Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Apple #170: Lag B'Omer

My calendar says that today is Lag B'Omer. But I have no idea what that is. I've never even heard anyone talk about it before. For some reason, I think it's Irish?

  • Turns out, it's a Jewish holiday.
  • It comes from a passage in Leviticus which told the Jews to count the days from Passover, which is when the Exodus out of Egypt started, until Shavu'ot, which is a festival that commemorates the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and also the first harvest.
  • This period of counting, in between those two big holidays, is known as the Counting of the Omer. The reason the Jewish people commemorate this period is in order to remind themselves that freedom from slavery was not complete with the Exodus, but was made complete when the Torah was handed down.
  • Because this is kind of a sad period, a time of remembering the enslavement of one's ancestors, weddings and parties and festive dinners are usually not held during these weeks. You're also not supposed to get your hair cut, as long hair is traditionally a sign of mourning.
  • Now, on to what the name itself means. An Omer is a unit of measure, usually for grains. Traditionally, the Jews would measure out an omer of barley and take it to the Temple as an offering once a week. So the period known as the Omer represents the passage of several weeks.
  • The 33rd day of the Omer commemorates a break in the plagues that afflicted Egypt. So also is it a break in the period of mourning during these weeks. This day is called Lag B'Omer. The word "Lag" is not really a word but the number 33 in Hebrew. It would be like calling the Fourth of July "IV July."
  • It has become the custom for teachers and parents to take their children on outings or picnics on this day, and one of the activities is to play with bats and balls or bows and arrows. This part is in remembrance of the Revolt of the Jewish People against the Romans about 1,865 years ago.
  • The day has also become linked the the anniversary of the death of a mystic Rabbi, Simon bar Yochai. He was the first to teach the mystic elements of the Torah, known as the Kabbalah. He also wrote the seminal text on Kabbalah, called the Zohar. Just before his death, he asked his followers to remember the day of his death as a day of joy. So this day of celebration within a period of mourning is an appropriate day on which to celebrate the death of someone revered, yet in a joyful way.

P.S. Don't forget to post any requests for the Apple Lady to the entry below.

Judaism 101, The Counting of the Omer
OU.org, Lag BaOmer, The Mystery of Lag BaOmer, Celebration of Lag BaOmer, and Bows and Arrows
Chabad.org, Holidays, Lag BaOmer

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