The grave of Talmudic sage Shimon Bar Yochai will tonight (Wednesday) be the venue for one of the more festive holidays in Israel – Lag B’Omer.
Lag B’Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the Count of the Omer, which begins on the second day of Passover and ends on Shavuot, as commanded in the Bible (Leviticus 23:15–16).
Lag B’Omer is itself an extra-biblical holiday the origin of which remains something of a mystery. There are numerous myths, such as the story of Rabbi Akiva, a first century CE religious leader whose disciples were dying by the thousands to a mysterious plague, only to have the plague disappear under equally mysterious circumstances on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer.
Another tale is that Lag B’Omer marks the passing of Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva’s greatest disciple and the supposed author of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.
For Orthodox Jews, the main event takes place in the small Galilee community of Meron, where Bar Yochai’s grave is located. Given the large number of people who usually show up, over 1,000 police and several helicopters are deployed at Meron to prevent forest fires.
Elsewhere across the country, Israelis will gather to light bonfires, creating a fun family atmosphere for most. Israeli children begin collecting scrap wood already weeks in advance in anticipation of Lag B’Omer.
Within the Messianic community, Lag B’Omer is a subject of some controversy. Many Jewish believers take part in the celebrations as it is a time of warm fellowship with a patriotic Jewish theme. But many feel it is wrong to mark the holiday due to the anti-Messianic side story that accompanies Rabbi Akiva’s activities in the Holy Land two thousand years ago.
Rabbi Akiva was the primary backer of the Bar Kochva Revolt against Rome, going so far as to declare the uprising’s leader, Simon Bar Kochva, to be the promised Messiah.
Obviously, Jewish believers in Yeshua at the time had a major problem with this, even if they wanted to support the revolt. When Yeshua’s followers refused to follow another “messiah,” Rabbi Akiva and the majority of the Jews who looked to him for leadership are said to have labeled the Jewish believers in Yeshua as traitors.