Lag B’Omer — the Torah Gates Are Open!

Lag B’Omer begins Wednesday evening May 25th. To learn more about this little known but fascinating Jewish observance, we meet this month with Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rav Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin.

On Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of Counting the Omer (what you refer to as Cosmic Organic Time) the inner gates to the depths of the Torah are opened. What does this mean to you Rav and what might it mean to our readers?
When I was growing up, Lag B’Omer was a free day at Temple Sholom. We were sent out of the Sunday school classroom to play baseball most of the day!

Lag B’Omer is a day of joy. We clear our mind, open our eyes, and we seek to make progress on our life issues, which are Torah issues.

Lag B’Omer is also the Hillula Rabbah, the celebration of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s (Rashb”i) transition from this world to the next. Rashb”i is the titular author of the Holy Zohar, the mystical interpretation of the Torah. With his ascension on high, marked on his yahrtzeit on Lag B’Omer, we too can share in his elevation, with the opportunity to gain special insights on our deepest spiritual questions.

Lag from Lag B’Omer spelled in reverse is Gal, which means “Open” and hinting to the verse:
Gal Einei v’Abita Niflaot MiToratecha
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your Torah!”
This is the special opening on this Holy day.

Lag B’Omer is a time for singing and dancing and opening oneself to having a mystical soul-connected affinity with R. Shimon. The energy of R. Shimon is said to bring light into the dark areas of our lives. Can you share a meditation with us to help make that connection and shed light onto a difficulty or issue we might be dealing with?

Rabbi Shimon ascended to Heaven in the year 3,881 [121 CE]. On Lag B’Omer, many people have the custom to travel to the city of Meron in the north of Eretz Yisrael to celebrate this day at the gravesite of Rashb”i. This is an age-old custom that dates back many centuries, already in the times of the Tanaim.

One who is unable to physically travel to the gravesite of Rashb”i can still take part in this custom by learning passages in the Zohar or other teachings of Rashb”i.

So, in order to connect with the soul of R. Shimon, we need to learn some of his teachings, either in Pirke Avot, the Talmud, and especially the Zohar. So first, we should learn some of the Zohar in his name. Next, perhaps sing the famous song Bar Yochai or listen to it on YouTube.  Then contemplate a spiritual question you may have, an issue you are having trouble finding clarity.

Light a candle in a dark room and let that candle capture your entire intention. Say the verse in Hebrew
, מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ נִפְלָאוֹת וְאַבִּיטָה עֵינַי גַּל
Gal Einei v’Abita Niflaot MiToratecha
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your Torah!”
Say it over and over and over until you feel that you have internalized the meaning.

Then stop, and be silent, and gaze into the candle.

The answer, in the merit of Bar Yochai, should be opened up for you.

Be Brave and Balanced


From the Pen of Hebrew Seminary Executive Director Alison C. Brown

20 May, 9 Iyar marks 28 days of Counting the Omer. Tonight we reflect upon ourselves through the lens of Malchut sheb’Netzach. Malchut is the Sefirah that corresponds to our completeness in the physical realm and the Shechinah, the divine within, our source of spiritual strength. With the holographic augmentation of Netzach we reflect tonight upon our “capacity to stand up for what is right and just,” writes Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

Our election cycle offers examples of how to stand up for what is right and just. A female Senator bravely tweeted this week, “Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless.” While we count the Omer, we look honestly within about our policies, our attitude, our work, and our words. When we look at our thoughts and our choices honestly and with integrity it makes it possible to also critically follow the election news.

Don’t believe me.

Don’t believe everything you hear and read.

Bring clear eyes and a full heart to your day, your reflections and the election cycle.

We seek balance during these 49 days of the Omer. On Passover, we left Egypt inexperienced with freedom. We have 49 days to get accustomed to this freedom and learn to use it wisely. On the 50th day we once again receive the Torah. As we count the Omer each year and look within for our true selves, we clarify and refine our Sefirot, our transformers of God’s energy.

My husband and I have been easing our twin seniors into more freedoms this year; even so, they will be unaccustomed to the freedoms of college. I recently discovered that one of my favorite writers, George Saunders gave a commencement speech a couple of years ago. He half-jested that we are born with built-in confusions, such as the belief that our personal story is the only story and that we’re separate from the universe. “There’s us and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing sets and the state of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people.” We intellectually know better than to really believe these things, Saunders writes, but we live by them. We prioritize our own needs first.

In America we are free. We are free to meet our needs. Some are louder about this than others; some have no voice at all. Many of us are somewhere in the middle stages of our life of freedom. We manage to meet our needs and we have enough comforts that we can factor the needs of others into our priorities. Some of us are brave, both within and without our means, because we know that inner balance is found through kindness and love.

Go ahead, be ambitious Saunders told the graduates, “but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.”

Take stock of yourself in these days of freedom. The Source of all is nudging you to be balanced and brave.


Parts I through IV of this Omer series are posted on the HS Facebook Page.