What is Lag B’Omer?
Lag B’Omer occurs each year on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. This date signifies the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer – the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. On this day, we commemorate the mystical writings and teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Because of this history, Lag B’Omer is deeply rooted with Kabbalistic significance.
How we celebrate Lag B’Omer
How is the 33rd day of the Omer different from all other days? The rest of the Omer period is filled with restrictions: no weddings, no parties, no music, no haircuts. But on Lag B’Omer all of those mourning rules are set aside and the day is treated as an overall celebration, filled with parades and parties and general outdoor merriment including:
The holiday of Lag B’Omer is customarily celebrated with bonfires. Some say this is to remember the fire at Mt. Sinai or the igniting of the Jewish soul. Mainly it is believed the fires are lit to honor Rabbi Shimon and his mystical interpretation of Judaism. His house was said to be filled with intense fire and light while he studied Torah and the lighting of bonfires reminds us of his teachings.
First haircut for children
Haircuts are forbidden during the 49-day period between Pesach and Shavuot, with the exception of Lag B’Omer. It is customary for 3-year-old boys to receive their first haircut on Lag B’Omer as part of the celebration of the day.
Bows and arrows
Children are also encouraged to go out and play with bows and arrows on Lag B’Omer. Some believe that the bow and arrow symbolize the inward power of the Jews during war, power that was unleashed by the hidden mystical aspects of the Torah.
The other significance of the bow and arrow relates to rainbows, which were believed to appear in the sky as a sign that the world deserved punishment and destruction. According to midrashic tradition, in all the days of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s life, a rainbow was never seen. Rabbi Shimon’s merit protected the world, thus the appearance of a rainbow was never necessary. Therefore, children play with bows, which in Hebrew share the same word (“keshet”) as rainbow.
Like haircuts, weddings are not permitted during the Omer, with the exception of the 33rd day. It is a popular custom to get married on Lag B’Omer, as it provides the first available date for a spring wedding.
People are encouraged to offer “Chai Rotel” (18 rotel equals 54 liters or 13 gallons of liquid) at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron. It is popularly believed that if one donates 18 rotels of liquid refreshment (grape juice, wine, soda or even water) to those attending the celebrations at bar Yochai’s tomb on Lag B’Omer, then the giver will be granted a miracle, such as sudden fertility or healing from a long-term illness. “Lag B’Omer babies” are not uncommon 9 months following the celebration!
When is Lag B’Omer?
2014: May 17, 2014 – May 18, 2014 sunset to nightfall (Jewish Year 5774)
2015: May 6, 2015 – May 7, 2015 sunset to nightfall (Jewish Year 5775)
2016: May 25, 2016 – May 26, 2016 sunset to nightfall (Jewish Year 5776)
2017: May 13, 2017 – May 14, 2017 sunset to nightfall (Jewish Year 5777)