most people think of Lag B’Omer as a warm, fuzzy semi-holiday with a nature-loving theme. But in the Talmud, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer period is a devastating reminder of a catastrophe caused by Jews’ divisiveness. Today, Jewry seems headed for a repeat of the disaster.”

Happy Lag B’Omer and Shabbat Shalom to all the people of Israel and the world.

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