Lag B’Omer: A Review of Its National and Historical Significance

Lag B’Omer, celebrated on the 33rd day of the Omer counting, is one of the significant folk holidays in Judaism. Beyond its religious significance, the holiday carries important national and Zionist meanings connected to its historical background and its importance in modern Jewish histor

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Shai Rosengarten, Deputy Chairman of Im Tirtzu, Major in the Naval Reserves

Lag B’Omer, celebrated on the 33rd day of the Omer counting, is one of the significant folk holidays in Judaism. Beyond its religious significance, the holiday carries important national and Zionist meanings connected to its historical background and its importance in modern Jewish history.

 

Firstly, Lag B’Omer marks the end of a plague that struck Rabbi Akiva’s students during the Omer counting period. According to tradition, on this day the plague that killed 24,000 students because “they did not treat each other with respect” ceased. This message resonates through the generations, especially in our times.

 

The day is also considered the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the greatest Tannaim and author of the Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah. This fact has made Lag B’Omer a holiday centered on the custom of pilgrimage to Mount Meron and the holding of ‘hilula’ prayers in his memory. According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid in a cave from the Romans for 13 years and studied Torah with his son, an event that symbolizes perseverance and dedication to Torah study despite security and national difficulties.

With the establishment of the Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lag B’Omer gained a new and central significance in modern Jewish history. The military leader Bar Kokhba, whose name is associated with Lag B’Omer despite no solid historical or halachic source, was seen as a strong and brave leader who led the revolt against the Roman conqueror in the pursuit of freedom and independent life in the Land of Israel. For the founding fathers of Zionism, Bar Kokhba’s figure, fighting the Romans, became a symbol of national heroism and the aspiration for independence, an important symbol during the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel and even today.

 

Among the pioneers and early settlers in Israel, Lag B’Omer was also a symbol of national renewal and revival. It became an opportunity to mark the historical and geographical connection to the Land of Israel, strengthen Jewish national identity, and express values of courage, resilience, and unity.

 

The holiday gained great popularity among Zionist youth movements, who saw it as an opportunity to educate about values of brotherhood, mutual aid, and love for the land. During Lag B’Omer, camps, bonfires, and educational activities were held to instill Zionist values in the younger generation. Lag B’Omer bonfires, which have become a symbol of the holiday, reflect the light and warmth of national renewal and the desire to reignite the torch of Jewish freedom and independence in the Land of Israel.

 

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Lag B’Omer has been widely celebrated with official state ceremonies that express the connection between the past and the present, between Jewish tradition and the national aspirations of the Jewish people. Events like the hilula ceremony on Mount Meron near Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb and bonfires across the country express the inseparable connection of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

 

Additionally, the holiday is an opportunity for community activities and to strengthen ties between Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora. It reflects the Zionist vision of gathering the exiles and building the land, enhancing the sense of national belonging and Jewish pride.

Lag B’Omer during the Swords of Iron War

Even if the origin of the Lag B’Omer holiday is rooted in various stories and narratives that do not align with historical reality, it is an important holiday that instills values of national pride and the struggle for the homeland. In times of national struggle and fighting for the survival of the state and the people, such as the War of Independence and the current war, the values embodied in this holiday – dedication, heroism, and national renewal – continue to be relevant and significant. Lag B’Omer strengthens the sense of national unity and belonging, connecting different generations to shared values of courage and action for the people and the land.

 

To ensure that future generations also receive and internalize these values and use them in national crises and struggles, we must continue to celebrate the holiday with its Zionist and national significance, no less than its religious significance. Nowadays, for example, we could distribute gifts to IDF soldiers, hang Israeli flags, and highlight the heroism of fighters in Gaza and on the northern border. Such initiatives would infuse the holiday with new-old content, reflecting nationalism and glorifying heroism, providing us with the necessary spirit to face the current period with heads held high.

 

Happy Heroism Holiday!

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