Who Was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and What Does He Have to do With Lag B’Omer?

Kids dancing around a campfire

Preparing for Passover involves a lot of cleaning, shopping, and cooking. When the holiday finally arrives, it can feel like finally crossing a finish line after a sprint. But that finish line is actually a starting line for a marathon: Now it’s time to count the Omer.

The Omer refers to the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the gift of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). In ancient times, these 49 days led up to the time to offer up sheaves of wheat to the Temple in Jerusalem (the Hebrew word omer literally means “sheaf”). Today, the Omer serves as a countdown (or count-up) to Shavuot in anticipation of the earth-shaking day when the Ten Commandments were given at Mount Sinai.

Lag B’Omer is Day 33 on this counting journey. “Lag” is made up of the Hebrew letters lamed and gimel, which together have the numerical value of 33. This day also commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a righteous sage of the second century CE.

Who Was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai?

At the time that Rabbi Shimon lived, the Romans ruled Judea, and there was very little tolerance for dissenters like him. In the most famous tale about Rabbi Shimon, he and his son hide from the Romans in a cave for twelve years, sustained by a miraculous carob tree and a flowing spring, and spending entire days and nights studying Jewish wisdom.

The story goes that when Shimon and his son finally leave the cave, their learning has been so intense that whatever they set their eyes upon instantly goes up in flame! A voice from heaven proclaims: “Go back to your cave! You are no longer fit for the company of other human beings.” After one more year in the cave, they reemerge, and this time Shimon is able to fulfill his role as scholar and healer, which is why Rabbi Shimon’s legacy is celebrated each year on Lag B’Omer.

Rabbi Shimon wanted his passing to be remembered as “the day of my joy,” the culmination of his life of learning, teaching, and good deeds. And so, we celebrate! Bonfires, picnics, singing, and time spent enjoying the beauty of nature are the order of the day.

How will you celebrate Lag B’Omer this year?


How to Celebrate Lag B'Omer
How to Count The Omer
Printable Omer Counter