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The commentators note that the both Purim and Lag Ba’Omer fall on the same day of the week each year. The si’man given for this phenomenon is the Hebrew word pelog, translated as “half.” The Hebrew word pelag has three letters pei, lammed and gimmel. Pei stands for Purim. Lammed and gimmel are the numeric equivalent of thirty-three thus referring to Lag Ba’Omer, the thirty-third day of the Omer. This siman is interpreted to mean that on whichever day of the week Purim falls will be the same day in the week in which Lag Ba’Omer will occur.
What is the symbolic significance of this relationship between Purim and Lag Ba’Omer?
On Lag Ba’Omer we commemorate the death of Rabban Shimon Ben Yochai. Rabban Shimon was the author of the Zohar, a collection of kabalistic writings on the Torah. On the day of his death he revealed the Zohar to his students. It is customary to go to his burial place in Maron and light fires in his honor.
Why do we commemorate Rabban Shimon bar Yochai more than any other Torah giant? In the sefer Aileh Haim Mo’ad’ai, Rav Eliyahu Schlessinger answers that Rabban Shimon’s greatness is that he gave the Jewish people a guarantee that Torah will never be forgotten by them.
The Gemarah (Shabbos 138b) relates that the Rabbis were once studying and taught that in the future Torah will be forgotten from the Jewish people. They derived this from a posuk. “Behold days are coming says Hashem and I will send famine into the land, not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water but to hear the word of Hashem. And they shall wander from sea to sea and from the north to the east they shall run to and fro to see the word of Hashem but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:11,12). The Gemarah then quotes Rabban Shimon bar Yochai who disagrees and says “chas vasholom,” i.e., G-d forbid, that Torah will be forgotten by the Jewish people for it says in the Torah “For it shall never be forgotten form the mouth of your children” (Devarim 31). Rabban Shimon proceeds to interpret the other posuk to mean only that the Torah will not be clearly understood, not that it will be forgotten entirely. The commentators explain that in order to prevent Torah from being forgotten by the Jewish people Rabban Shimon Ben Yochai revealed the secrets of the Torah in the Zohar. This gave them a powerful and important tool to guarantee that it never be forgotten.
Indeed, this is one of the reasons we light fires on Lag Ba’Omer. Forgetting Torah is associated with darkness. The Hebrew word for darkness is “choshech,” ches, shin and chaf. This word has the same letters as the word sh’ko’ach, shin, chaf and ches, which is translated as “to forget.” We light fires to removes darkness as a symbolic expression that the due to Rabban Shimon bar Yochai, Torah has not been forgotten by the Jewish people.
Thus on Lag Ba’Omer we celebrate that Torah was not forgotten by the Jewish people although at dark times in our history it may have seemed that it would.
During the era of the Purim miracle there was a decree for the complete annihilation of the Jewish people. It appeared as though Hashem had forgotten His people. The miracle of Purim revealed that no matter how intense the darkness, Hashem does not forget the Jewish people.
We now may understand the relation between the two holidays. Purim is holiday in which we celebrate that Hashem does not forget His People. Lag Ba’Omer is the holiday in which we celebrate that even in the darkest of times we will never forget Hashem’s Torah. Together both holidays represent the complete relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Each holiday is part of the whole. We thus refer to them with the word pelag.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004