Jewish Holiday: Lag BaOmer

A measure of barley called the "Omer" was offered on the second day of Passover, marking the first day of a fifty day season where each day is counted. The festival of Shavuot occurs on the fiftieth day.

During this season, it is recounted in the Talmud that the students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague because they did not give each other proper respect. Some manuscripts recount the plague ending on Lag B'Omer--the thirty-third day of the fifty.

Kabbalistic tradition recounts that the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag B'Omer and that the sun miraculously refused to set until he expired, hence the Chasidic tradition of candles and bonfires on Lag B'Omer.

In modern day Israel, Lag B'Omer campfires are pervasive among both traditional and secular Jews. Tens of thousands of Chasidic Jews make a pilgrimage to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's grave at Mt. Meron, where huge bonfires speckle the landscape.

The thirty-third day of the Omer either concludes or interrupts the traditional mourning period between Pesach and Shavuot. The reasons for celebrating Lag B’Omer are many. Lag B’Omer is traditionally and secularly celebrated by lighting bonfires.

This custom apparently originated as a celebration of the “marriage of heaven and earth” when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, by tradition, the author of the Zohar--the Jewish mystical canon, passed from this world.

Kabbalistic tradition teaches that the sun refused to set until Rabbi Shimon passed away, hence his Hillula is celebrated by lighting fires. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was one of the prized pupils of Rabbi Akiva who was the leader of the Bar Kochba rebellion that was brutally repressed by the Romans.