You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... -Leviticus 23:15-16
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
Erev Lag B'Omer, Thursday May 10
LEARN MORE ABOUT...LAG B'OMER
The Why of Lag B'Omer
Until the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, Lag B'Omer had been the youngest of our Jewish festivals. Yet it was nearly 2,000 years ago that this "youngster" was born. It happened in the days when the Romans ruled Israel with an iron hand after defeating the Jews in two wars. They forbade the Jews to study the Torah and made life extremely bitter for them. Out of all this war and suffering came the festival of Lag B'Omer.
After the Jews lived through many centuries of growth and progress punctuated by much suffering, beginning with the period of the Bible, followed by centuries of foreign rule, they were finally -- after a short period of independence - conquered by the Romans, the mightiest rulers of ancient times. Then, when they rebelled against their Roman masters, they were defeated in the year 70 C.E. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and many Jews were driven from their land into all parts of the Roman Empire and elsewhere. However, even outside their land, they did not stop studying the Torah.
Then about 60 years later (around 130 C.E.) the Jews asked the Emperor Hadrian to allow them to rebuild the Temple. Hadrian agreed at first, but then changing his mind, he consented only on condition that Jerusalem be rebuilt not as a Jewish, but as a heathen city, where only Roman idols, and not God, would be worshipped. So great was the Jews' disappointment and so fierce their anger that they decided to rebel against Rome and to try once more to regain their independence. But in this war too the little band of Jews was defeated and their hopes for rebuilding their Temple were crushed.
This second rebellion against Rome was led by a brave and legendary warrior. His name was Bar Kochba. Well known for his mighty strength, he was chosen as a leader by one of the most famous scholars of all times, Rabbi Akiba. For a while it appeared that Bar Kochba's army would defeat the Romans, but the mighty armies of Rome were too much for the Jews. Now the Roman conquerors made life for the Jews more miserable than ever.
However, when the Romans discovered that the Jews refused to die after two defeats, and that it was the study of the Torah that kept them alive, they decided to forbid all study of Torah. In this way, thought the Romans, Judea would be destroyed forever.
But the Jews were not frightened. They still did not lose hope but instead, continued to study Torah faithfully. Now, it happened during the days of Rabbi Akiba, and during the seven weeks, or 49 days, between Pesach and Shavuot, that a frightful epidemic broke out among his students, killing thousands of them. That is why this period of 49 days is one of sadness. The rabbis forbade the celebration of any happy events, such as weddings and parties, during these 7 weeks. However, a strange thing occurred: the raging epidemic suddenly stopped on the 33rd day. On this one day of the Omer (49 day) period no students died. For this reason all festivities that had been forbidden during this period were henceforth permitted on the 33rd day, which is called "Lag B'Omer".
The term "Lag B'Omer" comes first, from "Lag" which in Hebrew stands for 33 because it is comprised of the letter "Lamed" which has the numerical value of 30 and "Gimmel," 3. It comes also from the "omer" period during Temple days, when a measure of grain, called an "omer," was brought into the Temple for 49 days, or seven weeks. This ceremony, known as S'firat Ha Omer (Counting the Omer) began with the 2nd day of Pesach and ended on the 50th day, which was the Festival of Shavuot. But this period of the days of Rabbi Akiba also came to be known as the "S'firah" period, a time of great sadness.
Lag B'Omer is also known as "Scholars' Day" because it reminds us of the end of the plague that killed so many famous and beloved scholars. Of the noted rabbis who lived during this period were Rabbi Akiba (who, although totally ignorant and uneducated until 40 years of age, later became one of the greatest scholars Israel has ever known) and Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai (who lived in a cave for 13 years when studying Torah was forbidden).
Many scholars of this era became martyrs; they gave up their lives rather than their study of the Torah. Chief among them was Rabbi Akiba whom the Romans cruelly tortured to death.
On the other hand, Lag B'Omer is a happy holiday because we remember the heroism of these beloved scholars. They live on as unforgettable examples.
This, then, is the message of Lag B'Omer: we are filled with pride in our Torah, which communicated such faith and courage to the Jews that even the harshest Roman laws could not keep them from living by its teachings and studying it in the face of all dangers.