(JNS.org) Tens of thousands of Israelis traveled to the gravesite of famed sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (“Rabbi Shimon”) at Mount Meron this weekend for the Lag B’Omer holiday.
The annual Lag B’Omer celebrations at Meron, in Israel’s northern Galilee, represent some of the largest public gatherings in the country, attracting mostly Israelis from the Jewish state’s haredi communities.
This year’s festivities commenced with the lighting of a major bonfire at 1:15 a.m. Sunday by Rebbe Nachum Dov Brayer, leader of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty. Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan all attended the bonfire.
Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the seven-week Omer period between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Though deemed a relatively minor Jewish holiday, Lag B’Omer holds major spiritual significance in Judaism’s mystical Kabbalistic tradition.
According to Jewish tradition, Rabbi Shimon—a leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva—passed away on the date of Lag B'Omer in the 2nd century A.D. Tradition also states Rabbi Shimon transmitted the Zohar, the foundational Kabbalistic text he authored, on Lag B’Omer. Bonfires are lit on the holiday to celebrate the spiritual light Rabbi Shimon brought into the world with the mystical text.
Also on Lag B’Omer, Jews cease to mourn the deaths of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students. A deadly plague caused by the students’ disrespect for each other stopped abruptly on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, coinciding with Lag B’Omer, according to the Talmud. Only five students—including Rabbi Shimon—survived the plague.