SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 21: Bonfires will light up many Jewish communities tonight as families observe the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer. According to the Talmud, it was during the time of Rabbi Akiva that a plague took the lives of 24,000 of his students, leaving only a handful; it was among these five spared students that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would emerge, eventually becoming a great Torah teacher and the one who would reveal “the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah” on his deathbed. Today celebrates a break in the plague and the “spiritual light” that bar Yochai gave to the world through his teachings. (Judaism 101 has details.)
Lag BaOmer is calculated as the 33rd day of Omer—that is, a unit of measure used to count the days between Passover and Shavu’ot. (Aish has Omer meditations and more.) Although much of Omer is spent in mourning, today is a joyful exception: weddings and parties are permitted and many families go on picnics. (Read more at Wikipedia.)
In Cincinnati, 300 people are expected for an annual community barbecue; in Brooklyn, a children’s parade will feature 50 floats depicting scenes of Jewish life; in South Florida, more than 10,000 are expected for a Jewish Unity Parade and children’s rally. (Visit Chabad.org for more.)
The most traditional rite takes place at Meron, in Israel, though, at the burial spot of Rabbi Shimon bar Chai: Hundreds of thousands gather for bonfires, songs and food, per the request of bar Yochai himself. The Jerusalem Post has an article about an effort this year among some groups to reschedule the observance so preparation for the bonfires doesn’t spoil the Sabbath.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.