Wednesday, May 27, 2015


    Lag BaOmer (Hebrew: ל"ג בעומר‎), also known as Lag LaOmer amongst Sephardi Jews, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of Iyar.
    Lag BaOmer is Hebrew for "33rd [day] in the Omer". The Hebrew letter ל (lamed) or "L" represents "30" and ג (gimmel) or "G" represents "3". A vowel sound is conventionally added for pronunciation purposes.
    Some Jews call this holiday Lag LaOmer, which means "33rd [day] of the Omer", as opposed to Lag BaOmer, "33rd [day] in the Omer." Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson writes in his Likkutei Sichos that the reason why the day should be called Lag BaOmer and not Lag LaOmer is because the Hebrew words Lag BaOmer (ל"ג בעמר), spelled without the "vav", have the same gematria as Moshe (משה), and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was mystically a spark of the soul of Moses.

   The biblical mandate to count the Omer appears in Leviticus 23:15-16, which states that it is a mitzvah to count seven complete weeks from the day after Passover night ending with the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day. The 49 days of the Omer correspond both to the time between physical emancipation from Egypt and the spiritual liberation of the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot, as well as the time between the barley harvest and the wheat harvest in ancient Israel.
    During the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a divine-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level; they begrudged each other the spiritual levels attained by their comrades. Jews celebrate Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the count, as the traditional day that this plague ended.

    After the death of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students, he taught just five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation.According to tradition, on the day of bar Yochai's death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah. Indeed this day is seen as a celebration of the giving of the hidden, mystical Torah through Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as a parallel to Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the revealed Torah through Moses.
    During the Middle Ages, Lag BaOmer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was called the "scholar's festival." It was customary to rejoice on this day through various kinds of merrymaking.

The grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Customs and Practices

The Grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron on Lag BaOmer

    As restrictions of mourning are lifted on this 33rd day of the Omer, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with this day. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and (rubber-tipped) arrows. Tachanun, the prayer for special Divine mercy on one's behalf is not said, because when God is showing one a "smiling face," so to speak, as He does especially on the holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.
In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hundreds of thousands of Jews gather to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting. This was a specific request by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of his students.

    In Israel, Lag BaOmer is a school holiday. Youngsters and their parents light bonfires in open spaces in cities and towns throughout the country. Students' Day is celebrated on the campuses of the various universities. Lag BaOmer is also a favorite day for weddings.
    Israeli boys collect wood for a Lag BaOmer bonfire.In Israel, one knows that Lag BaOmer is drawing near when children begin collecting wood boards, old doors, and anything made from wood that can burn. This happens from 1 to 2 weeks before Lag BaOmer; the bonfires are erected by the children the day before Lag BaOmer and the adults light them at night.


    The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. Some say that as bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. As his passing left such a "light" behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit.
    The Bnei Yissaschar cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, "Now it is my desire to reveal secrets...The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and died. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, and particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.

    At the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, the honor of lighting the main bonfire traditionally goes to the Rebbes of the Boyaner dynasty. This fire is lit on the roof of the tomb at 2:00 a.m.


    A Lag BaOmer parade in front of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, in 1987.The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged Lag BaOmer parades to be held in Jewish communities around the world as a demonstration of Jewish unity & pride. Chabad sponsors parades as well as rallies, bonfires and barbecues for thousands of participants around the world.

Chai Rotel

    Another custom is the giving of chai rotel (Hebrew: ח"י רוטל‎) at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The Hebrew letters chet and yod are the gematria (numerical equivalent) of 18. Rotel is a liquid measure of about 3 liters. Thus, 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons. It is popularly believed that if one donates or offers 18 rotels of liquid refreshment (grape juice, wine, soda or even water) to those attending the celebrations at Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's tomb on Lag BaOmer, then the giver will be granted miraculous salvation.

    According to Taamei Minhagim, many childless couples found success with this segulah (propitious practice). This practice was also endorsed by Rabbi Ovadia miBartenura. Several local organizations solicit donations of chai rotel and hand out the drinks on the donor's behalf in Meron on Lag BaOmer. Nine months after Lag BaOmer, the Ohel Rashbi organization even invites couples who prayed at the tomb and had a child to come back to Meron to celebrate the births.

First Haircut for Children

    It is a custom at the Meron celebrations, dating from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts (upsherin), while their parents distribute wine and sweets. Similar upsherin celebrations are simultaneously held in Jerusalem at the grave of Shimon Hatzaddik for Jerusalemites who cannot travel to Meron.


   Chocolate is one of the few foods known to man about which people are actually passionate. We're talking about a wild, burning compassion; one that continues to grow with each delicious bite. For some of us, chocolate s considered to be a necessity of life.
Eating chocolate feels good. Some physicians claim that chocolate has something to do with the hormonal imbalance that happens within the body from time to time.    Psychiatrists go so far as to say that chocolate could be a substitute for sex ( especially after you've been married for a while!), particularly when sex isn't available or just not very good (like I said before, after you've been married for a while!!!). There are lots of theories as to why we want or need chocolate, none of which are proven but all of which are interesting to explore. Particularly, if that exploration involved more chocolate.
    Most people believe that the Aztec Indians should be credited for the invention of chocolate. They certainly held the cocoa bean in high esteem, even using it as currency. It is said that the Emperor Montezuma sent cocoa along with gold and silver to meet the ship of explorer Hernando Cortez, although it is uncertain whether he meant the gesture as a "bribe" or a "gift" from one conqueror to another.
    History indicates that the Aztecs also used their prized cocoa beans to prepare a drink. The recipe was heavily guarded and basically reserved for those of royal descent. They believed that the drink improved energy and imparted wisdom. Montezuma reportedly drank as much as 50 cups each day because he thought it improved his sexual prowess.
Although the Spaniards did not care for the Aztec drink--citing that it was too bitter for their taste--they still took it back to Spain where it eventually underwent several changes. This first change involved adding cane sugar to the chocolate in order to sweeten it and take away the bitter taste. Other changes involved the mixing in of other spices like vanilla. Finally, someone decided to try heating the drink to see what effect that might have on its taste. This proved to be the first truly successful version of what eventually became known as hot chocolate; European style, not the watered down version Americans drink.
    Hot chocolate became popular among the Spanish aristocracy who opted to treat it much as the Aztecs did, reserving it for those with power and prestige. However, as its popularity grew, Spain eventually decided to plant cocoa beans. This gave way to a profitable business for the country.
    The Spanish managed to keep the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the remainder of Europe for nearly 100 years. However, a Spanish princess who married into French royalty is believed to be responsible for literally "spilling the beans" about the delicious new drink. Following the pattern set by the Aztecs and mirrored by the Spaniards, the drink was, at first, primarily reserved for those inside the royal court. Of course, being the culinary trendsetters that they were, the French eventually ended up popularizing the drink. The popularity of chocolate spread across the channel to Great Britain and eventually made its way to the Americas.
    The invention and perfection of the steam engine, which mechanized the cocoa grinding process, made it possible to move chocolate into mass production. This helped lower the price of the delicacy, making it affordable for a much larger cross section of people. A few years later, the invention of the cocoa press further improved the quality of chocolate by making it possible to squeeze out part of the actual cocoa butter. This offered the food a smoother consistency and a greatly improved flavor.
    Actual eating chocolate was not available in that form until 1847. An English company introduced this texture that was far removed from the former grainy, gritty chocolate of old. This new food was still somewhat expensive to make. So, for many years, the delicacy remained something that the poor didn't have the opportunity to experience.
It was a Swiss manufacturer named Daniel Peter who, in the late 1800's invented a method of adding milk to the chocolate to further refine its taste and smoothness. America embraced the chocolate phenomenon and is actually responsible for opening the very first chocolate factory.
    American manufactures over 7 billion pounds of chocolate each year and consumes almost 100 pounds of the confection per second. However, it is the Swiss that consume the highest amount of this confection at 22 pounds per person per year.
    Chocolate is used to commemorate holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and special events like birthdays and anniversaries. People use chocolate as a snack between meals. They use it to get started in the morning (I've been known to eat a snickers bar on some mornings on my way to work) and to get ready for bed at night (don't forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed though!). Even the U.S. government uses chocolate as a way to feed the human spirit when soldiers are away from home. Today, the U.S. Army D-rations included three 4-ounce chocolate bars.
Although once believed to be responsible for all of the ills of life like acne, obesity, and heart disease, scientists now disagree, albeit in varying degrees, regarding the actual negative effects of chocolate. Clinical studies have exonerated chocolate as a cause for or a factor in acne. Also, contrary to belief, most overweight people report that they do not eat excessive amounts of chocolate. In fact, recent reports indicate that the sugar intake of these individuals tends to be below average. Even today's dentists tend to believe that chocolate--eaten in reasonable quantities--can be less likely to cause tooth decay than other forms of candy or sweets.
    What recent scientific studies do tend to agree on, however, is that dark chocolate is much healthier for routine consumption than is milk chocolate. Caution, however, everything is better in moderation. Well except for those of us who are hooked on chocolate!!

Some Chocolate Facts:
  • The microwave oven was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.

  • In October 1973, Swedish sweet maker Roland Ohisson of Falkenberg was buried in a coffin made of nothing but chocolate. (If he was still alive he probably could of eaten his way out).

  • The triangular shape that Toblerone chocolates are packaged in, is protected by law.

  • Chocolate was used as medicine during the 18th century because it was believed that it could cure a stomach ache.

  • The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by Fry's chocolate factory located in Bristol, England. They were the ones to mold the first chocolate bar that was suitable to be distributed to the public.

  • Consuming chocolate was once considered a sin during the 16th and 17th century. During that time it was provided in the form of a drink and since drinking wine during lent was a sin, so was drinking chocolate.

  • There are some types of chocolates that are actually good for the arteries and heart.

  • Chocolate comes in milk, white, semi-sweet, dark, bitter, bittersweet, and unsweetened form.