Between the second day of Pesach and the celebration of Shavuot, we are commanded to count the Omer, an ancient Hebrew measure of grain. This time of counting also links Pesach and the Exodus to Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, reminding us that redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.
The Omer has traditionally been a somber period of reflection and mourning. One reason for this could be that during this time in the second century C.E., thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students died of a plague caused by the lack of respect they were showing one another. Lag BaOmer, which takes place on the 18th of Iyar, falls on the 33rd day of this counting (typically in May). On Lag BaOmer, this plague either stopped or was temporarily lifted. Thus, Lag BaOmer is a day of celebration in the midst of morning.
During the Omer, weddings and festivities are not held and we’re not meant to have our hair cut. However, this all changes on Lag BaOmer. Many Jewish couples get married. Some parents wait until Lag BaOmer to cut their child’s hair for the first time. Many in Israel visit Meron, the village believed to contain the grave of Rabbi bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva and important figure in Jewish mysticism. In Israel, it is common to celebrate with bonfires and picnics.
When we celebrate the festival of Lag B’Omer, we recall the courageous deeds of our Jewish heroes of long ago.
Bar Kochba and his followers who fought to reestablish the Jewish nations and after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem,
Rabbi Akiba, Shimon bar Yochai, and other scholars who upheld the right of all Jews to live in accordance with the Torah.
As we assemble here this evening, what is more fitting than for us to honor our Jewish heroines of today – the members of Sisterhood.
In our own way we help to preserve the hard won independence of our homeland, Israel.
Furthermore, through our efforts on behalf of our Russian and Ethiopian brothers and sisters, among others, we support the ideals for which our forebearers gave their lives.
Dear God, give us the faith and spirit that we may continue to toil with patience and determination to the end that all of Your children may soon enjoy the blessing of liberty and equality.
—Sylvia Hyman, The Suburban Temple of Wantagh, NY, Covenant of the Heart
Host a potluck or picnic featuring foods related to the two harvests that bracket the period of the Omer, the barley harvest and the wheat harvest.
The traditional festival linking a boy’s first haircut to Lag BaOmer may seem archaic or anachronistic today. Yet rituals can be helpful ways for us to mark transitions from one stage of life to another. Discuss with your sisterhood: What might be a more egalitarian, modernized ritual for all children when they turn three?
As Jewish boys get their first haircuts, consider donating your own hair to an organization like Locks of Love, and encourage others in your communities to do the same!
Lag BaOmer is also known as “the scholar’s holiday.” Help children in your community’s religious school celebrate their teachers and what they have learned.
Use Lag BaOmer to speak up for marriage equality! The day is often a welcome break from the prohibition on getting married during the Omer—but in many places, gay and lesbian couples are still unable to have their marriage be recognized. Support legislation for same-sex marriage and learn about WRJ’s support of LGBTQ rights.