Tuesday, May 5, 2015
The Omer, Lag Ba'Omer, Chol Hamoed, the Feast,
the defeat and the festive spirit
As the title suggests, a dilemma arises intrinsically from
the celebration of Lag Ba'Omer, linked with the offering and
loss of the Omer, the liberating revolt against Rome, the
victory and the tremendous, devastating final defeat.
The Omer is in fact a measure of volume / weight.
On the second day of Passover, the Children of Israel brought an
omer of barley (the Passover harvest) as an offering to the
Great Temple, an activity that connected the Jewish People with
their spiritual center in Jerusalem, brought them closer to the
Feast of Passover and set them on the road from Pessach to
Shavuot, seven weeks later.
The destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, by
the Roman general Titus and his legions,
the joy sustained between Passover and Shavuot - similar to that
of Chol Hamoed - was emptied of content. Only the memory of the
Omer remained, but not the physical act of our People's
offering. Without our Temple, the Omer became a counting of
days, marking into our own times the relationship and mutual
connection of Passover and Shavuot.
When the Roman Emperor Hadrian imposed Roman rule over the
Jewish People, expelled from Jerusalem after the destruction of
the Temple but still living in large regions of the Land of
Israel, our People's situation worsened dramatically. The Omer,
neutral in those days - without the joy of the offering in the
Temple, but without further sadness - was stained with the
blood, death and expulsion when Hadrian crushed the great Revolt
of Bar-Kochba and Rabbi Akiva. Not only was Hadrian a
mass-murderer of Jews in Eretz Yisrael and in other Jewish
Diasporas within the Roman Empire, but also the enforcer of
Jewish Exile (the 'Golah' or 'Galut') from the Land of Israel
that endured for 18 centuries until the establishment of the
Zionist Yishuv, and in 1948, the new State of Israel. From those
terrible events in Antiquity and until today, the Omer marks a
memory of Jewish pain and mourning - hence, the limitations on
expressions of joy (for example, no weddings) that we observe
during the seven weeks of the Omer.
Our Sages, however, enjoined us to one day of joy during
the sadness of the Omer: Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the
counting of the Omer, is a semi-festive day in the Hebrew
calendar that recalls the glorious but all-too-brief triumph of
the great Jewish military leader Bar-Kochba over the oppressive
Legions of Rome that gave our People three years
of freedom and relief from the Roman yoke. Lag BaOmer celebrates
victory in battle amidst the bitter loss of our war for liberty
and an end to the plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi
Akiba. Our Sages offered this one sweet
taste of honey in the bitter and sour reality we remember in
Counting the Days of the Omer.
Why enjoin such happiness in a long period of sadness? Our
Sages decreed that Lag BaOmer represents the promise of
a grand future for the Jewish people: "Today, a
victorious battle; tomorrow, final glorious victory: our
national reconstruction". So true was this prophetic vision,
that the happiest day in our contemporary Jewish calendar -
Israel's Day of Independence, Yom Haatzmaut, celebrating
restoration of our People's national life - occurs precisely
during the Omer and confirming before Lag BaOmer the spirit of
hope our Sages inserted at the forefront of our national
When we begin celebrating this Lag BaOmer, let's keep in
mind that even in the leanest and most terrible reality, there
must be some strong, desired, sustained wishes for happiness and
a joyous future. The hope of national redemption intrinsic to
Lag BaOmer gave our People the spirit that just two weeks ago
facilitated our celebration of 67 years of regained
independence. That hope sustained us, and our decisive action
translated that spirit into national achievement.
May the lights of our bonfires of Lag BaOmer's glory
illuminate our present and our promising future, and may we
maintain the spirit of national continuity in this festival.
Lag BaOmer Sameach!!!
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
Talmud, Yevamot 62b.