Lag BaOmer, also known as Lag B'Omer, is a minor Jewish religious holiday observed on the 33rd day of the Omer, which falls on the 18th day of the month of Iyar in the Jewish calendar. In 2021, Lag BaOmer begins in the evening of April 29 and ends in the evening of April 30.
The Omer is a 49-day period of mourning between Passover and Shavuot. Lag BaOmer is a day where those of Jewish faith take a break from the semi-mourning to celebrate joyfully, with bonfires and parades, and to hold special events such as weddings. Getting a haircut is also allowed during Lag BaOmer.
History of Lag BaOmer
The origins of this holiday are slightly uncertain, and opinions are divided when it comes to the history of Lag BaOmer.
One of the most popular theories comes from the Talmud, which says that during the Omer - a time of semi-mourning when celebrations are forbidden - a plague ravaged Rabbi Akiva's students because they did not treat each other with respect, which is who the period of mourning is likely in respect of. On the 33rd day of the Omer, the plague suddenly ended, and thus Lag BaOmer became a joyful occasion, a day to celebrate the end of the plague, and forget about the sadness of Omer for a whole 24-hours. Lag BaOmer then became a day to also love and respect others.
Some also celebrate the passing of Rabbi Shimon on Lag BaOmer. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was the author of the Kabbalah, and the first to teach the mystical aspects of the Torah. On the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon asked his disciples to celebrate this day as the day of his joy.
What is the Meaning of Lag BaOmer
The Omer is the counting period between Passover and Shavuot. The word "Lag" is written in Hebrew with the letters lamed and gimel, which added together have the value of "33". On the other hand, "BaOmer" means "of the Omer."
So, Lag BaOmer signifies the 33rd day of the counting of Omer. This day coincides with the 18th day of the month of Iyar, the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing.
Lag BaOmer Customs and Traditions
This is a day when all the restrictions imposed by the mourning period of the Omer are lifted, which means that people commemorate with music, parties, parades, weddings, and haircuts. Families go on outings and children go on field trips with their schools, where they play with bows and arrows. For the kabbalists, this is also a day of spiritual cleansing.
- The better known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. The fire signifies the fiery spirit of mystical teachings, and people gather together around the bonfire to share in the joy, enjoy each other's companionship, sing and dance together.
- Many people schedule their wedding for this day, as it is a day of joy and celebration. This is the first opportunity for a wedding in the spring.
- People take this opportunity to get a haircut, as it is forbidden during mourning. Many boys who do not have their hair cut until they are 3-years-old have their haircutting ceremony, the Upsherin, on Lag BaOmer.
- It is customary for Jewish people around the world to spend the day outside. There are parades, family outings and picnics, and children play with bows and arrows in an imitation of the students of Rabbi Akiva who fooled the Romans by pretending they were hunting.