Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lag B'Omer celebrated by observant Jews

  • Print

On Sunday, April 28, the streets in ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods in cities such as Montreal, New York and Jerusalem will be ablaze with bonfires and reverberating with the sounds of singing, dancing and children at play. The occasion for these outdoor celebrations is the minor Jewish festival of Lag B'Omer, which falls annually on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, according to the Jewish lunar calendar.

In Winnipeg, Lag B'Omer festivities are more subdued and, depending on the weather, usually take the form of synagogue-organized outdoor picnics and barbecues.

Lag B'Omer translates as the 33rd day of the counting of the omer, referred to in Hebrew as Sefirat Ha'omer. An omer is a unit of measure. In ancient Israel, sheaves of barley, or omers of barley, were brought to the Holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as offerings.

Sefirat Ha'omer is a verbal counting that takes place during the 49 days that fall between the end of Passover, the holiday commemorating the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt, and the beginning of Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the Israelites' receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

"Sefirat Ha'omer -- the counting of the omer -- linked the ancient Passover barley harvest with the wheat harvest of Shavuot," explains Rabbi Larry Pinsker, spiritual leader of Winnipeg's The New Shul.

The act of counting came to represent the Israelites' increasing excitement and spiritual preparations to receive the Torah.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE during the First Jewish Roman War, the traditional period of Sefirat Ha'omer evolved into an extended period of mourning. During this time, all festivities, parties and weddings were forbidden. Lag B'Omer was the only day in the seven-week period in which these prohibitions were lifted.

Why that day in particular became a cause for celebration has inspired debate for hundreds of years. Some rabbinic scholars maintained that it was on the 33rd day of the counting of the omer that a terrible plague that had killed thousands of young Jewish scholars suddenly ceased.

Others contended that the date commemorates a single day's military victory by Jewish rebel leader Bar Kochba and his followers over the Romans circa 132. Still others insisted the date marks the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, the fundamental text of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. The custom of lighting bonfires on the holiday celebrates the light and wisdom of Bar Yochai's life and teachings and of the Torah.

Another less popular explanation suggests the Lag B'Omer date simply corresponded with the date of an ancient pagan holiday.

In spite of origins that are not completely understood or agreed upon, Lag B'Omer is widely celebrated among observant Jews. Nonetheless, in the scheme of Judaic practice, it remains an inconsequential festival.

"It's a minor observance," says Pinsker. "There are no formal rituals or prayers connected to Lag B'Omer."

The period of counting the omer, leading up to and following the festive day, is, however, more laden with import.

"Medieval Kabbalists and their descendants viewed the omer as a time of self-assessment and spiritual self-improvement," says Pinsker. The period of the omer became identified as a season for strengthening the virtues, values, ideals and character traits that affect the well-being of the world and of our personal lives.

"In contemporary times," he adds, "it has become customary for Jews who are counting the days of the omer period to sometimes mark each day as an opportunity to formally reflect on philosophical, spiritual, behavioural and religious ideals."

In 2013, there is even an app that will help them do so. Based on Rabbi Simon Jacobson's book, A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer: Forty-Nine Steps to Personal Refinement, the app provides users with a daily omer count, a corresponding emotional attribute, and a spiritual exercise that is designed to help them make positive changes in their lives.

schisvin@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 J13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Waywayseecappo Community School at We Day 2014

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning
  • horse in sunset - marc gallant

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you in favour of the Harper government's new 'family tax cut'?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google