Growing up in a Messianic Jewish family, I knew all about Passover, Hanukkah, Purim and Sukkot. But I didn’t hear about Lag B’Omer until I moved to New York City and took a Hebrew class. There I learned that for many religious Jews this holiday holds deep significance. For Jewish mystics, known as Kabbalists, Lag B’Omer is the day Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed the deep secrets of the Torah before he died. These secrets were considered a “hidden light” which caused that day to be prolonged so that he could complete his mystical teachings.
“Omer” is the Hebrew word for “sheaves of a harvested crop.” In Leviticus 23:15-16, we read “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaves of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.”
Hebrew assigns to each letter of the alphabet a numeric value. The word “Lag” is written with the two Hebrew letters “lamed” and “gimel.” The numerical value of lamed is thirty and that of gimel is three, so Lag B’Omer refers to the 33rd day during the counting of the omer, the period of time between Passover and Shavuot referred to in Leviticus 23:15-16.
The first mention of Lag B’Omer itself comes from the Talmud. It states that on the 33rd day of the Omer a plague was lifted which had killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akivah’s disciples. Some scholars have interpreted this “plague” to be a reference to the Roman legions who occupied Israel, and its cessation as a temporary victory by Bar Kochba against them. Whether the plague was literal or not, since that time the counting of the omer has become a time of semi-mourning. During this period, haircuts, parties and weddings are prohibited. However, on Lag B’Omer, there is a one-day reprieve. Many Orthodox Jewish couples choose this date to marry. People also light great bonfires, march in parades, and give their three year old children their first haircuts. After Lag B’Omer ends, the semi-mourning resumes until the counting of the omer ends at Shavuot.
Lag B’Omer has become significant for my wife Rebekah and me because that is the date we were married. We didn’t do this for mystical or historical reasons—it was just the best day for us. And we really enjoyed how perfectly timed our wedding turned out to be—it was a beautiful day in New Hampshire on a date when the weather could have been terrible.
The practice of breaking an extended period of mourning reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
It’s important to take time to remember and mourn the sad things in life. However, it’s also important for us to pause and remember God’s goodness in the midst of sadness. God brings seasons of joy into our lives, and if we’re not paying attention we can miss them.
Lag B’Omer reminds me that while we live in a fallen world that causes us grief, we who are believers in Yeshua (Jesus) are on our way to a New Earth where, as Revelation 21:3-4 puts it, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Even though we live in a pain-filled world and have much to grieve, there will be a time when our grief will end, marked by a great wedding called “The Marriage of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7). Until then, why not take a respite from grief now and again to celebrate, as Lag B’Omer suggests? And I can tell you from experience, it’s a great day for a wedding.