33 and Lag Ba’omer

Today is the 33rd day of the Omer, which makes it Lag Ba’omer, which is a very silly thing. Lag, by the way, is the vocalization of ל and ג , which are the Hebrew letters used to make 33 in the traditional Hebrew numerical system. What follows is a very long quote I have stolen from BZ’s blog, Mah Rabu. It explains why he (and I) don’t observe Lag and why the idea that the Omer is a period of mourning is goofy. I couldn’t have said it better. So, I figured I’d let BZ say it for me.

With this whole framework in place, the idea of observing sefirat ha’omer as a period of mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s students seems to come totally out of left field. Why are they entitled to 7 weeks of our time (or 33 days, depending on how you count) every year? Yes, I’ve heard that it’s really about the Crusades, but the Crusaders or the Romans don’t get to take over our sacred calendar, just as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising doesn’t get to take over Pesach. There is nothing about the omer period (as discussed above) that should make it a time of mourning.

I can understand the idea of not scheduling weddings during the omer, and that isn’t dependent on it being a period of mourning — we also don’t schedule weddings during Chol Hamo’ed Sukkot or Pesach, which are clearly festive times. But most people get married a maximum of once in a given year, so all this means is scheduling the wedding for one time instead of another time. Refraining from listening to music for 7 weeks (or 33 days), on the other hand, is disproportionate to the importance that mourning Rabbi Akiva’s students should have (if any!), and is inappropriate to marking the journey from Pesach to Shavuot.

Therefore, I don’t observe Lag Ba’omer, because this cessation of mourning customs only makes sense within the paradigm of observing the omer as a time of mourning in the first place (which I don’t do either). Lag Ba’omer also creates a false climax to sefirat ha’omer (I’ve heard people say things like “sefirah’s over now”); the one and only climax of sefirat ha’omer should be Shavuot.

And let’s not even get started on the idolatry surrounding R. Shimon bar Yochai. And no, I’m not shaving or cutting my hair tonight (though I will shave, as usual, for Shave-uot).

I guess the kabbalistic understanding of the omer (tiferet sheb’netzach and all that) is harmless and whatever floats your boat, but I think this is also a distraction. Case in point: I saw an omer calendar that had a suggested activity for each day related to that day’s sefirot. The activity for the 6th day of the omer was “Create something constructive” or “Construct something creative” or something like that. What’s the problem? The 6th day of the omer, this year and every year, is the 7th day of Pesach, when creative labor is forbidden! Oops! That’s what happens when you try to overlay something onto the omer without regard to Pesach and Shavuot.

Regardless, I really do need a haircut. I could probably even get one today, but I’m not going to, just to make a point.

And now, the Omer:

3 Responses to 33 and Lag Ba’omer

  1. Simcha Daniel Burstyn May 23, 2008 at 10:49 am #

    I don’t know, Dave – I tend to agree about the traditions of the Omer, but I finally got my hair cut and I feel great.

  2. Harold May 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    Tell the guys at Pete’s Flat Top Shop I said hello.

  3. davidamwilensky May 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm #

    I will Dad, except, perhaps you missed the point. I’m not going there today. I’m waiting.