Lag b'Omer 5777

Holiday #10 (220) Lag b'Omer 5777 Sat. nite, May 13-14
From Ascent QuarterlyFrom the ZoharLaws & Customs
Come to ASCENT for "Lag b'Omer Odyssey in Zefat & Meron"

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The classic (and best!) Lag b'Omer story:


(short) -

by Yerachmiel Tilles

MERON is a sleepy mountain village a few miles west of Zefat that once a year undergoes a remarkable transformation.  Each year on Lag b'Omer, 33 (Lamed=30; Gimmel=3) days after Passover Day, more than 200,000 Jews of all descriptions converge upon it from all parts of the country.  The highway is closed and traffic rerouted, as the whole area is covered with tents and vans for miles around.

In Jewish Law, Lag b'Omer is a cessation of the semi-mourning restrictions between Pesach and Shavuot, when marriages, haircutting and live music all become permitted. However, this massive pilgrimage is for an entirely different reason.  Lag b'Omer is the "celebration" day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose burial site is on Mount Meron.  Although Lag b'Omer is the anniversary of his death, in accordance with his express wishes it is treated as an occasion of great joy.

The rejoicing takes many forms (the reactions “most sublime” to "Jewish Woodstock!" have both been overheard).  At night, many Sephardim recline in huge tents over multi-course dinners and live music, and during the day, dozens of sheep are kosher-slaughtered, barbecued, and consumed. Throughout the night and day, hundreds or even thousands of three-year-old boys, Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike, receive their first haircuts and peyot.

In the evening, enormous bonfires are kindled on the roof of the domed building, in honor of the shining spiritual light Rabbi Shimon brought into the world.  For the entire 24 hours, groups of whirling Chassidim, with fervor unusual even for them, dance near the fires or in the courtyard below, singing over and over the infections traditional songs in praise of Rabbi Shimon.

Inside the small room reserved for men (the main room is used primarily by women-the common wall is built around and over the burial site) the air reverberates.  Individuals and small groups study Zohar (see below) and recite Psalms, while the dense crowds continuously flowing into the room struggle to reach the tomb (said one amazed ASCENT participant upon his emergence: "I was breathing pure Jew!").  A strong tradition exists that anyone who prays sincerely "at Rabbi Shimon," especially on Lag b'Omer, will be answered.

The steep winding path that leads to the tomb is tightly lined by booths.  Many are manned by representatives of yeshivas and other worthy causes, and people cheerfully donate b'z'chut ("in the merit of") Rabbi Shimon.  Further away, vendors hawking all sorts of merchandise dominate the main thoroughfares.  I even saw a shell game!

All over, people are camping, picnicking, and partying, and often it seems easy to lose sight of the original religious nature of the celebration, or even consider it contradicted.  Yet stories are recorded of several Torah authorities who intended to prohibit attendance due to the "unboundedness" of the celebrating, until Rabbi Shimon appeared to them in dreams, saying not to dare diminish his day of joy.

Lag b'Omer at Meron is a basic component of the Israel experience and the focal point of one of Ascent's most popularKabbalah seminars.  While some participants may be more "tuned in" than others, as far as Rabbi Shimon is concerned all Jews are welcome, so long as the effort is made to be joyful.  See you there!


Yerachmiel Tilles is a founder of Ascent of Safed, educational coordinator of the Ascent seminars,  editor of Ascent Quarterly and director of this website.

(long) - from the Zohar

(plus, you can save it for Shavuot too!)


Ten + Ten = Ten

 Moshe Miller

The Zohar, one of the earliest and  most important Jewish mystical texts, was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples. The following is an original translation, in bold face, of a selected text from the Zohar [vol. III, 11b ff.] on the first chapter of the Torah, together with selections based on major commentaries. The latter have been woven into the text itself, in plain face within parentheses, in order to provide the reader with a smooth, comprehensive text without requiring extensive footnotes, which are used mostly for technical information and sources. — M.M.

("The world was created by means of ten utterances."1 The following section explains the connection between the asarah ma’amorot [Ten Utterances] in Genesis and the aseret hadibrot [Ten Commandments] in Exodus 20.)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: kaf asarah asarah(“Each incense bowl weighed ten sanctuary shekels”—lit:) each bowl ten ten.2 Why (the doubled words) “ten ten?” Once, to allude to the work of creation, and once to allude to the Torah. There are ten utterances in the creation of the world, and (corresponding to them) ten utterances in the Torah (the Ten Commandments).

What does this tell us? That the world was created for the sake of Torah, and as long as the Jewish people occupy themselves with Torah, the world will continue to exist. But if the Jewish people abandon Torah, the verse declares, “If not for My Covenant (the Torah3), I would not have set day and night, and the bounds of heaven and earth.”4

The Zohar now explains how the ten utterances parallel the Ten Commandments.
The 1st (commandment, instructing us to have faith in G-d) states: I am the Lord your G-d...” Regarding creation, the verse states: “There shall be light, and there was light.”5
From the verse “G-d is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?”6 we learn that faith in the Holy One, blessed be He, is also called “light.” (Hence, light and faith in G-d, the first commandment, correspond.)

The 2nd states: “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and (the second utterance) states: “There shall be a firmament between the waters, and it shall divide between water and water.”

“There shall be a firmament,” refers to the Jewish people who are part of G-d Above,7 for they are attached to that plane which is called shemayim (Heaven , or firmament). “Between the waters,” — among the words of Torah (which is called water, as our Sages explain8) “And it (the Jewish people) shall divide between water and water” — between G-d, who is called “the Source of Living Water”9 and false deities which are called “broken wells”9  containing bitter, putrid and stagnant water. (Thus, the division between water and water is dependent on the Jewish people learning Torah.)

The 3rd states: “Do not take the name of G-d in vain,” and (the third utterance) states: “The waters below the firmament shall be gathered into one place..” Do not cause a separation in the unity of the waters (referring to the Shechinah — the indwelling Divine Presence10) by uttering a false oath.

The 4th states: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” and (the fourth utterance) states, “The earth shall sprout vegetation..” When does the earth become fertile and become covered with vegetation? On the Sabbath, when the bride (the Sabbath) unites with the King (G-d).11 This brings  forth vegetation and blessing for the world.  (Every weekday is provided its food by virtue of the blessing it receives from the Shabbath,12  just as the manna which came down only during the week, was by virtue of the Sabbath.13)

The 5th states: “Honor your father and mother,” and (the fifth utterance) states, “There shall be luminaries in the sky ...” This means that the luminaries are your father and mother — the sun is your father, and the moon your mother, alluding to the Holy One, blessed be He, your father, as the verse states. “For the sun and its sheath are G-d, the Lord.”14   (The verse makes an association between G-d — who is the ultimate source of all “light” in the sense of Divine revelation — and the sun, the source of physical light.)  And the moon refers to Knesset Yisrael (the collective soul of the Jewish people), as the verse states (regarding Israel), “Your moon shall never disappear.” 15  (It seems that the intention here is that our “father and mother” — G-d, and the collective Jewish soul — are honored by the Torah which the Jewish people learn in this world, as our Sages explain, “There is no honor other than Torah.”16)

The 6th states: “Do not murder,” and (the sixth utterance) states “The waters shall teem with living creatures.” Do not kill a man, who is also called “a living creature.”17  And do not be like fish, the larger of which swallows the smaller.

The 7th states: “Do not commit adultery,” and (the seventh utterance) states, “The earth shall bring forth living creatures... in their species.” From this we learn that a man should not approach a woman who is not his soulmate. For this reason the verse, “in their species.” A woman must not bear children from one who is not her “species” i.e. her soul mate.

The 8th states: “Do not steal,” and (the eight utterance) states, “I have given you every seedbearing plant on the surface of the earth.” i.e. that which I have given you, and allowed you to use, is yours. Do not steal that which belongs to someone else.

The 9th states: “Do not testify as a false witness,” and (the ninth utterance) states, “We shall make man with Our image, of Our likeness.” Do not testify falsely against one who bears the Divine image. And if one testifies falsely, it is as if he blasphemed.

The 10th states: “Do not be envious of your neighbor’s wife...” and (the tenth utterance) states, “It is not good that man is alone. I will make him a helper to match him.” This refers to each person’s soul-mate who matches him perfectly. Hence, “Do not be envious of your neighbor’s wife...”

These are the ten utterances of creation, which parallel the Ten Commandments. Therefore the verse (quoted originally) states, “Each bowl weighed ten,” for they weigh the same. and by virtue of this the world survives and maintains equilibrium....

1. Avot 5:1
2. Numbers 7:86
3. Or Yakar
4. Yeremiah 33:25, Rashi
5. Note that this passage in the Zohar does not regard the first word in the Torah, bereishit, as the first utterance, as explained previously. (Zohar 1:39b) Perhaps this is according to the view that the verse, “I am the Lord your G-d,” also expresses belief in G-d Himself, which is not a commandment, but precedes all commandments.  Nevertheless, in the light of other passages in the Zohar this seems unlikely.
6. Psalms 27:1
7. Job 31:2.
8. Bava Kama 17a
9. Jeremiah 2:13
10. See Chagiga 14b regarding the advice of R. Akiva to the Sages who entered the Pardes: Do not say, “Water, water.” (i.e. cause a separation between the waters); Pardes Rimonim s.v. shayish
11. Technically, this refers to the yichud (unification) of malchut and zair anpin - Commentaries
12. Zohar vol.II,p 88a
13. Zohar ibid
14. Psalms 84:12. The Names used in this verse are Havayeh, the Tetragrammaton, denoting the transcendent revalation of G-d as He is in Himself, and Elokim, G-d as He is within creation.
15. Isaiah 60:20
16. Avot 6:3; Zohar vol.III, p. 81b.
17.Genesis 2:7

Excerpted from a pioneering English translation, from the original Aramaic, of selected passages in the Zohar, together with commentary, by Rabbi Moshe Leib Miller, an occasional guest teacher at Ascent and currently a Rosh Yeshiva in Michigan.

Some Laws and Customs -

"FIRST HAIRCUT & PEYOT SHAPING" ceremonies for three year old boys are the highlight of Lag b'Omer at Meron for many families and spectators, as everyone gathers to help snip.  Actually, everywhere in the world, Jewish boys born between Pesach and Lag b’Omer receive their first haircut and peyot on Lag b’Omer. Upon reaching the age of 3 (i.e., completing three years and beginning the "holy fourth"-see Lev. 19:23-25), a Jewish child begins to receive his or her official training in mitzvot.  The first mitzvah for a three year old boy is (Lev. 19:27) "Do not cut off the hair on the side of your head."  Four centuries ago, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist, camped at Meron with his family in order to "make peyot" for his son on Lag b'Omer "in the presence of" Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.  Since then, especially in modern-day Israel, it has been a strong custom to administer the "first sheering" (comparable to the mitzvah of the First Fleece Offering-see Deut. 18:4) at Meron, and ideally on Lag b'Omer - birth date and custom permitting.


Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most important sages in Jewish history, lived over 1800 years ago.  Teachings in his name abound throughout the Mishnah, Gemorrah, and Midrashim, while the Zohar, the primary source text of Kabbalah, is built around Rabbi Shimon's revelations to his inner circle of disciples.  During the hours before his passing, on Lag b'Omer, he disclosed the "most sublime" secrets of Torah (see quote below), in order to ensure that the day would always be an occasion for great joy, untouched by sadness because of the Omer period and mourning for him.  The seminal importance of the Zohar in Jewish thought and the annual pilgrimage to Meron are testimonies to his success.

Praises of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Every woman who gives birth to a son should pray that he grows up to be like Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Bar Yochai is accustomed to miracles (happening for him).

Throughout his lifetime, a rainbow (which signifies that the world deserves punishment) was never seen.

"In a single bond I am bound with G-d, united with Him, aflame,..."

During a severe drought, a delegation came and requested him to pray for rain.  He started to lecture on the verse "Hinei mah tov..." ("How good and pleasant when brothers sit together..." - Ps. 133).  Immediately, rain began to fall.

"This day (his last--Lag b'Omer) I have revealed holy secrets never before revealed...I see that G-d and all the righteous in Heaven agree to this...and all of them are rejoicing in my (time of) joy."

"With this book (Zohar) of yours, the Jewish People will be redeemed from exile with mercy."

Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff

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