The Haircut holiday

What We Can Learn From Lag Baomer

The end of the Omer is upon us and I don’t know about you, but over at NCSY we’re ready to celebrate on Lag Baomer.

Lag Baomer is one of the most festive days in the Jewish calendar, which falls on the 33rd day of the Omer, a seven-week period of mourning that falls between Passover and Shavuot.

Read on to learn why we pause during this time of mourning to celebrate over the embers of a bon fire. 

So Why Do We Celebrate On
Lag Baomer?

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

The meaning of the Lag Baomer bonfires are multifaceted, but rooted in two specific historical moments. The first: The passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

A kabbalistic mystic and author of The Zohar, Rabbi Shimon passed away on Lag Baomer, and instructed his students not to mourn his passing, but to mark it as the “day of my joy.”

The bonfires are meant to symbolize the mystical and holy experience of the soul ignited by the light that Shimon Bar Yochai brought into the world, and to remind us of the ascension that the jews made to Har Sinai over the holiday of Shavuot. The celebration is marked in different ways all over the world, most notably in Meron, where thousands of Jews come from all over the world to celebrate together at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The second: Lag Baomer was the day that the plague that took many of Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased.

Rabbi Akiva & His Students

Rabbi Akiva is arguably one of the most famous Jewish scholars ever born. During his time as a Talmud scholar, 24,000 of his students died during the period between Passover and Shavuot. According to the Talmud, all of these students perished in one day, struck down by a mysterious plague.The Gemara presents the opinion that they were struck down because they did not have respect for one another. This changed the period of the Omer ( the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot) from a celebratory time to one of semi-mourning.

How do we mark this period of mourning? Those who observe the Omer do not cut their hair or listen to music. They do not make weddings or other celebrations out of memory and respect for those students who perished.  

What's It All Mean?

Lag Baomer is so rich with meaning it can be hard to drill it down to just one or two things. At its crux, the celebration of Lag Baomer marks the end of a period of mourning, a rebirth of sorts, illustrating to us the power and significance of commemoration and celebration.

Lag Baomer show us that even through periods of immense sadness, there can be light; there can be redemption. The fires of Lag Baomer are meant to signify the light of the Jewish People, and the power of even the smallest of lights to eradicate darkness.

The modern experience of the Lag Baomer is a time for self-reflection, and just like our ancestors, we are symbolically reborn. By coming together and unifying, Lag Baomer allows us to usher in the giving of the Torah in celebration and with open arms. Fresh haircuts and new clothes are not only a signifier of the ending of the mourning period. It is a symbol of rebirth and ascension to Torah.

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