What is ‘Lag Ba-Omer’?

Today is the 33rd day in the count of the Omer {עומר}  (or as we call it in Hebrew ‘Lag Ba-Omer’ {לג בעומר} ) which is a special day in the Hebrew calendar and is considered a holiday in Israel.

The term ‘Lag’ {לג} is not an actual Hebrew word but rather the numerical Hebrew value of the number ’33’. In the old Jewish culture, it was customary to count by using Hebrew letters instead of numbers so the letter ‘Aleph’ {א}(the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet) represents the number 1, the letter ‘Bet’ {ב}(the second letter) represents the number 2 and so forth.

‘Lag’ is made out of two Hebrew letters: ‘Lamed’ {ל} and ‘Gimmel’ {ג}. ‘Lammed’ has a value of 30 and ‘Gimmel’ has a value of 3 and that is how we got the term ‘Lag’ which stands for the number 33, as in the 33rd day for the count of the Omer.

Unlike other well-established Jewish holidays that are characterized by defined and clear origins, ‘Lag Ba-Omer’ has actually a couple of different traditions.

All of the traditions are connected to events that took place during the Roman period around the first and second centuries AD, at the time of the Jewish rebellions against the Romans.

Book of Zohar, Italy 16th century

One of the most popular traditions says that on this very day the well-known rabbi – Shimeon bar Yochai – finished his teachings that later on would be known by the name ‘Zohar’ {זוהר} (Hebrew for ‘splendor’ or ‘radiance’) and are the basis of Jewish mysticism. Since Shimeon bar Yochai is buried in Meron (a small village in the Galilee, northern Israel), every year on this day literally hundreds of thousands of people go there.

If one will find himself there, as well as in many other places in Israel, he or she will witness the large amount of bonfires scattered throughout the country.This custom is in memory of the bonfires that were lit by the Jewish fighters to announce the coming of the Roman soldiers during the time of the Jewish rebellion about two thousand years ago.

Chag Sameach! {חג שמח} (Happy Holiday!)