(May 23, 2019 / JNS) Despite a massive heat wave, thousands converged on the northern Israeli town of Meron from Wednesday night through Thursday to celebrate Lag B’Omer at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, seminal work on Jewish mysticism.
The 33rd day of the biblically commanded calendar count from Passover to Shavuot, known as Lag B’Omer, has grown to become a national holiday, the epicenter of which is the burial site of the rabbi, an illustrious second-century student of Rabbi Akiva who is considered to be the one responsible for introducing mysticism into the body of Jewish knowledge and practice, and who passed away on the 33rd day of the Omer count.
Bar Yochai, otherwise known by the acronym “Rashbi,” was also a political figure, whose open animosity towards the Roman occupation made him a target of the empire, leading him to flee to a cave with his son, Rabbi Elazar. There they lived for 13 years, expounding upon the Torah and surviving on the fruit of an adjoining carob tree and water from a spring, both of which are said to have miraculously sprung up on the site.
The celebration of his contribution to Jewish tradition and knowledge is commemorated with the lighting of bonfires, symbolic of Kabbalah as the “Torah of fire.”
At 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the traditional Meron bonfire was lit by Boyaner Rebbe Nahum Dov Breier.
Some 250,000 to 500,000 people are expected in Meron during the holiday, with 5,000 police officers, 200 ambulances, 100 firefighters and dozens of emergency medical staff present in Meron, armed with drones, cameras, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday for celebrants.
Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry reportedly allocated more than $4.25 million to the event, which is marked by copious amounts of food and drink provided to visitors throughout the day, free of charge.
Due to the heat wave, police limited the height of all bonfires to 5 feet.