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Counting of the Omer

Counting of the Omer

Lag Baomer, The Heavenly Fire of the Mitzva

Published on Monday May 13th, 2019

The 33rd day of the 'Omer, which in Hebrew is called Lag Ba'omer, lag consisting of two letters, Lamed and Gimmel, whose numerical values ​​are respectively 30 and 3, is a very important day for the Jewish people.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Indeed, on this day, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of The Zohar, the book of Splendour, and one of the greatest Tzaddikim of the Jewish people, left this world. This day became a day of rejoicing, and hundreds of thousands of Jews go on a pilgrimage to his grave, and dance the whole night long (of course, it is not mixed dancing but dancing with intense religious fervour), and eat and drink in honor of the Tzaddik. But is there not a contradiction here? The death of a Tzaddik is a sad thing... The day of Moshe Rabbeinu death, the 7th of Adar, is considered a day of mourning. How do we explain this difference of attitude regarding a similar event? It is reported in Idra Zuta, in Parshat Haazinu, that Moshe Rabbeinu cried on the day of his death because he wanted to enter Eretz Israel, while Rashbi (initials of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) rejoiced on the day of his death. Additionally, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai expressly requested that one rejoice on the day of his death.

On our humble level, we would like to understand why. Our Sages teach us in Kabbalistic writings that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died, his Neshama (soul) ascended to heaven and mystically united with the higher worlds. This mystical union is considered a marriage. Hence the custom of celebrating on this day a Hilula which means marriage in Aramaic, at the tomb of Rashbi.

Why do we light Madurot (large fires sometimes several meters high) on Lag Ba'omer? In the Zohar, it is reported that on the day of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, his house was completely surrounded by fire. This was not a fire on earth that burned everything, but a heavenly fire like the fire that lit up the burning bush, as it appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu. In memory of this fire, large fires are lit on Lag Ba'omer.

Rabbi Akiva

Another obvious reason that also explains the special status of the 33rd day of the 'Omer' is the fact that the deadly epidemic that struck the students of Rabbi Akiva ended. Rabbi Akiva, showed exceptional courage and taught us a beautiful lesson in life and optimism. He lost 24 000 students in thirty-two days, he moved to the south of Eretz Israel on the day of Lag Ba'omer, and there recruited five new students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and he immediately started teaching them the Torah. (It must be understood that Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 pupils were the custodians of the Torah and their sudden death was an unprecedented catastrophe for the Jewish people, which explains the mourning customs imposed by our Sages, such as no marriages, no haircuts, no trimming beard, etc.)

This is how the transmission of the Torah was definitively assured. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva warned his new students that his first 24,000 students had died because instead of rejoicing in the Torah greatness of their colleagues, they felt jealousy. (Bereshit Rabbah 61)

The Chida (Rabbi Yosef David Azoulay) explains that Rabbi Akiva's new students took to heart the teachings of their master and were not jealous of each other. Moreover, this purity of heart and intention was reflected in their extreme devotion to teaching the Torah to the Jewish people; there was no personal calculation here but only an overflowing love for the Almighty and an unwavering desire to transmit His Torah.

The Chida teaches us that the immense joy that we feel on Lag Ba'omer is the realization that the Torah, after having almost disappeared, has come back into our midst for eternity.

The Torah-Box Team - © Torah-Box

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