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Consider Lag b'Omer

17 May 2014 | 18 Iyar 5774

How to Count the Omer?

In the time between Passover and Shavuot we are called to "Count the Omer." The term "Omer" means "sheaf" as during the times of the Holy Temple barley was offered on the second day of Passover as prescribed in Leviticus 23:10. It was commanded to count 49 days, make another offering which would signify that it was permissible to consume the recently harvested grains. It is from this event that we “Count the Omer.”


The day after we finish Counting the Omer coincides with the day God gave the Israelite the Torah on Mount Sinai.  It took the Israelites seven weeks from the Exodus to reach Mount Sinai – the same about of time God prescribes to Count the Omer. While the Omer count it has come to represent an important time in spiritual development and introspection.


During what came to be known as the Omer period was a time of preparation that was necessary before God could give His people His Word. The Israelites were slaves living in the polytheistic world of the Egyptians; they did not know how to be God's Chosen People. Each day they were able to refine their hearts, minds and spirits to be able to receive the Torah.


Today as we Count the Omer we relive the spiritual journey of the Israelites to the Torah. While most of have already received God's Word, we can spend this time opening our hearts to a deeper understanding of the Torah. It is a time to renew and refresh our enthusiasm for the Torah and applying it to our lives.





What is

Lag b'Omer?


During the Omer count is a holiday called Lag b'Omer. This 33rd day is a turning point. The first 32 days of the Omer count are somber. From the 33rd day the days are increasingly joyous as we prepared to celebrate the giving of the Torah.


This change in atmosphere is due to a non-Biblical Jewish happening. On this day the great Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died. He was the first to teach the “Kabbalah,” the mystical aspect of the Torah authoring its primary writings called the Zohar.


While it may seem unusual to celebrate a death, 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 a light so intense that mourners couldn’t approach or look at Rabbi Shimon. For this reason it is tradition to light bonfires on erev Lag b’Omer.


Lag b'Omer is one of Judaism's more obscure holidays. However, it is good to expand one's knowledge always in all ways. As we prepare our hearts for the giving of the Torah it is an opportunity to go deeper into the Bible on our own personal spiritual journeys. So light the fires on Lag b'Omer and feel the warmth and light that is God.


The Biblical Fire

On Lag b’Omer we light the bonfires and consider all the deeper aspects of the Torah. There is so much that has yet to be revealed, more than could ever be learned in a lifetime. In honor of this exploration of the Torah and the festivities of Lag b'Omer we offer a beginning discussion of the meaning of fire in the Torah and how it is represented.


Fire is one of the most impressive, graphic and powerful metaphors in the Bible. In most Biblical references "fire" is a literal reference. However, its symbolic and ecclesiastical meanings speak to the very authority of God. The appearance of fire communicates the very presence of God – God’s Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:17), Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2-4), the flame on the alter (Judges 13:20), Solomon’s Temple was dedicated with fire from the heavens (2 Chronicles 7:1) – are just a few examples.


Conversely, because of the destructive quality of fire, it also is used to show God's displeasure, even anger in cases such as the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:4), God's judgment of Jerusalem's sins (Ezekiel 2:31) and of course God's final judgment against the wicked (Isaiah 66:15).


We offer this brief discussion about the Biblical fire only as a means to relate the idea there are endless topics to study and consider in the Bible. 




Yigal Alon Center

Kibbutz Ginosar ISRAEL


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