For the past few weeks, we have been counting the Omer every day awaiting the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. During the 49 days from Pesach to Shavuot, we refrain from cutting hair, shaving, and all sorts of festivities as a sign of mourning. However, on one day during this counting, we do the complete opposite and celebrate the day. This day is known as Lag Baomer (ל״ג בעומר).
Throughout the seven weeks of counting, we commemorate the deaths of the thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva. Although many people complete their days of mourning on the 33rd day (Lag Baomer), others just halt temporarily. We commit to grieving, so why stop for one day? Why do we stop specifically on Lag Baomer? What is the significance?
On Lag Baomer, we do not stop our mourning. We actually do the opposite. We mourn by honoring the death of the pious Jewish scholar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was a student of Rabbi Akiva and a great sage highly educated in all realms of Torah, specifically Kaballah. Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) risked his life for the sake of Torah learning. He hid in a cave with his son for years just to learn Torah.
Once he was finally permitted to exit the cave, he was so holy that everything he looked at immediately burst into flames. As a result, he and his son returned to the cave for another year to learn how to adjust to living in the physical world. His level of Torah learning and spirituality enhanced his attitude as a person. In fact, during his lifetime there was not a single rainbow to express that Hashem wanted to destroy the Jewish nation again, representing his holiness.
Before Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died, he made an unusual request. He instructed his students to celebrate his yartzeit as “the day of my joy.” He wanted his death to be commemorated as the day his Neshama got an Aliyah, not as the day he left our physical world. Therefore, all Jews celebrate his life on Lag Baomer.
In Israel, many people visit his grave in Meron, and many others have barbeques to reflect the light of Rashbi through his Kabalistic teachings. Some have the custom to play with bows and arrows, and others tend to use this day to celebrate what they could not during the Omer. Many people hold weddings, upsherens, and bar/bat mitzvahs. With Lag Baomer just passing, we must always remember the legacy of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and celebrate his memory through our Torah study and spiritual growth.
By: Riley Spitz (9th)