Jerusalem - Hundreds of thousands of Jews are making their way to the Galilean city of Meron Saturday night and Sunday, participating in the annual celebration of Lag Ba’Omer.
Police in the quiet town situated just one mountain away from the mystical city of Tzfat are expecting half a million Jews to arrive, traveling in busses, private cars, and some even on foot. As of 9:30pm Saturday night, 20,000 people had already arrived.
Lag Ba’Omer is the 33rd day of the 50 day count between the holiday of Pesach (Passover), at which time the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, and the holiday of Shavuot, at which time they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. However, it is also the day of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (sometimes known by the acronym Rashbi), was a rabbi in the time of the Mishna, after the destruction of the Second Temple. The pre-eminent disciple of the great Rabbi Akiva, he was – like his predecessor – a vocal opponent of the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel, and was forced to go into hiding for 13 years with his son, Rabbi Eliezer, in order to avoid imprisonment by the Romans.
However, Rabbi Shimon’s foremost legacy is the Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, the teachings of Jewish mysticism. It is primarily for this reason that the day of his passing is celebrated by the Jewish people. Tradition records that on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon revealed to his students the deepest secrets of mysticism, causing a day which would have been sorrowful and bitter to become a day of celebration and rejoicing.
Moreover, prior to this day, the 33rd day of the Omer corresponded to the end of a plague which ravaged the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva (though some interpretations say many of the students died participating in the Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans, an effort in which Rabbi Akiva was a leading figure), causing the day to be one of celebration independent of a relationship to Rabbi Shimon.
Approximately 4,000 police officers with cars, helicopters, and a Zeppelin aircraft will be on hand to guide and protect the pilgrims. Magen David Adom emergency medical services personnel will also be present.
Visitors are also being encouraged not to attempt to make it all the way to Meron in personal automobiles, but to park in designated parking lots and avail themselves of busses and shuttles which will be provided for their use in accessing the site.