Lag Ba’Omer—Counting the Omer

33 days after the Passover, the Jewish holiday Lag Ba’Omer marks halfway to Shavuot. This Jewish holiday takes the form of a celebration by bonfire, featuring s’mores, outdoor games, and campfire songs (about fire).

Admittedly, this Jewish holiday was not on my radar at all when I subscribed to this year of Jewish holidays in a box at Days United. As a Hebrew Bible scholar, I am fairly well acquainted with Jewish traditions that formed from biblical mandates. I knew, of course, about Passover, which is where my Jewish holiday journey began this year, but I had not thought previously about counting the omer. The only biblical references I can connect is Leviticus 23.15-16, And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord, and Deuteronomy 16.9-10, You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the festival of weeks to the Lord your God, contributing a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing that you have received from the Lord your God. In each of these scriptures, what follows is a description of various offerings and joyful celebrations to be had on Shavuot, which will be covered in a later blog post after I have worked it out.

About the Jewish Holiday Lag Ba’Omer

Lag Ba’Omer is a holiday tradition that came about to mark the middle way between Passover and Shavuot. In the Hebrew alphanumeric system, letters represent numbers. So, the L (lamed) and the G (gimal) represent 30 and 3 respectively. Lag represents the 33rd day of counting the omer. The omer is a sheaf of grain. The command and festival of counting sheaves is inherent to an agricultural community and lifestyle. The religious holidays are built around practical life. As you look forward to the harvest of grain, you then also look forward to celebrating God’s calling and teaching. Counting the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot is a Jewish tradition, but its legacy can also be seen in the Christian liturgical calendar, which counts 50 days between Easter (which often coincides with the calendar for Passover) and the Day of Pentecost (which falls on Shavuot).

Lag Ba’Omer is a holiday that was inspired by waiting for the Shavuot, but is actually dedicated to remembering the Rabbi famous for bringing mystical spiritualism to Jewish religion. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, which became the basis for the Kabbala. Shimon bar Yochai is famous for making popular the soul of the Torah, the understanding of the esoteric and mystical nature of God’s gift to humanity. He is celebrated by the lighting of fire because he taught about the Torah in terms of fire. The talmud describes the Torah as “black fire upon white fire”, signifying that the letters make up part of the teaching given by God, and the space around the letters also contribute in a significant and meaningful way. It is the space between the letters that often become the center of mysterious and spiritual means of discovery in the life of a religious seeker. Lighting the fire reminds us of the many descriptions of God as fire. God led the Israelites in the desert by a pillar of fire, God appeared to Moses in a bush of fire, and God is described in the prophets and the Psalter as a consuming fire.

Celebrating the Lag Ba’Omer

On Thursday night, at sundown, we lit our bonfire. We invited friends over for a kosher meal of grilled salmon and zucchini. The kids crafted a bonfire out of yarn, and we prepared bonfire shaped graham crackers and coordinating chocolates for some festive s’mores. Apparently, it is traditional for kids to build and play with bows and arrows. This weapon, it is said, has an intentionality in its construction of reminding us that we must first draw a dangerous weapon toward our own heart before sending it forth to pierce our enemies. We did not have access to bows and arrows, but my kids ran around with plastic laser guns for a while, until the batteries run out. Not exactly the same thing, but, hey, we are doing what we can. And we’re having fun with it!

We ended the evening with a singalong of our favorite “fire” songs. We curated a playlist based on recommended music in the holiday box that included Johnny Cash Ring of Fire (which my daughter and I played as a guitar/uke duet), Billy Joel We Didn’t Start the Fire, and The Doors Light My Fire. I am fairly certain these songs are not super traditional for Jewish holiday gatherings, but we enjoyed some familiar rock n roll with friends and family to close our festive Lag Ba’omer evening.

Read more about Jewish holidays I am celebrating by searching for the tag “Jewish holidays” or looking up specific holidays like Passover. The Jewish holidays can also be found under the category “Readings & Interpretations“.

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