Lag B'Omer is considered a minor holiday in the Jewish
calendar, but even a minor holiday is still a holiday
and therefore worth celebrating. A great way to celebrate
Lag B'Omer is through vegetarianism, as Lag B'Omer
is deeply connected to the Earth and its fruits.
Lag B'Omer represents the 33rd day of the counting
of the omer, the fifty days between Passover and Shavuot,
reminding us of the link between these two important
holidays. While Passover celebrates our freedom from
slavery, Shavuot celebrates our receiving of the Torah
at Mount Sinai -- both events being relevant for each
generation. During Passover, Jews would bring barley
to the Temple in Jerusalem; on Shavuot, Jews would
bring their first fruits. Between these two holidays,
while counting the days, Jews traditionally brought
an omer of grain to the Temple. The word lag represents
33 and an omer is a measurement. The goal is not only
to count the omer but to make the omer count.
According to a midrash, there were fifty days between
the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the receiving
of the Torah-between liberation and law-because the
Jewish people were not yet spiritually pure. On our
modern journeys, in our efforts toward liberation,
we can increase our purity by eating purer foods.
We can purify our health and purify our planet, while
purifying our spirit, with every meal.
Many people who switch to a vegetarian diet report
feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually better.
Lag B'Omer presents a special opportunity to reflect
on where we've come from as well as to look forward
to where we might, and should, be going, as it is
a time for self-awareness, self-growth, and community
We sincerely hope that Jews will enhance their celebrations
of this ancient and beautiful holiday of Lag B'Omer
by making it a time to strive even harder to live
up to Judaism's highest moral values and teachings.
We certainly don't need more "things" in
our homes and we don't necessarily need to make an
agricultural pilgrimage; instead, we do need more
meaning, purpose, and spirit in our lives. There are
a variety of ways to accomplish this. One significant
way is by moving towards vegetarianism. Promoting
organic agriculture, recycling, renewable fuels, and
conservation are some others ways.
By sharing grain with others, Lag B'Omer demonstrates
the power of cooperation and community. In contrast,
meat-eating demonstrates the opposite. Raising animals
for consumption, besides being cruel to animals (and
therefore violating the Torah prohibition of tsa'ar
ba'alei chayim, causing unnecessary harm to animals),
uses and wastes a tremendous amount of grain as well
as water, land, soil, and fossil fuels (transgressing
bal tashchit, the Torah injunction not to waste anything
of value), while destroying communities (the opposite
of tikkun olam, healing the world), degrading the
environment (not the way to be shomrei adamah, partners
in preserving our world), and damaging human health
(going against pekuach nefesh, the need to protect
our health and lives).
Judaism also stresses the importance of tzedakah,
that we be kind, assist the poor and weak, and share
our food with the hungry, yet approximately 3/4 of
major U.S. crops - e.g., corn, wheat, soybeans, oats
- is fed to the billions of animals raised for meat
and destined for slaughter. Further, Judaism repeatedly
suggests that we pursue peace and justice, and vegetarianism
is one key step on that path.
While millions of people annually die from over-consumption,
particularly consumption of fat and cholesterol, millions
of people annually die from under-consumption, from
starvation and hunger-related diseases. Indeed, it
takes many pounds of grain, rich in fiber and other
nutrients, to produce a single pound of cholesterol-laden
meat. Although the world produces more than enough
food to feed all its people, the inequality of wealth
and power, along with the inefficiency of land use
and food distribution, creates conditions that lead
to scarcity, chronic hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.
Lag B'Omer reminds us to enjoy the bounty of our crops
- and lives - and to share what we have.
World hunger is neither necessary, automatic, nor
inevitable. Vegetarianism creates conditions that
are more fair and just, more efficient and sustainable,
thereby potentially allowing more people to be fed,
rather than using land, grain, water, labor, energy,
and other resources to produce food to be fed to animals
that are later killed and then fed to people. In addition
to being better for one's health and our environment,
vegetarianism is better for food security and the
alleviation of world hunger. Food security, in turn,
may prevent the all-too-common instances of jealousy,
covetousness, ethnic tensions, and then violence,
war, and genocide. It is worth noting that the Hebrew
root word for both bread, lechem, and war, milchama,
is the same, implying that when bread is scarce war
is more likely.
Traditionally, many Jews refrain from open celebration
during the counting of the omer. However, Lag B'Omer
is a day during this season on which marriages, haircuts,
and other celebrations are allowed to begin again
because miracles have occurred on Lag B'Omer. It was
on Lag B'Omer, for example, that a plague that had
killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students finally ended.
Choosing vegetarianism champions life by saving lives
everyday. Shortly after the plague, Rabbi Akiva chose
five students to carry on his work, one of whom was
the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazar
hid in a cave for thirteen years after Rabbi Shimon
bar Yochai was condemned to death by the Roman conquerors
of Jerusalem for speaking out against them, following
the murders of Rabbi Akiva and many others. While
they lived in a cave, they were sustained by their
studies of the Torah, a local stream, and a nearby
carob tree for their food. These great sages demonstrated
that a vegetarian diet, like the manna the Israelites
received in the Sinai desert, is enough to sustain
a person as well as a people.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught that our world and
the unseen "higher" worlds are unified,
as manifestations of the Divine Soul, and that the
meaning of life is to reunify Creation with the source
of Creation. He also affirmed that the "crown"
of a good name, doing good deeds, is the most important
thing, even more so than studying Torah, and is within
the reach of everyone. He further asked that his day
of passing be a day of celebration. Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai died on Lag B'Omer.
The Omer is sometimes referred to as the Sefirah,
The Counting. Sefirah also means illuminating. Literally
for some and figuratively for all, it is important
to count each day and to make each day count. Eating
vegetarian may allow us to live longer and healthier
lives, as many scientific studies have shown, while
saving the lives of countless animals. Doing so illuminates
our lives as well as theirs, allowing us to be a light
In addition to resource conservation and economic
efficiency, a switch toward vegetarianism would greatly
benefit the health of individuals, the condition of
our environment, and would sharply reduce the suffering
and death of billions of animals. Further, the social,
psychological, and spiritual benefits should not be
The founder of Chasidism. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer,
known as the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name),
became known to the rest of the world on Lag B'Omer
(he died 26 years later on Shavuot in 1760). Among
his great teachings, the Baal Shem Tov said that "People
should consider themselves, and the worms, and all
creatures as friends in the universe, for we are all
created beings whose abilities are God-given."
This season, while we count the omer, we should re-educate
ourselves about the hazards of mass production and
consumption of meat and the many benefits of vegetarianism,
as well as bring offerings to our inner temples. We
can do this by practicing the powerful teachings and
highest values of Judaism. A shift toward vegetarianism
can be a major factor in the renewal of Judaism, as
it would further demonstrate that Jewish values are
not only relevant but essential to everyday personal
life and global survival.
During the counting of the omer, between Passover
and Shavuot, it is customary to read Pirkei Avot (Ethics
of Our Parents), a section of the Talmud. In it, Rabbi
Tarfon states that "It is not your obligation
to complete the task [of perfecting the world], but
neither are you free from engaging in it". Another
Talmudic sage, Ben Hay Hay, says in Pirkei Avot that
"The reward is in proportion to the effort".
Therefore, it's up to us to go beyond our good intentions
and do the best we can. Shifting toward vegetarianism
would be a great start! And as Hillel asks, "If
not now, when?"