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Petaluma's Inclusive Center for Jewish Life

Lag B'Omer

05/11/2020 04:11:08 PM


Rabbi Ted Feldman

Tonight, at sundown, we welcome the day on the Jewish calendar called Lag B’Omer, the 33rd Day of the counting of the Omer. The mitzvah, commandment, in the book of Leviticus, bids us to count the days from Pesach to Shavuot. In ancient times this counting was accomplished by bringing measures of grain, an Omer, to the ancient Temple. The counting of the days from the liberation from Egyptian bondage to the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai took seven complete weeks. Shavuot was the fiftieth day.

So, why is this 33rd day significant. According to Talmudic tradition, a plague was rampaging through the communities of Jews during the time of Rabbi Akiva, Second Century. According to the tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting, the epidemic was declared lifted and celebrations ensued. As a result of that plague, 24,000 students had lost their lives. The celebrations represented a feeling of miraculous healing.

This 33rd day of the counting is also considered to be the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the principal book of the Jewish mystical tradition. Bar Yochai, on his death bed, revealed all of the secrets of that mystical tradition. The celebratory bonfires in Israel are to acknowledge that revelation.

For us today, struggling with the presence of COVID-19 in our world, we are reminded that civilization has had to deal with these plagues throughout history. Only in retrospect can the power of healing stand out for us. Today we have the tools of modern science to help us confront this reality, but we are also reminded that the natural world is, ultimately, beyond the total control of human beings.

On this Lag B’Omer, we acknowledge the lives lost centuries ago and the healing that came forth. We also acknowledge that we are saddened by our contemporary pandemic and the lives that have been lost and affected by this scourge. As we care for ourselves and our loved ones, we look forward to a contemporary Lag B’Omer when we can declare the plague lifted. May that moment come speedily and, in the meantime, may we live safely and with hope.

Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783