Light the Fire of Faith: Lag b'Omer

                 Light the Fire of Faith: Lag b'Omer

 Each year we retrace this spiritual journey by Counting the Omer, which is the Torah mandated period of time between Passover and the next holiday, Shavuot.

“You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the LORD, your God." -Deuteronomy 16:9-10

On Passover we relived the Exodus through the Seder -- the physical journey to freedom. Therefore, it follow that beginning on the day after Passover we relive the Israelites’ spiritual journey to the Torah by Counting the Omer. On each of the days of the Omer we should refine our own spiritual journey in preparation of Shavuot. It is a time of self-refinement and preparation. We each need make sure that our hearts truly are open to God’s Word and His commandments. At the end of the Omer, on Shavuot God gave His Chosen People the gift of the Torah. 

The beginning of the Omer also marked the Torah mandated time to begin the harvest. It began the harvest of several of the Seven Species including wheat, barley and figs. After the First Temple in Jerusalem was constructed it was on the 50th day, Shavuot, that individual could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple. The Omer was a time of preparation for this important offering.  

On the 50th day of the Omer we metaphorically stand at Mount Sinai and receive God’s wisdom, will and love. As we are filled with His Word, we thank him for all that He has provided so we can live. However, we are not ready for Shavuot just yet. At this moment we are only half way through the Omer and this preparative spiritual journey.

Today is the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. It is the holiday called Lag b’Omer. This is the turning point in the Omer count. The first 32 days of the Omer count are solemn. Lag b’Omer on the 33rd day is a festive day. It is celebrated with outing in which children play with bow and arrow and bonfires, some quite huge, are lit. The remaining days of the Omer count are increasingly joyous as we get ready to celebrate receiving the Torah.  

What happened on the 33rd day to promote this change in atmosphere?

On this day a great 2nd century Jewish sage died. How strange that the anniversary of a death to be a festive occasion. The sage’s name was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He was the first to teach the “Kabbalah,” the mystical aspect of the Torah. He authored the original primary writings on the Kabbalah called the Zohar.

In Jewish tradition the last day of a righteous person’s life indicates the zenith of all his good deeds, works and teachings. Rabbi Shimon’s immense impact on Torah teaching and spirituality brought a great light to the world. On the day of his passing it is said that the house was filled with fire and an intense light, so much so that the people who came to pay their respects couldn’t approach or look at Rabbi Shimon. For this reason it is tradition to light bonfires on erev Lag b’Omer.

Celebrating the Hidden Aspects of the Bible

On Lag b’Omer we light the bonfires and consider all the hidden aspects of the Torah. There is so much that has yet to be revealed, more than could ever be learned in a lifetime. For example, we could contemplate the meaning of fire in the Torah and how it is represented. 

Spiritually, fire is usually is attributed to God and His Word. God showed himself often times through fire – God’s Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:17), Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2-4), the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites (Exodus13:21), Solomon’s Temple dedication (2 Chronicles 7:1) – and there are many more examples. 

Culturally, we often associate fire with all that is evil such as the hell fires. However, fire is the symbol of divinity. It is a symbol of God Himself. Fire is powerful and can be destructive, but it can also be life giving. Without fire we couldn’t have kept warm or cooked food. Those who have let God’s fire into their hearts can see fire in a positive way.

While Lag b’Omer is an esoteric holiday for those who are not familiar with it, it might be an excellent time to rekindle the fire of God’s love in your heart and study His Word, the Torah, with zeal and a yearning to find a deeper meaning.