Lag Ba'Omer

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Meaning of Lag Ba'Omer

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


On Tuesday of this upcoming week, the Jewish people will celebrate “Lag Ba’omer” — the 33rd day of the omer counting (the omer counting was the count from the second day of Pesach, when the first offering of grain was brought from barley {called the Korban Omer}, until Shavuos, when the first grain offering from wheat was brought, for a total of forty-nine days). 

During the omer counting we prepare ourselves for the receiving of the Torah, just as the Jewish people prepared themselves after they originally left Egypt. 

During this time a great tragedy took place. Twenty four thousand of the students of Rebbi Akiva died (around 60 C.E.). The reason for their death was they did not treat each other with the proper respect. Because of this, the Jewish people, during either for part or for the whole of the counting of the omer, have become accustomed to refrain from making celebrations, listening to live music, or cutting their hair, to show they are not only mourning these deaths, but learning from them. 

But on the thirty third day, all restrictions are lifted. What is special about this day?

This was the day that Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai died. Why should his death have been a joyous occasion? One answer, said over by Reb Shmuel Rashkin, is that he was a later student of Rebbi Akiva, who died from natural causes. When Rebbi Akiva’s students died it was not only a tragedy because of the loss of human life, it was a tragedy of all the lost Torah. After they died Rebbi Akiva got more disciples. Amongst these disciples were five primary ones who were the continuum of Rebbi Akiva’s transmission of Torah. Rebbi Simon Bar Yochai was one of these disciples and his death from normal causes during the period when so many of Rebbi’s students died (albeit years later) was a sign that the oral tradition that Rebbi Akiva had received had been properly transmitted.

Another reason for great happiness on Lag Ba’omer is that on this day, Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed much of what he had learnt to his students on this day, before he died. What he revealed was what he had written in the Zohar (Book of Light). This was the first writing down of Toras Hanistar — The Hidden Torah, what is commonly referred to as Kaballah.

The Zohar contains many of the secrets of the universe. It is not the how to of the commandments; rather, it is the why, and how the performing of the commandments transforms and elevates the world. In other words, it is not how to drive the car, but how the car runs.

As the time for the redemption draws closer, the mystical elements of the Torah have become more known. In recent times the Arizal (1534-1572) revealed a large part of the hidden Torah, as did the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (1730-1797).

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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