What is Lag BaOmer? (Image Source: Shutterstock)
Lag BaOmer is a Jewish religious festival that falls on the 33rd day of Counting of the Omer or the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Various traditions and customs are attached to this day. Some Jews believe this day to be the death anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage of the 2nd century. While another set of people believe this day to be the day when the plague that killed over 24,000 Rabbi Akiva's disciples, came to an end, accordingly earning the term of the conclusion of the mourning period of Sefirat HaOmer. In this article, we'll take you through what is Lag BaOmer, its significance today and how is it celebrated around the world.
In Jewish countries, Lag BaOmer is considered a minor holiday as it signifies a break from the mourning period of the Omer. During the mourning period, it is commonly believed that huge functions should be avoided and haircuts must be forbidden, as a way to maintain grief. Hence, the significance of the Lag BaOmer day becomes even more eminent as it is the only day of the Omer month when the previously forbidden activities are allowed. Jewish consider this as a happy day and therefore, immerse themselves in vibrant celebrations for those 24 hours.
To understand the Lag BaOmer story in-depth, it is important to first understand the significance of Omer time. The most popular explanation for the Jewish practice cites the Talmud that depicts the story of a plague that had cultivated and killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students because they did not treat each other with respect. The mourning behaviour is in memory of those students and the severe punishment they were condemned to.
Lag BaOmer celebration is typically noted by lighting up a bonfire as a way to spiritually cleanse ourselves. This custom also symbolizes the light Simeon bar Yohai brought into the world. It is also believed that auspicious celebrations like weddings must take place during this day. The origin of the Lag BaOmer celebration is unclear but its earliest reference dates back to the 12th century, Northern France. On the occasion of Lag BaOmer 2021, people are advised to observe social distancing and possibly opt for homely and family-only celebrations.