The fire of the Torah and Lag BaOmer
According to Jewish tradition, the 49 days that separated the Exodus from Egypt (Pesach/Passover) and the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (Shavuot) is a solemn time in the Jewish calendar. It is referred to as the “Sephirot HaOmer” — counting of the Omer and is an important time of Kabbalistic meaning. Observant Jews count each day of the Omer and observe a number of mourning traditions, including refraining from cutting hair, hearing music, and celebrating weddings and other festive occasions.
Lag BaOmer (Hebrew לַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר), also Lag B’Omer, is a holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.
This day marks the hillila (celebration, interpreted by some as the anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendor, literally “radiance”), a landmark text of Jewish Mysticism.
This association has spawned several well-known customs and practices on Lag BaOmer, including the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimages to the tomb of Bar Yochai in the northern Israeli town of Meron, and to Safed, and various customs at the tomb itself.
Another reason for why Jews celebrate Lag BaOmer is that it marks the day that the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples came to an end, and for this reason, the mourning period of Sefirat HaOmer concludes on Lag BaOmer for some people
Except for this year of course. Everything has been turned upside down. We can only keep the traditions that are safe. We have been locked out of our synagogues so we daven outside. The Rabbis have told us that we can get haircuts now because the barbers were closed for two months. However, we keep as many traditions as we can. While many Orthodox Jews don’t listen to music at all, many believe the restriction is only on live music. The problem for many is that Israel Independence day, with much live Israeli music happens in the Omer period. Modern Orthodox deal with the conflict by remembering both. The Omer is a very important part of our tradition and lasts for 50 days which is a big chunk of the year, so it is an important period in the Jewish life cycle.
This day served as a “break” in the Omer and activities that were prohibited otherwise during the Counting of the Omer were permitted on Lag B’Omer.
Safed and Lag B’Omer
When the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, came to Safed in 1570, he instituted a number of new customs that linked Jewish mysticism with conventional Jewish rituals, among them a Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Tsfat, located a 4-hour walk from the tomb of the “Rashbi,” was the logical point from which pilgrims would set off on their pilgrimage. Since the 16th century, Tsfat and Lag B’Omer have been intertwined.
Today, by virtue of a Knesset law, formal celebrations for Lag B’Omer begin with the Torah procession that begins in Tzfat’s Kikar Abu erev (the day before) Lag B’Omer
The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires throughout Israel and worldwide wherever religious Jews can be found. … Some say that as bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings.
Bonfires are lit throughout the city of Safed to commemorate the soldiers of Bar Kochba who fought against the Romans in the 2nd century C.E. The central bonfire is on Mt. Meron but throughout Tsfat neighborhoods gather to light their own bonfires. Some of the largest and most active bonfires are in the Hassidic neighborhoods of Kiryat Chabad (Canaan northern neighborhood), Meor Chaim (Darom-Southern neighborhood) and Kiryat Breslev (just below the Old Jewish Quarter on HaAri Street).
Cabinet Approves a Lag B’Omer Like No Other
The Israeli Cabinet voted its approval on Wednesday night for unprecedented restrictions on Lag B’Omer celebrations, banning bonfires throughout the country and severely limiting the traditional lighting at Miron, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The ministers accepted a Health Ministry recommendation that no bonfires be permitted from this Thursday to Wednesday, May 13, and that only three bonfires be allowed at the Kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai spread over three days. Attendance at those lighting’s will be limited to 50 persons, to be overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
In addition, visits to Miron will be banned starting this Thursday for the duration. Rental of lodgings to visitors will be prohibited, and fines imposed on violators, according to Kan news.
As a result, the huge crowds that turn out every year will not be allowed this year.
A short story:
A Lesson in Forgiveness
Mrs. Epstein, A Hebrew School teacher at Beth Israel Congregation had just concluded her lesson in preparation of Yom Kippur and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She asked her class, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness for transgressing one of the commandments?”
There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, “Transgress one of the commandments.”