Shavuot – The End of the Counting… And the Beginning?

Shavout 1Those of you who are familiar with Jewish holidays, or read my blog regularly, know that since Passover we have been counting the days of the Omer. The Omer is the seven week (or 49 days for those of you who are counting, see… counting! it was in the title!) period between Passover and Shavout. At Passover we celebrated our Exodus from Egypt and the liberation and freedom that came with it. At Shavout, we celebrate and remember our time at Mt. Sinai, when G-d gave down his Ten Commandments, and the rest of his Torah (there are A LOT more than 10 rules people! See, counting again!).

This was obviously a great celebration for the Jewish people, who so recently had been slaves, were now being exalted as G-d’s chosen people, worthy to receive his Torah and practice Judaism. Many a Sage has compared Shavout, and our receiving of the Torah, to a wedding ceremony. Instead of Bride and Groom, you have G-d and His people, vowing to each other to keep and respect each other. We the Jewish people, swore on the lives of our children and future generations to uphold G-d’s laws and customs, and in return G-d bestowed upon us the majesty that is the Torah, and all that it encompasses.

Pretty heavy for newly freed slaves. In fact, if you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments”, you know the old standby with Charlton Heston, then you will know that we didn’t handle it so well when Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to commune with G-d. That is why in fact, that this is special holiday to include children in. It is upon their merit that we received the Torah in the end, for the current generation was not ready.

So we know that it’s a special day, obviously, but what about the food? Well, on this holiday, the tradition is to eat dairy meals, not the meat meals that you normally expect for a big, important holiday. Why is this? (C’mon, you knew there would be a reason!). This is because before we were blessed with receiving the Torah, we did not have the complete rules of kosher. Once receiving the Torah, we now knew we could only have certain animals, slaughtered in a certain way, etc. All of our meat pots had to be made kosher! So to resolve this temporary food setback, we ate milk!

So in honour of this, one of the most special and holy occurrences in Judaism, I present to you a week of dairy dishes sure to hit the spot with your guests! Enjoy and Chag Samayach!

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Lag B’Omer – The Bonfire Holiday!

Lag B'OmerSo we’re going to take a brief intermission from Mother’s Day Week (sorry Mom!) to celebrate the Jewish Holiday of Lag B’Omer. In English, the name of the Holiday translates to the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. Lag, or the Hebrew letters Lamed ל and Gimmel ג, have a numerical valuation of 30 and 3, respectively, and this Holiday celebrates the break in the counting of the Omer, or the period between the Holidays of Passover and Shavout (the holiday where we received the ten commandments, and the rest of the laws, at Mt. Sinai). Lag B’Omer is traditionally celebrated with bonfire celebrations, family picnics with the children playing with imitation bows and arrows, and the eating of Carob.

So what is so special about the 33rd day? And why the bonfires, bows and arrows, and Carob? Well, let me explain (thank you Chabad.org!).

There are two main reasons why we celebrate this day. The first (in no particular order) explains both the day and the bonfires. During the 2nd Century, there was a great Jewish scholar known as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (c.100 – c. 160 CE). He was a great Kabbalist, and shed a powerful light on the world through his mystical teachings. It is said that the secrets of the Torah that he revealed to his disciples was so profound and intense that his house was filled with fire and blinding light, to the point that his students could not even approach or look at him. Rabbi Shimon stated that the day of his death, the 33rd day of the Omer, should be a day of great joy, not sadness, for he was moving on to the World to Come. So to commemorate is death, we have great celebrations, and light great fires that emulate the fire of Torah and knowledge that Rabbi Shimon was famous for.

So what’s the second reason for the 33rd day? During the time of Rabbi Akiva (c. 40 – c. 137 CE), during the weeks between Passover and Shavout, a great plague ran rampant amongst his students, “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” Therefore to this day, the Jewish nation treats this time period (7 weeks) as a time of mourning with no joyous activities. However, by a miracle, on the 33rd day of the Omer, the deaths stopped, so we treat this day as joyous one, careful to remember to treat every fellow man with love and respect.

Okay, so that’s why this day and the bonfires, but the bows and arrows? The carob?

It is a tradition for Children to go out into the fields and play with imitation bows and arrows. This is in remembrance of the Midrashic tradition that no rainbow was seen during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime. Rainbows first appeared after the great flood in the time of Noah, when G‑d promised to never again devastate the world. When the world is deserving of punishment, G‑d sends a rainbow instead. Rabbi Shimon’s merit protected the world, rendering the rainbow superfluous. The children’s bows are a tribute to the “rainbow” that Rabbi Shimon’s presence gave us.

As for the Carob, this is in remembrance of a lifesaving miracle that Rabbi Shimon experienced. For 13 years, Rabbi Shimon and his son were fugitives from the Romans, and hid in a cave in northern Israel. Food was scarce and hunting was dangerous, should they be caught. G-d intervened and created a carob tree that grew at the entrance of the cave, providing nourishment for its two holy occupants.

So, I hope that explains why we celebrate Lag B’Omer, and how we do it too! For today, I’m posting two recipes, a barbecue chicken, in honour of the bonfires, and a delicious non-dairy carob cake! I hope you enjoy!