By: Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner, BCC
Director of Religious and Spiritual Services
Starting from the second night of Passover, we have the practice of counting the days for a seven-week period, for 49 days, leading to the holiday of Shavuot. Originally, this counting was tied into the harvest season, specifically related to the wheat harvest (see chapter 23 of Leviticus, which is part of this week’s Torah reading). While we do not bring the grain offering today, we continue the practice of counting, fulfilling the verses
And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:15-16)
The period of counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot is considered a semi-communal mourning period. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) relates that we consider this time a mourning period because during this period 24,000 students of the great Rabbi and scholar R. Akiva died of a plague. The Talmud goes on to explain that they died because they did not behave with proper respect for one another. Fortunately, this plague came to a stop on the 33rd day of this period, and as such we too pause the mourning period on this 33rd day of the Omer, Lag (whose numerical value is 33) B’Omer. Additionally, this date is also the yahrzeit of the great rabbi and mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Lag B’Omer is a day of refuge during a dark time. As we have all experienced, during a plague, we hunker down and hide away. Many have customs around celebrating Lag B’Omer with outdoor celebrations, a sign of feeling safer and a sign of emerging from darkness into light.
As I reflect on the significance of Lag B’Omer as a break in the plague’s devastation, it is not hard to relate to the importance of letting loose when there is a break in the chaos and crisis of the plague they faced. During this past year plus, we have confronted the many highs and lows of what a pandemic can do to society and to ourselves. We have been reading and hearing an emphasis on self-care, the need to find small periods of release from the often overwhelming stressors related to living a life during a pandemic. We have found ourselves in periods of never-ending tragedy and then periods of peace and comfort. As we celebrate Lag B’Omer and find ourselves emerging more and more from our confrontation with a pandemic, may we too find these days of refuge as times of remembering to care for ourselves, for by caring for ourselves, we will find the strength and resolve to continue to care for each other.