4/29/13

Lag b'Omer . . .

Get some marshmallows and all-beef franks, yuns. We're
having a bonfire and celebrate being kind to each other.
It's time for another "Jewish Holiday You've Never Heard of, Non-Jews" primer - today, we're talking Lag b'Omer.

Lag b'Omer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer which is a daily recognition of the 49 days between Pesach and the handing down of the Torah to the Jews (aka Shavuot). Why does the 33rd day get a celebration? There was a plague that set upon and killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva during the counting of the Omer. The plague, which lifted on the 33rd day, left five students including Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who went on to be the greatest Rabbi of his generation and wrote many lasting documents like the Zohar.

The plague was believed to be divinely sent and was put upon the pupils because they were not being kind enough to each other. Simple as that! There is an old cliche that you can recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot: "Do onto others." and things like this plague and Lag b'Omer are good reminders of that mandate. Apparently the last five students got it or there were just not enough of them left for infighting and pettiness.

FUN FACTS:

  • Lag b'Omer sounds like two random words but Lag is actually L (lamed) which has a value of 30, an "a" to help with pronunciation (the Hebrew alephbet has no vowels) and G (gimmel) which has a value of 3 and b' ("of") and Omer (Omer) so it is literally the 33 of Omer
  • General "joy" and "happiness" is frowned upon in some communities during the time between Pesach and Lag b'Omer. This includes weddings, parties, and the stand up comedy styling of Gallagher. Okay. Maybe not all that
  • In observant communities, men typically won't shave and no one gets a hair cut. Lag b'Omer of a boy's third year of life is often when he has his first haircut. Some women will recognize Lag b'Omer with a donation of their hair to locks of love
  • Bonfires, archery, and grilling festivities are common celebrations to mark Rabbi Shimon (see carob below) and his brilliant (as in bright, strong fire) scholarship on Jewish mysticism (aka Kabbalah
  • The rainbow became part of Lag b'Omer celebrations in the 80s with the rise of Print Shop software. I kid - it is a nod to Noah's Big Boat and the fact that the world would never know suffering like that particular flood again.
  • Carob (a crappy chocolate substitute, by the way) is frequently eaten in honor of a rabbi and his son who spent 13 years in a cave, buried up to their heads in sand, and studying the Torah surviving on carob alone
Anywho, the holiday is over (it went from sundown Saturday through sundown Sunday this year) but I thought you might still appreciate a little overview as I certainly did when I learned about the occassion. 

Be NICE to each other!