Lag B’Omer, which is the 33rd day of Sefiras HaOmer, and the 18th of Iyar, is a festive day celebrating two prominent, yet connected events: The moment Rebbe Akiva’s students stopped dying, and the passing of the Holy Tanna Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai.
In the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos, all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died in a plague because they did not properly respect and honor one another (Yevamos 62b). Though there are several commentaries on what it means that Rebbe Akiva’s students did not show enough respect and honor, all agree that they fell short in the mitzvah of ve’ahavta l’reacha k’mocha, loving your fellow as yourself.
We thus mourn over their behavior and the harsh din (judgment) they received. Lag B’Omer, however, was the day that the dying stopped, and on this day all signs of mourning are suspended.
From the ashes of Rebbe Akiva’s loss arose five great sages who restored the Torah to the world: Rebbe Meir Baal HaNeis, Rebbe Yehudah bar Ilai, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, Rebbe Yossi ben Halafta, Rebbe Eleazar ben Shammai, and Rebbe Nehemiah.
Lag B’Omer is also the day Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) was niftar. Rebbi Shimon was one of the greatest teachers of Jewish Law and is quoted numerous times throughout the Talmud. Before he was niftar, Rebbi Shimon called his students and revealed to them the deepest secrets of the Torah and Divine Wisdom. These secrets were written down and are contained in the Zohar, the fundamental text of the Kabbalah full of mystic interpretations of the Torah. (Moreh B’etzah 223, Mishmeres Shalom 38:1, Taamei Haminhagim pg 256; 267-268)
It is also brought down that three thousand halachos were revealed to the world on the day that Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai died (Ner Yisroel).
Lag B’Omer is thus a day of great rejoicing that so much Torah and Divine secrets were given to us.
Lag B’Omer is a Day for Tefilla and Yeshuas
Lag B’Omer as a tremendous ais ratzon (favorable time) to daven for one’s physical and spiritual needs. Here are a few of the many sources on this topic:
On Lag B’omer there is a widespread minhag to shoot bows and arrows.( Taamei Haminhagim pg 252:605). Some say since Lag B’Omer is a day that is fit for one’s tefillas to be answered, we shoot a bow (keshet in Hebrew) and arrow. The beginning words of shema kol tefilaseinu spells keshet (Minhag Yisroel Torah 493:14)
It is a day where one can ask for salvation in any area of life. (Bnei Yissaschar Iyar pg 98; Gal Einay pg 16)
Lag B’Omer is a day to do teshuva (Yaros Devash 2:11, Ohr Mufla page 26).
Celebrating Lag B’Omer brings one to yiras shamayim. (Sefas Emes Emor 652, Ohr Gedalyuhu Moadim page 154:4, Lag B’omer page 260)
Some say it is a day for hasmuda in learning (Gal Einay pg 15).
The Pri Tzadik writes that on Lag BaOmer one can be granted with the merit of reaching higher spiritual levels, thus enabling him to better learn and understand of the words of the Torah.
The days of Chodesh Iyar are a time of refuah, especially the days of hod, and more so Lag B’Omer, which is hod sheb’hod. The Tzemach Tzedek points out that the first letters of מ׳לך ר׳ופא נ׳אמן ו׳רחמן spell מרון. In the merit of Rebbe Shimon who is buried in Meron, Hashem will heal the sick.
Lag B’omer is a segula for parnassa. (Natei Gavriel Pesach 3: pg 292) In fact, the manna descended to Bnei Israel in the desert for the first time at Lag BaOmer.
According to the Admor of Sochtshov, Lag B’Omer is the best day to ask to meet your zivug (soulmate). In fact, the word “hilula” means “marriage”, and Rashbi himself was married on the day of Lag BaOmer. It is also a good day to pray for success concerning our children’s marriages.
Lag B’Omer is a good day to ask for children and many descendants who go in the way of Torah. There is an additional segula to buy a bow and an arrow, as it is written: “Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of one’s youth.”
There is a minhag to read chapter 67 of Sefer Tehilim, which expresses gratitude to Hashem, seven times on Lag B’Omer.
It’s a Big Segula to be B’Simcha on Lag B’Omer
Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main talmid of the master Kabbalist Arizal Rabbi Yitzchak Luria relates the following incident in Shaar ha-Kavanos:
[M]y colleague Rabbi Avraham ha-Levi told me… that he had a custom to recite mourning prayers for the destruction of the Temple that are recited on the 9th of Av [the anniversary of the destruction] every day of the year. And so he did also that year on Lag BaOmer in Meron, in the daily prayers that he said while next to the grave. After he had finished praying, the Ari turned to him and told him that Rabbi Shimon himself had just appeared to the Ari and told him to rebuke Rabbi Avraham because he had expressed mourning at his grave—and on the day of Lag B’Omer, the day of Rabbi Shimon’s personal rejoicing!
Rebbe Shimon promised whoever increases simcha on this day Hashem will increase the simcha in their lives. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the 18th of Iyar as “the day of my joy.” In fact, Lag B’omer will always fall out on the same day of the week as Purim. (Shulchan Aruch 428:1. Me’or V’Shemesh pg 142; Ohr Mufla pg 69-70)
The Minhag to Light a Madura (Bonfire) on Lag B’Omer
According to Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yissaschar, on the day of a tzaddik’s passing, all the holy work he has done culminates and is revealed to the world. On Lag BaOmer, there was an intense revelation of the true power and light of Rabbi Shimon’s accomplishments. (Bnei Yissaschar, Iyar, discourse 3). So great was this light, that the sun did not set until Rebbe Shimon finished giving over his mystical insights to all who were present on the day of his death.
The Zohar also relates that on the day of Rebbe Shimon’s passing the house was filled with fire and intense light, so much so that all those who gathered there could not approach nor even look at Rebbe Shimon.
It is thus a minhag especially in Eretz Yisroel to light bonfires on the night of Lag BaOmer. These commemorate the immense light that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai introduced into the world via his mystical teachings.
The souls of all the tzadikim are present when a bonfire is lit in the merit of Rashbi.
Rebbe Avrohom Yaakov of Sadiger says tens of thousands of neshemas get tikunim from the lighting of bonfires in honor of Rashbi.
The Minhag to Travel to Meron
The Zohar teaches that on the day of Lag Ba’Omer Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai sits at the entrance of his kever, and blesses all those who come to celebrate with him with every sort of brocha. Today, hundreds of thousands of people travel to Meron each year to be by the kever of Rebbe Shimon on his yartzeit. The first recorded instance of this minhag is in a letter written by the Bartenura about 500 years ago:
On the 18th day of the month of Iyar [the day of Lag BaOmer], the anniversary of [Rabbi Shimon’s] passing, Jews from all the surrounding areas gather in Meron, where they light large fires and celebrate . . . Many barren couples conceive, and many sick are healed, in the merit of the charity they give on this day to the upkeep of the gravesite.
Chaim Vital writes in his Shaar ha-Kavanos:
In regard to the custom of many to travel to visit the graves of Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar in Meron with celebration and festive meals, I witnessed how my master and teacher [the Ari] traveled there on the first Lag BaOmer after he arrived in Israel from Egypt with his family and disciples, and stayed for three days
There is a minhag to distribute “chai rotl” (or 54 liters of drink) to the to the celebrants on Lag B’Omer in Meron as a segula to have children. People who distribute chai rotl earn Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai’s bracha. The Ta’amei ha-Minhagim states that many people who have had difficulty having children, finding a shidduch, recovering from an illness or attaining a livelihood were successful only after they donated chai rotl for the Lag B’Omer celebration in Meron.
May we all be zoche to receive the light of Rebbe Shimon and Lag B’Omer!