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What Is Lag BaOmer?

What Is Lag BaOmer?

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Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count—this year, May 14, 2017—is a festive day on the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated with outings (on which children traditionally play with bows and arrows), bonfires, parades and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day.

What It Means

Lag BaOmer is always on the 18th day of the month of Iyar. So what’s up with the name? The word “Lag” is made of of the Hebrew letters lamed (ל) and gimel (ג), which together have the numerical value of 33. “BaOmer” means “of the Omer.” The Omer is the counting period that begins on the second day of Passover and culminates with the holiday of Shavuot, following day 49.

Hence Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the Omer count, which coincides with 18 Iyar. What happened on 18 Iyar that’s worth celebrating?

What We Are Celebrating

Bonfires are a traditional Lag BaOmer feature.
Bonfires are a traditional Lag BaOmer feature.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century of the Common Era, was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah, and is the author of the classic text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”

The chassidic masters explain that the final day of a righteous person’s earthly life marks the point at which all their deeds, teachings and work achieve their culminating perfection and the zenith of their impact upon our lives. So each Lag BaOmer, we celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s life and the revelation of the esoteric soul of Torah.

Lag BaOmer also commemorates another joyous event. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged among the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva (teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities proscribed by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of loving and respecting one’s fellow (ahavat Yisrael).

How Is Lag BaOmer Celebrated

  • Since this is the day of joy of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, there are major festivities in Meron, the mountain village in northern Israel where he is buried, with tens of thousands of pilgrims pouring in from all corners of the world to rejoice together in unity. Read more about Meron.
  • All over the world, it is customary to spend the day outside, enjoying the natural beauty of G‑d’s world. During these outings, it is customary to play with bows and arrows. Read about the reason for the bow and arrow here.
  • The mourning practices of the Omer period (see above) are lifted for this day. As a result:
  • music is playing and people are singing and dancing with abandon.
  • little boys who turned three during the Omer period but did not have their first haircut (upsheren) due to the mourning laws, have them today, often at Meron.
  • weddings are held.
  • Recognizing the fiery spirit of the mystical teachings that are celebrated today, bonfires are kindled. Get some friends (and a guitar) together, and it becomes a wonderful opportunity for singing, sharing and enjoying each other’s camaraderie.
  • Customary foods for the day include carob (which miraculously sustained Rabbi Shimon and his son when they were hiding from the Romans) and eggs (a sign of mourning).

Lag BaOmer Parades

Beginning in the 1950s, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged Jewish children to join together in grand Lag BaOmer parades as a show of Jewish unity and pride. Held in front of the Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, the parades attracted—and still attract—thousands of children from all walks of life.

In 1980 the Rebbe gave instructions that Lag BaOmer parades and children’s rallies should take place not only in New York, but across the world, especially in Israel. Thousands of children participated in the tens of rallies that took place that year, and to this day, Chabad organizes hundreds of Lag BaOmer parades around the world every year.

Read more about the Lag BaOmer parades here.

A 1992 Lag BaOmer parade outside the iconic portico of the Moscow Choral Synagogue in the center of the city. Chabad's Jewish day school was housed at the Moscow Choral Synagogue until space ran out in 1993.
A 1992 Lag BaOmer parade outside the iconic portico of the Moscow Choral Synagogue in the center of the city. Chabad's Jewish day school was housed at the Moscow Choral Synagogue until space ran out in 1993.

Links for More on Lag BaOmer

The History of Lag BaOmer and Its Observance

Lag BaOmer Traditions and Customs

Lag BaOmer Stories

Lag BaOmer Event Search

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Helen Dudden Bristol April 27, 2017

I agree. During the last year I've had health issues. Feeling so unwell and lost. This relationship with something, that is like no other. Its constant, no matter how I feel, it reasures and soothes my very soul.

Without the closeness of my Father where would I be? Conversion has eluded me, but my love and trust has not faded. It takes more than conversion to be .............. Reply

Michael Florida May 27, 2016

@Anonymous, it is not hard at all to talk to God. You might want to start by referring to Him in a more intimate way, instead of the very separating term of HaShem. Moses made it quite clear to the people of Israel that God does not want a separation between Him and people...all people. But the people of Israel insisted that Moses approach God for them. Somewhat of a mistake. Approach God intimately, softly, personally. He's there, within you; ready to listen and respond. Call Him Father; call Him Abba, or any affectionate and intimate term. Do not separate yourself by using the cold term of "HaShem," which although may seem respectful, is distant and separating in nature. It is not what He wants. Reply

Tyler April 26, 2017
in response to Michael:

I think that perhaps it would be wise for you to read the Amidah prayers and you would see that the word "Father" is used to refer to HaShem over and over and over again. Have you ever heard "Avinu Malkeinu?" It is a prayer that translates to "Our Father, Our King." A grave problem I see out there is that people talk much about what they think the Jews do, without actually spending any time studying it. I am not sure what information you are listening to, but observant Jews call Him "Father" three times a day when they pray. If you get yourself a siddur, you can see it for yourself in black and white. Even the "Lord's Prayer" of the Christians is simply a short-form of the Amidah prayers. It is a dangerous thing indeed to presume you know what God wants - especially when you have not made sure that you have your facts straight. Anonymous was pouring out his heart in a question, and your rebuke was misinformed. Reply

Helen Dudden Bristol May 27, 2016

Love and respect for another human being. I have been writing on relationship breakdowns, how this echoes, as I write.

Once upon time there was love and commitment, where did it go, often, it went when respect ended. Reply

Anonymous May 26, 2016

Mered Bar Kochvah? I would like to ask why Chabad doesn't even mention it?! Where I am from this is known as the prime reason for celebrating this day, the Mered of Bar Kochvah and his victorious riding of the lion. Why is it not even mentioned here at Chabad? Reply

Shmuel F Brooklyn, NY May 13, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Hi,

One of the first people in documented Jewish history who we find celebrating the date of Lag Baomer as Reb Shimon's date of passing, was the Arizal, the foremost sage and Kabbalist who lived in the 16th century.

After and due to him came the numerous other Torah scholars and leaders who turned this day into what it is, and who've commemorated the various customs associated with it, all of them stressing the date of his passing as the reason for the celebrations.
The revolt of Bar Kochba is not mentioned in those sources. Reply

Anonymous Thornhill May 26, 2016

Why is it so hard to talk to HaShem? Reply

Michael Florida May 25, 2016

Slight correction Ahavat Yisrael does not mean "one's fellow," as if to say we are to love all people. It means love "of Israel." It really should specifically say "love of one's fellow" in the Hebrew, as "love of Israel," by itself, is not in the true spirit of what God's love is, and its all-encompassing nature. We Jews forget, very often, that we are not the only beautiful creations of God.
Reply

Lynn Magnuson New Orleans, LA. May 25, 2016

Very interesting. I am amazed, as someone new to Judaism, at the wisdom and compassion of many of the sages. Christianity only mentions these people in passing, without really dwelving into their lives or teachings. It also does not even examine the Talmud, another great book of Judaism. Of all the things I've studied, these two things amaze and inspire me the most. The sages, and the Talmud. Reply

hannah san diego March 24, 2016

hi great and just to say my bat mitva is on lag beomer Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org May 6, 2015

To Jeffrey in Brooklyn Indeed all but five students passed away. One of the five survivors was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) is on Lag B'omer, and he specifically requested that it be a day of celebration. Reply

matthew poreda NJ May 6, 2015

short explanation of lag bomer After reading some of the questions (what is the significance of lag bomer) I would like to share my understanding of this day. It is the yahrtzeit of rabbi shimon bar yochai, who authored the zohar. The custom of lighting bonfires is symbolic of the great light the zohar gave to the world. There is a custom to play with bow and arrows to symbolize that the Rashbi was so righteous that his generation did not rely on the rainbow to be spared from punishment, his merit alone protected them. There is also a custom to eat carrobs, since hashem made them sprout outside his cave where he studied to sustain him. Reply

Jeffrey Wallach Brooklyn, New York May 6, 2015

Question If all of Rabbi Akiva's students died during the first 32 days of the Omer, why do we celebrate on the 33rd day? There was no one left to die. Reply

Shmuel F Brooklyn, NY May 13, 2017
in response to Jeffrey Wallach:

Excellent question (being that tonight is Lag Baomer, I am responding to your two year old post, hoping that you see this).

Your answer: In truth, the students stopped dying *on* Lag Baomer (see Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orech Chayim, Chapter 493:5), which is why the holiday was established on Lag baomer.

In fact, there is a discussion in Jewish law whether one may start cutting his hair (one of the prohibitions of the Sefira period) on the eve of Lag Baomer, being that some students did die on Lag Baomer. To resolve this, they said that one should wait until daybreak to cut ones hair - and with that one fulfills the "bereavement" of the day, and one can celebrate the rest of the day to the fullest. Reply

Zerubavel Beitar December 23, 2013

Re: Bar Kokhba Revolt Although Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Akiva, the main characters of Lag Baomer history lived in the era of Bar Kokhba's revolt, the relationship between the celebration of Lag Baomer and the Bar Kokhba revolt are not brought in the traditional Jewish sources. The Bar Kokhba revolt and the losses we suffered with his defeat are commemorated on Tisha B'Av. Reply

Anonymous Armstrong December 19, 2013

Other websites have mentioned the celebration of Lag Ba'omer being in celebration of the 2nd revolt led by Simon bar Kosiba (Simon bar Kokhba) against Hadrian and the Romans. According to this article, however, Lag Ba'omer is celebrated because of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Can anyone elaborate on this? Reply

Bev Yohai San Diego April 28, 2013

Anonymous said it best. Reply

Les Kristt April 27, 2013

The holiday is really called Log Burning ... That is why it is associated with Bon fires... Reply

Linda Alhambra, Calif. May 11, 2012

Lag Ba'omer I really need a explanation of Lag Ba'omer! What is the purpose of this holiday? Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY May 22, 2011

Response to bonfires The custom of lighting bonfires is to commemorate and celebrate the great spiritual light brought into this world by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, through his teaching of the inner, mystical dimension of Torah (The Zohar). On the day of his passing, on Lag Baomer, he revealed many hidden secrets of the Torah, bringing great light into the world. Reply