If Counting the Omer (a measurement of grain) between the second night of Passover and Shavuot was unfamiliar to you, I imagine that the minor holiday of Lag b’Omer has been even more unfamiliar to you. In Hebrew, each letter of the aleph-bet (i.e. Hebrew alphabet) symbolizes a number. So, with Lag, the lamed is 30 and the gimel is 3, thus Lag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer.

 The period of counting the Omer is considered to be one of semi-mourning, perhaps reflecting the precarious nature of agriculture; it’s a time of waiting to see if the barley harvest will be sufficient to sustain the community. So why is the 33rd of the 49 days of the Omer singled out as a festive day? It’s not clear, but tradition identifies a variety of events that happened on the 33rd day: the end of a plague that killed thousands of students of the great Rabbi Akiva; the yahrzeit of the 2nd century mystic Rabbi, Shimon bar Yohai (one of Akiva’s most famous students who is said to have authored the Zohar); and the Israelites’ military victory over Roman forces in 66CE.

 How is Lag b’Omer celebrated? One way is to honor the scholarly legacies of Rabbi Akiva and bar Yohai by studying an unfamiliar text. It is also very common to have bonfires, barbecues, picnics, parties with singing and dancing, weddings, and haircuts (all of which were prohibited during the Omer). It’s not uncommon for families to plan their 3-year-old son’s first haircut for Lag b’Omer. Some people engage in archery or make arrows. Legend has it that during bar Yohai’s life there was no need for rainbows (the symbol of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people) because he was himself a living symbol of the covenant due to his high level of Torah scholarship.

 A few contemporary suggestions:

  • Incorporate social justice into your activities. For example: make a donation to a food program such as Mazon or a local food bank; be mindful of the environment and take a hike, plant a tree, use recycled materials much as possible; get a haircut and donate your hair to an organization (such as Locks of Love) that provides hairpieces for kids who have cancer.
  • Attend the virtual USDA’s Interfaith Ramadan Fellow Celebration (see below).
  • Join us for Erev Shabbat services tomorrow night which will be led by our Jewish Journey students and faculty.

 Lag b’Omer begins tonight at sundown. Whatever you do, have fun and be safe.

 Kol Tuv ~ Rabbi Appleby