A Lag B'Omer drawing by Mark Podwal

Mark Podwal. Credit: Wikipedia.
Mark Podwal
Mark Podwal is an artist in New York. He has illustrated many of the books of his friend Elie Wiesel, and his work can be found in major museums, Jewish and non-Jewish, worldwide.
Wedding by Mark Podwal
“Wedding” by Mark Podwal. Credit: Mark Podwal.

Mark Podwal’s “Wedding” comes from a series of collages that he exhibited in Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum.

Lag BaOmer in 2024 is observed on sundown of May 25, ending at sundown on Sunday May 26. Beginning on Passover’s second night, Jews observe the ritual of Counting the Omer based on the Torah’s commandment to mark the time between the barley and wheat harvests.

Omer means “barley sheaf” and refers to the barley offering brought to the Temple for 49 days until Shavuot. The grain was ground and sifted; and then “waved” by the priest as a prayer to protect the harvest.

In post-Temple times, Jews still count 49 days noting the time between the Exodus and the upcoming celebration of receiving the Torah. Lag B’Omer is the holiday that falls on the 33 day of the counting.

The holiday gets its name from the Hebrew letters lammed and gimmel, which make up the acronym “Lag” and have the combined numerical value of 30 and three.

Traditionally, the days of the Omer are a time of semi-mourning in memory of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, which the Talmud says died in a plague.

The first mention of Lag B’Omer, as we observe it, is from the Meiri (1300s), which cites a tradition that Akiva’s students stopped dying that day and when marriages are permitted.

Lag B’Omer is also the yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) in the second century of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the eminent Torah scholar.

On the day of his death, Shimon Bar Yochai told his followers, “Now it is my desire to reveal secrets.”

“The day will not go to its place like any other,” he told them.

It is said daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon completed his teaching and died. According to Rabbi Shimon’s wishes, his yahrzeit was to be celebrated. Thus, the custom of lighting bonfires to symbolize the spiritual light he gave the world.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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