Hundreds of thousands of people are on their way to the Galilee town of Meron, where the “Divine Tannaitic Sage” Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried, for Lag BaOmer commemorations.
The minor holiday of Lag BaOmer begins this evening (Monday) and lasts until Tuesday at sundown. Its name comes from the fact that it is the 33rd day of the Omer counting period between the Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) holidays; the sum of the value of the two Hebrew letters that spell lag, lamed and gimmel, is 33.
Much about this day is "shrouded in mystery," as the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren - Chief Rabbi of Israel and of the IDF - once stated. He explained that he had considered setting Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers on Lag BaOmer, but feared that it might "cause harm to the general significance, shrouded in mystery as it is, of that historic day."
Lag BaOmer is the traditional date of death of the saintly Rabbi Shimon, considered to be the author of the main work of the Kabbalah, the Zohar. He is buried in Meron at a site now known as Kever Rashbi.
It also marks the end of a plague that struck down some 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, as well as the failed but heroic attempt by Bar Kokhba to throw off the Roman yoke in 135 C.E.
All-night bonfires, singing, dancing, prayers and the traditional first-time haircuts for three-year-old boys are part of the Lag BaOmer commemorations, and particularly in Meron. Every year just prior to this date, throngs of people begin making their way northward to spend days or hours at or near the holy gravesite of Rabbi Shimon.
Government efforts to organize and safeguard the event reached record proportions this year. A total of 7 million shekels was spent, including 4.5 million for infrastructures, roads, parking lots, lighting and even a terminal for the thousands of buses to drop off and pick up their passengers. Another 2 million went towards water and drinking spots, garbage collection points, and public services such as Magen David Adom first aid, firefighting, security, ushers, and the like.
Among the visitors scheduled to arrive on Monday night will be Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party. He arrived last week as well, overseeing the preparations for the major event.