Last night marked the beginning of the festive and joyous holiday of Lag BaOmer. Lag BaOmer, celebrated on the 33rd night of the counting of the Omer marks the passing of one of Judaism’s greatest sages, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is credited as the author of the Jewish mystical work of the Zohar – the foundational text of Kabbalah. He is known to have instructed his disciples to mark the day of his passing with joy.
Prior to Shimon bar Yochai, the esoteric and deeper meanings of the Torah were only known and studied by a select few scholars. His major contribution to Judaism was disseminating the teachings of the mystical dimension of Judaism to his disciples. In doing so he was instrumental in revealing this hidden aspect of the Torah – also known as the “soul” of the Torah (as opposed to the body of the Torah, which includes the Talmud and the laws) to a wider segment of the Jewish people.
This holiday is often celebrated with music, dancing, barbeques, outdoor activities, archery, bon-fires, and parades. In Israel many people come from all over the country to pray and dance by the grave of Shimon bar Yochai in Meron. Yours truly, participated in the celebration at Meron on Saturday night!
The celebration in Meron is known for being a particularly moving and beautiful spectacle to behold. Thousands of Jews of all different backgrounds, levels of observance, and attire converge here and sway and dance together in a fascinating display of Jewish unity. Unity and ahavas Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew) is of course another major theme of the holiday. Jewish tradition records that all of Rabbi Akiva’s students died of a plague – a divine punishment for not respecting one another. On Lag BaOmer the plague ended and so it is very important on this day that we recommit ourselves to loving our fellow Jews and respecting one another. Shabbat shalom and chag samayach!
 ‘Coincidentally’ through no planning of my own it almost worked out that this would be my 33rd article for GTJ, but sadly it is number 34.