Lag Ba'Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that falls between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. "Lag" is a combination of two Hebrew letters: lamed and gimmel. According to Hebrew numerology, lamed stands for the number thirty and gimmel stands for the number three. These two numbers are significant for Lag Ba'Omer because it is celebrated on the 33rd day of Counting the Omer.
The Significance of Lag Ba'Omer
Lag Ba'Omer is a joyous holiday but no one is sure what it celebrates. The Talmud mentions a plague that is thought to have killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students during one Omer, and some have suggested that Lag Ba'Omer is celebratory because the plague abated on the 33rd day. Others have suggested that Lag Ba'Omer is connected to Rabbi Akiva's support of Simon Bar Kokhba, a Jewish rebel leader against Rome. The Romans responded to Bar Kokhba's revolt with incredible brutality, but perhaps Lag Ba'Omer was a day when either the Jews won a victory or there was a brief respite from the violence. (Ultimately, Bar Kokbha's rebellion failed.) The military connection is supported by the tradition of taking children to open fields to play with toy bows and arrows on Lag Ba'Omer.
Observing Lag Ba'Omer
Lag Ba'Omer is a time during the Counting of the Omer when people can celebrate. While the Omer is a time of mourning, on Lag Ba'Omer marriages can be performed, children are taken to parks to play, and people often gather for large bonfires. The fires represent the light of the Torah.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (an important Kabbalistic text), also died on the 33rd day of the Omer. In Israel many people commemorate his death by visiting his grave in the northern town of Meron. The anniversary of his death is a day for celebration because it is believed he revealed the secrets of the Torah to his students before he died.