Lag Ba’omer: Chai Rottel and Bows & Arrows

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

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 amount 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” amount of refreshments will be blessed with all forms of miraculous salvations. The source for the Chai Rottel segula apparently originates with Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam of Bobov who writes in 1912: “I heard from the holy sages of Eretz Yisrael that they have a tradition that barren women, God-forbid, should donate Chai Rottel on the yartzeit 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.[1]

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The custom of playing with bows and arrows on Lag Ba’omer is said to derive from the verse: “And the sons of Ulam were mighty men of valor, shooters of bows (archers), and had many sons, and sons’ sons.”[2] Based on this verse, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that playing with bows and arrows is a segula for having children.[3]

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 God’s protection over the world, would have been superfluous, as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai served this purpose instead.[4] So too, the Hebrew word for bow, “keshet” is the same gematria as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Another reason offered for the bows and arrows custom is in order to recall the Roman decree which 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.[5]

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the bow and arrow represents 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 towards 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.[6]

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.[7]


[1] Taamei Haminhagim pages 263-264.

[2] Divrei Hayamim I 8:40.

[3] Sefer Hamiddot.

[4] 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]”.

[5] Likutei Maharan.

[6] Torat Menachem, Hitvaduyot 3 page 77.

[7] Cited in Nitei Gavriel, Hilchot Pesach 3 page 289.

 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

13 comments

  1. I may add ‘c’chitzim b’yad gibor cain bnai hanurim’.
    I once heard that when one shoots an arrow one aims slightly above the target because of the force of gravity will lower the shot.
    The same is with children one must aim higher than their capabilities for them to achieve them.

  2. “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.”

    Well, let’s see. Said Rebbe lived from 1780-1844. In that time, no such incident occurred. Period. Indeed, no such incident ever happened to the heir to the Austrian throne. Must bubbe meises be presented without any qualification?

    “This revolt was led by Rabbi Akiva who was the primary teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai”

    Considering that Lag B’Omer has more to do with R’ Akiva than R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (the day is mentioned in no sources related to either, but at least Sefirat HaOmer is mentioned in connection with the former), this deserves to be placed first, not second. Furthermore, there’s the well-accepted suggestion that the deaths of the students were a result of fighting in the revolt, so there’s that. (By the way, R’ Akiva did not lead the revolt. The person after who it’s named led it.)

    The whole topic of Lag B’Omer is filled with questions, and we really don’t know where it comes from. R’ Leiman has given a number of shiurim on the topic. I would just like to say that the idea that donating alcohol or shooting arrows is somehow a segula for fertility is offensive and exploitative. Want a better segula? Trust in Hashem, pray to Him, give tzedaka and do teshuva, and- here’s a wild one- consult good medical experts and take their advice.

  3. I thought this blog was for adults.

  4. Nachum/Jospeh-

    I think exactly like you. Really!

    ….but it doesnt mean that I cant share some of the Lag Ba’omer folklore this time of year.

    Ari Enkin

  5. As far as I know, the “magic number” 18 as it relates to tzedaka is an Ashkenazi custom. The Sephardi analog is 26 (Shem ha’Shem in Gematria).

  6. Any possible connection with the arrow that was the symbol of the ancient alliance between Gondor and Rohan (dramatic scene in the book, not sure if it made it into the movies)? 😉

  7. Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Hillel’s sefer ad hagal hazeh (http://www.mysefer.com/product.asp?cookiecheck=yes&P_ID=2619&strPageHistory=related) does a nice job of debunking many of the myths associated with lag b’omer

  8. Shmuel: Not in the movie; they used the signal fires only- which always remind me of Rosh Chodesh.

  9. A nice, more scholarly, explanation of Chai Rottel:
    http://www.moreshet.co.il/web/shut/shut2.asp?id=22443

  10. Further to the above, the section in “טעמי המנהגים ומקורי הדינים” is relatively huge (from p. רנו to p. רעח). I just looked at my hardcopy, but softcopy is available at http://hebrewbooks.org/14556

  11. Shlomo — to be fair, though, see footnote 1 above which points to the same source as your “nice, more scholarly, explanation”.

  12. The source is the same but I thought the surrounding explanation was, um, nicer and more scholarly.

  13. Not in the movie; they used the signal fires only- which always remind me of Rosh Chodesh.

    A great moment — I was learning Mishna Rosh HaShana with my son when we saw that part in the movie together . . .

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