Lag b’Omer

20 April 2017 Written by  R. Steven Bernstein

           As we count the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot, one day, in particular, has a very special significance. Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, (Lamed being 30 and gimel being 3, hence lag is 33,) is a day of extraordinary events in Jewish history. It is the 18th day of the month of Iyar.

           On Lag b’Omer, Hashem sent us mon (manna) in the wilderness. The children of Israel cried out yet again for Hashem to save us, and he did. Today Lag b’Omer marks a special day for the celebration of a very important sage in the 2nd century ce, Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai. Rabbi Shimon is frequently referred to by his acronym Rashbi.

           Rabbi Shimon was one of the leading students of Rabbi Akiva. While he was studying with Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon recognized the coming catastrophe of the Bar Kochba revolt. As instructed in the New Testament Rabbi Shimon fled for the hills with his son Elazar and found a cave to live in in a place called Meron, near Tzfat in the Galilee. (For this and other reasons, Rabbi Shimon is believed by many to have been a believer in Yeshua the Messiah.) Rabbi Shimon lived there for 13 years. Hashem provided them a carob tree and a spring of fresh water for sustenance.

           During this time the bar Kochba revolt ensued, and for a time it went well. Archaeologists have found coins indicating that during the revolt the Karbon Pesach was renewed in the Temple. Rabbi Akiva even indicated that he thought that bar Kochba may have been the Messiah. Then catastrophe struck, a plague gripped the students of Rabbi Akiva. 25,000 of his students died in the plague and the plague ended on Lag b’Omer, only five of his students survived. One of them was Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai.

           The Roman Emperor Hadrian brought his legions into the land of Israel and squashed the bar Kochba revolt. Millions of Jews were slaughtered, and at bar Kochba’s stronghold of Betar, every single one of the men was killed on Tisha b’Av. The Jewish people were devastated; the tendency came to forget about our G-d and our history. There was a very real danger of Torah going out from the world.

           It was at this time that Rav Shimon bar Yokhai emerged from the cave at Meron on Lag b’Omer. He saw the destruction and the despair of the Jewish people. Strengthened by Hashem, he fought, valiantly, to keep the light of Torah from leaving the world. It is clear, that without the strength, vision, and relentless effort, of Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai, we might not have Torah today.

           While in the cave at Meron, Rashbi compiled and organized Jewish mystical thought. The result is the book of splendor, the Zohar. Although the text itself was not redacted until the early Middle Ages, the lines of esoteric thought were gathered and preserved by the Rashbi. We can see much of these lines of understanding in both the gospel of John and the Revelation.

           Finally, the Rashbi passed away on Lag b’Omer. So, Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai was born on Lag b’Omer, he emerged from the cave on Lag b’Omer, and he died on Lag b’Omer.    And so we celebrate. We light on fires, symbolic of the light of Torah, not being extinguished from the world. We sing and dance with joy at our ability to study and live the Torah because of the Rashbi. Incidentally, I was born on Lag b’Omer, and married on Lag b’Omer.

Lag b’Omer sameach!

Happy Lag b’Omer!


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