LaG BaOmer – An Overview

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

The Ramah Shulchan Aruch (OC 493:2) that on LaG BaOmer we engage slightly in Simcha – joy.  Commemorating LaG BaOmer is a serious matter.  The Mogen Avrohom cites the Kavanos HaArizal that discusses a certain individual who had the habit of reciting Nachem every day.  He continued to do so on LaG BaOmer as well.  For doing so he was punished.  We see, therefore, that one should take the words of the Ramah quite seriously.

A number of reasons are cited by Torah authorities for commemorating Lag BaOmer:

• It commemorates the students of Rabbi Akiva who ceased dying during this day – although the deaths persisted between Pesach and Shavuos. (Shla Psachim 525).

• This day is the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who revealed the inner secrets of the Torah (Chayei Adam Moadim 131:11)

• This is the day that Rabbi Akiva granted ordination to his five students – among them Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – they did not die in the plague that struck Rabbi Akiva’s other students (Pri Chadash OC 493)

• It also commemorates the Manna which began to fall on this day after the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt (Responsa Chsam Sofer YD #233 “Amnam Yadati”).

In this short essay, we will attempt to discuss each of the four reasons mentioned above.

The Students of Rabbi Akiva

The Talmud (Yevamos 62b) tells us that 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students died on account of the fact that they did not extend honor to one another. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zatzal asks how it could be that the great students of Rabbi Akiva neglected this most basic of principles? His answer is most illuminating.

Our Rabbis teach us that Kinah, Kavod and Taavah – jealousy, the pursuit of honor, and the pursuit of desires take one out of this world.  “If so,” Rabbi Akiva’s students reasoned, “how can we accord each other this spiritual poison?”

Rabbi Levenstein explains that they were unaware that, in fact, honor is only poisonous when one seeks it – but when one extends it to another it is not poisonous at all.  When we build the self-esteem of others, it is actually quite healthy.  Rav Levenstein explains that this notion is very subtle and nuanced and it could well be that the notion itself was only revealed in the world at that time.

Why then were they punished?

They were smart enough to have been able to figure out and contemplate this issue by themselves.  Having neglected to delve into this psychological insight was their error.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Rashbi, whose Yartzeit we commemorate on this day, merited to compose two extraordinary books that form part of the Zohar.  They are the Adara Rabbah and the Adarah Zutah.  Rav Yoseph Chaim in his Responsa (Rav Pe’alim YD #156) explains why it was that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, above and beyond his masters the Tannaim, merited to write these extraordinary books.  He explains that although his teachers and masters were greater than he was, he had the ability of couching these teachings in esoteric terms.  Indeed, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was so adept at obscuring the true understanding of these thoughts, that they could even be expounded upon publically – and only those that truly merit understanding it would be able to figure out the true inner meaning and import.

According to this, we commemorate the fact that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai not only transmitted these remarkable teachings, but vouchsafed them in such a manner that they not be abused or taught to those who are unworthy.

Jewish Continuity

The ordination that Rabbi Akiva conducted on his five students was a heroic event that changed the course of Jewish history, and that of the world.  These students were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamoa.  Under the pressure of the dark forces of Roman tyranny and religious oppression, these valiant scholars, who were privy to the noblest ideals of the Bible, its teachings and oral traditions, knew that no matter what the cost – they must ensure the continuity of these teachings. They were the future educators of us all. It was a point in time where the forces of evil and darkness were pitted against goodness and light.  The light of Torah ultimately won out and Torah Judaism was to effect and alter the world.

We commemorate this remarkable event on this day of LaG BaOmer.  The words of the Mogen Avrohom concerning the man who was punished for not commemorating this day are, therefore, well understood.

The Manna

The Manna represents the spiritual nourishment that G-d granted the Jewish people upon their departure from Egypt.  Manna allowed us, the Jewish people, to develop a close bond, a Dveikus, with the Creator – that has defined who we are as a nation.  Although the Manna no longer falls, the admonition that the Jewish people have to continue that bond, to continue imitating G-d and attempting to be like Him has never ceased. The Talmud (Shabbos 133b) tells us Mah Hu Rachum af attah Rachum veChanun – just as He is Merciful, so should you be merciful.  Just as He is kind so too must you be kind.  Just as He clothes the poor –  so should you clothe the poor.  Just as He buries the dead, so should you buy the dead.

This is the message of the Manna that still exists to this day, and this is what LaG BaOmer commemorates.

Nonetheless, perhaps due to the deaths of so many of Rabbi Akiva’s students, the Minhag is to celebrate a little bit and not to make it into a full-fledged holiday.  The Chsam Sofer points out that our Talmud does not mention it as a holiday at all.

So how do we commemorate this day?  The Bnei Yissasschar states that the custom is to light a number of candles in Shul on this day. We do not fast on this day – even for a Yahrtzeit, except for a fast of a bad dream.  We do not recite Tachanun on this day, nor on the Mincha before it.  We get married and attend weddings.  We join in with singing and dancing, and we listen to music (See Pri Magadim Aishel Avrohom 493:1).

So as we hear the song and dance of the Jewish weddings and the words, “Od Yeshamah, let it still be heard in the cities of Yehudah and in the outskirts of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of the groom and the sound of the bride” let us think of these four reasons:  Building the self-esteem of others and according others due honor is of utmost importance; vouchsafing the teachings of the Torah is paramount; Jewish continuity and education is key; and the spiritual bond and Dveikus that we have with Hashem should be central to our lives. May Hashem bring the Geulah Shleimah speedily in our days!

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com  Olag baomerriginally published on 5TJT.com


14 COMMENTS

  1. Funny that where it suits his personal agenda rabbi Hoffman will bring the opinion of the most obscure achroin but where it does not he ignores more prominent ones.
    From Halacha daily:
    Regarding the actual idea that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai passed away on Lag Ba’Omer, Maran Ha’Chida writes that it is incorrect that Rabbi Shimon passed away on this day and whoever says so is mistaken. He proves this from the teachings of Hagaon Rabbeinu Shmuel Vital who writes lengthily about the deep secrets of the Omer period and especially Lag Ba’Omer and he does not mention once that this day is the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s passing.

  2. Rabbi Shimon BEN Yochai was not niftar on L”g L’omer. Nor is there any actual tradition that he is buried in Meiron. And obviously, it is well known that the Zohar is a 13th century work, so he never saw this in his life and nor did any other Jew ever until around 1295.

  3. Many Achronim, Including Reb Yakov Emden, held that the Zohar was actually written by a Kabalist in the time of the Rishonim.
    That’s why, the Gemoroh and none of the Rishonim ever mention the Zohar. That’s why the Zohar writes that ‘in our times there is no longer a Bas Kol’. That’s why the Zohar the writes that the moon-light is only a reflection of the sun, even though in the times of the Gemoroh this theory was not accepted. That’s why the Zohar talks about Reb Shimon as a second person (Kom Rabi Shimon), and mentions names of many Amoro’im.

  4. besalel: The Rama is no “obscure achroin”.

    Zevi Chaim is a known apikorus who everyday posts outside of this site attacking the Torah as being untrue. The Zohar is known and accepted as from Rashbi across the entirety of the Torah world from not long after it became publicly known.

    Yira: The Zohar was hidden for many hundreds of years and only known to kabbalists.

  5. Besalel, the Book of Mormon was also hidden for many hundreds of years and then revealed to a select individual. The Koran was also revealed to a select individual. Your claim holds as much weight as those claims do.

  6. chachom: i have never heard of zevi chaim. also the rama does not say that rashbi was niftur on lag baomer. rabbi hoffman cites rabbi danzing for that preposition. the mishneh brura implies from the words of the mechaber that we are joyous because the talmidim didnt die on that day. in any event, i dont have a problem with references to the chayeh adom chas veshalom i just dont know why rabbi hoffman ignores the chiduh. (i suspect it is because rabbi hoffman is a revisionist who ignores opinions he disagrees with). it should be notes that rav ovadia implies that he does accept that rashbi died that day because in hilchos tachnun he says that the custom by some to skip tachnun on a rebbes yuhrtzit is mistaken and that we cannot learn from lag baomer because rashbi was special and different (he didnt say that we cant learn from lag baomer because rashbi did not die on that day). but it is also possible that rov ovadia does not hold that he died that day and was giving his psak ledivreichem (ledivreichem the he died that day, he was unique and special but bemes he didnt die that day) tzurich iyun. in any event, like i said before, what is troubling is that rabbi hoffman ignores the chiduh and for that matter, any rishon or achron that does not fit his agenda.

  7. The idea of R Sh. ben Yochai having been niftar on this day is based on a mistaken printing of Pri Eitz Chaim where the word “sameach” was printed as “shemait”. There is widespread contemporary rabbinic support and verification of this fact.

  8. Minhag Ashkenaz is not to take part in going to Meron, hadlokos (bonfires), upsherin, chai rotel, etc. See the famous teshuvoh of the Chasam Sofer where he says that he would not take part in the Meron pilgrimage, as he doesn’t know if one may make a yomtov not mentioned in Shas and poskim.

  9. #

    Such an ignorant unbalanced -though popular- statements are being made.

    Virtually everyone disagrees Reb Yakov Emden ( a relative of mine) and there are very few who held that way.

    On the hand,only chassidim and sephardim

    take the Zohar as literal word for word

    We have reason to presume the the 14th century discoverer R’ De Leon embelished and/or played with the text.

    cf.the Chasam Sofer

  10. About Time: Chassidim and sephardim together constitute a majority of the Torah observant Klal Yisroel. In any event, I always see Ashekenazic (non-Chasidish) Bnei Torah attending all the Lag B’Omer events, bonfire, dancing and all. Always. Not just hamon hoam but bnei yeshiva from Ashkenaz.

    And Rav De Leon never embellished anything. The only question is if when it was being copied over and over during the many centuries things got added in by the copyists in error or by other kabbalists from throughout the centuries. Nothing deliberate from Rav De Leon.

  11. You people are acting delusional.
    We are endowed by the Ribono shel olam with reason, and it is an aveira not to use yours. The Zohar contains Aramaic which is drastically different to that used in the Tanaic era, it contains Spanish terms and mistakes in the syntax, made up vocabulary (words with no precedent), geographic mistakes (Kappadocia was not in E”Y, it was in what is now Turkey), mentions of Tanaim meeting Amoraim, mistakes in R Shimon’s genealogy, and the list of mistakes is ongoing.

    But further to this, and most importantly, it contains radical concepts which brings Gods unity into question and distort biblical monotheism.
    Its your choice: choose Torah or choose the Zohar.