It is interesting to note that some authorities in the past have attempted to eliminate the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations.1 This is primarily due to what was once a widespread practice of burning valuable items in the Lag Ba’Omer bonfires. Doing so is a biblical prohibition known as ba’al tashchit, wastefulness.2 Other authorities were disturbed at the idea of inventing “new” holidays and observances.3
Despite some opposition to Lag Ba’Omer, the celebration does have its supporters.4 Many consider it appropriate to make Lag Ba’Omer a holiday because Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was miraculously saved from the Roman government, who pronounced death upon him for spreading Torah. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (and his son) fled to a cave in the city of Peki’in5 and hid there for thirteen years, surviving on the fruit of a carob tree6 and a spring that miraculously appeared that sustained them.7 Therefore, Lag Ba’Omer can be seen as a celebration of the escape from death.
One of the more mysterious associations with Lag Ba’Omer is that of the “Chai Rottel” segula. Chai Rottel is a liquid measurement of about 54 liters, referring to the quantity of beverages, including wine and spirits, that one should provide for visitors to Meron on Lag Ba’Omer.
It is believed that one who donates this Chai Rottel quantity of refreshments will be blessed with all forms of miraculous salvation. The source for the Chai Rottel segula apparently originates with Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam of Bobov, who wrote in 1912: “I heard from the holy sages of Eretz Yisrael that they have a tradition that barren women, G-d-forbid, should donate Chai Rottel on the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.” It is also written in the work Tel Yerushalayim in the name of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Hornstein about two childless couples who were finally blessed with a child after they supplied Chai Rottel in Meron on Lag Ba’Omer.8 The Chai Rottel” segula seems to be contagious, as it is now being peddled and applied in Kerestir (Reb Shaya) and other holy tombs.
Bows and Arrows
There is a well-known Lag Ba’Omer custom for children to play with bows and arrows, which is said to be alluded to in the verse: “And the sons of Ulam were mighty men of valor, shooters of bows (archers), and had many sons, and sons’ sons.”9 Based on this verse, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that playing with bows and arrows is a segula for having children.10
It is explained that playing with bows and arrows on Lag Ba’Omer recalls that during the lifetime of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai no rainbow was ever seen in the sky. This is because the rainbow, which represents G-d’s protection over the world, would have been superfluous, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai served this purpose.11 So too, the Hebrew word for bow, keshet is the same gematria as “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Another reason offered for the bow and arrow custom is that it recalls the Roman decree that prohibited all Torah study. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students would trek to the forests equipped with their bows and arrows in order to study Torah there. When confronted by the Roman policeman as to what they were doing in the forest, they would answer that they were simply on a hunting trip. Similarly, the military nature of bows and arrows is intended to recall the revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E. This revolt was led by Rabbi Akiva, who was the primary teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.12
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the bow and arrow represent a person’s diligence and success in Torah study. The archer knows that the further he desires his arrow to reach, the more he must draw the string inward toward himself. The more he bends it, the further and faster the arrow will fly. So it is with Torah study. The more time and effort one invests in Torah study, the more one will succeed and “go far.” The Rebbe also notes that the archer positions the bow and arrow close to his heart. Likewise, one must ensure that Torah study always remains close to one’s heart.13
Legend has it that the Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi of Startin, would go to the forest with his chassidim to shoot bows and arrows on Lag Ba’Omer. It is said that on one such occasion, he shot an arrow in the direction of Vienna. This arrow made its way to the royal palace and pierced the heart of a known enemy of the Jews who was heir to the Austrian throne. This evidently saved the Jewish people from many evil decrees and hardships.14 However, the arrow has yet to be found.
- For an extensive discussion on this issue, see S’dei Chemed, Eretz Yisrael.
- Bava Kama 91b; Shabbat 140b.
- Chatam Sofer, YD 233.
- See footnote #14.
- There is a minority opinion that the cave in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid when fleeing the Romans was located in Lod. Zohar Chadash, Ki Tavo.
- Some say it was a date tree and some say there was both a carob and a date tree. Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 44.
- Shabbat 33.
- Taamei Haminhagim pages 263-264.
- Divrei Hayamim I 8:40.
- Sefer Hamiddot.
- Yerushalmi, Berachot 9:2; Ketubot 77b, Rashi; Rashi, Bereishit 9:14. As the Bnei Yissachar writes “If there is a completely righteous man in the generation there is no need for the sign [rainbow]”.
- Likutei Maharan.
- Torat Menachem, Hitvaduyot 3 page 77.
- Cited in Nitei Gavriel, Hilchot Pesach 3 page 289.