Lag B’Omer

With Appreciation to Rabbi David Golinkin

         This coming week we have the celebration of Lag B’Omer, a strange custom. Thanks to the research of Rabbi David Golinkin, I have some insight into some of the customs surrounding this day. In the Talmud there is a story of Rabbi Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students dying from a plague because they didn’t treat each other respectfully.[1] Rabbi Nahman said dyptheria, but we are uncertain if this was the plague. In the Geonic commentary it teaches that the plague ceased on Lag B’Omer. Yet this does not explain why we mourn: why we cease from haircuts and shaving, going to concerts and conducting weddings. The customs of mourning surrounding it go back to the late Gaonic period, where Rav Natronai Gaon or Rav Hai Gaon was asked about the custom. Dr. Aaron Amit said that the story has no historical basis, yet the custom persists.

         Further evidence that there was no one custom is the fact that some mourn between Passover and Lag B’Omer, others between the 1st of Iyar and Shavuot and others between Passover and Shavuot excluding Lag B’Omer. But why not Lag B’Omer besides the story of Rabbi Akiva and his disciples? In a tradition attributed to the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai said to his disciples “on my Yahrzeit you should rejoice,” and he died on the 33rd day of the Omer. Hence why people gather at his grave on Mount Meron every Lag B’Omer. There were flames lit and a tradition of shooting bows and arrows to ward off evil spirits.

         Still we need to determine what import Lag B’Omer has to us so that it is meaningful. Dr. Salo Baron reinterpreted it as being for most massacres of Jews during the crusades, as they occurred in Iyar and Sivan, based off Sefer Minhag Tov. Rabbi Golinkin says we should mourn for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Shoah. To me that makes sense. We know there were fast days and days of mourning that fell into desuetude when everything became lumped into Tisha B’Av. Why not as Rabbi Golinkin argues, להחזיר עטרה ליושנה[2]  revitalize ancient customs which fell into disuse?

         Whatever the reason for your desire to celebrate Lag B’Omer, I hope you will join us Sunday morning for the last day of Religious School and our community Lag B’Omer celebration.

[1] Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 62b

[2] Babylonian Talmud Yoma 69b

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