Hundreds of thousands of Jews are expected in Meron to celebrate Lag Ba'Omer, "Hillula deRabbi Shimon Bar Yochai". The holiday marks the passing of the famous sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi).
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. Their food was miraculously provided for by a carob tree and a well. When they had been notified that the emperor had died, they came out but they were very upset with what they saw, people working the land. How can they leave eternal life (Torah) to occupy themselves with temporary life? They were so upset that with their holy gaze they burned everything that came into sight. Then, a heavenly voice came out and told them to go back into the cave, for they were not meant to destroy the world. After a thirteenth year, they came out again. Then, whatever Rabbi Shimon’s son destroyed, his father healed. He said to his son: My son, the Torah study of me and you is enough to sustain the world.
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 of celebration and rejoicing. He was buried in Meron.
Nearby Tsfat was the seat of Kabbalah (Jewish hidden lore) study from the days of the Ari Hakadosh, Rabbi Isaac Luria, in the sixteenth century.
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.Rashbi is revered as a mystic and a supremely pious sage.
The night of Lag Ba'Omer, The Boyaner Hassidic Rabbi lights the first flame of the festivities and the thousands who have come to Meron continue to sing and dance through the night. Praising Rashbi, expressing the joy of being a Jew, calling on G-d to deliver his people from danger, and describing their confidence that He purifies them from transgressions.
This year at least over 500,000 are expected to reach the Galilee town!
Preparations are taking place elsewhere in the country as well. Children across Israel are gathering wood for the traditional Lag B'Omer bonfires.
A Chalaka or Upsherin in Yiddish (אפשערן), is a haircutting ceremony held when a Jewish boy turns three-years-old and receives his first haircut. In Israel, there is a strong tradition to do it at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, especially on Lag BaOmer.