The 33rd day of the omer is a time when family, friends and community gather together after sundown to build huge bonfires. So just what is so special about this Lag B'Omer event?
As the fire glows throughout the evening, people often have picnics or barbecues, sharing good times with one another. They gather around the fire to tell mystical stories and sing songs such as "Bar Yochai" in honor of the day. The 33rd day of the Omer is very special. Since each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a gematria [numerical value], the semi-holiday is named for the Hebrew numbers Lamed (30) and Gimmel (3). One knowledgeable in gematria can derive all kinds of deep Torah secrets from every Hebrew word.
This day is the anniversary of the late Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the "Zohar", the elucidation of the kabbalistic [mystical] side of the Torah, which unlocks the secrets of creation. Rabbi Shimon was not one to dwell on sad times, rather, he wanted his passing to be remembered as a happy time to actually be celebrated. For this great scholar, death was a time when he would be reunited with the Creator of the Universe, and all secret and hidden wisdom would be revealed.
Lag B'Omer also marks the date of the cessation of a plague that killed 2,500 of Rabbi Akiva's students. It is said that these particular students failed to give each other the honor due to Torah scholars by respecting each others views (and ultimately every human being). Scholars of such high caliber as to study under the great Rabbi Akiva were held to a higher standard, and should have treated each other with the utmost of respect.
These examples give us something to think about even today, when the stresses of daily life can cause human nature to get the best of us. The greatest secret of hidden wisdom is that we should treat each other with kindness and respect. As we gather around the fire toasting marshmallows with the kids, singing songs and sharing stories, let us enjoy each others similarities as well as appreciate and respect our differences. Our strength is that each and every Jew is a unique part of Klal Yisrael [the Jewish nation].
Have a Safe and Happy Lag B'Omer,
The Jewlight Staff.
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