Lag B'Omer at Meron
Counting of the Omer
In the Jewish calendar, the holiday of Passover marks the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. According to the history as told in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, was received 50 days after the Jews left Egypt at Mount Sinai.
The seven weeks spanning those two events are called "Sephirat HaOmer", the Counting of the Omer. Starting on the second night of Passover, Jews make the counting of each day of the Omer part of their daily prayers. They desire to reenact a bit of the excitement that the Children of Israel felt as they anticipated receiving God's Word at Mount Sinai. To recapture a bit of this sense of awe, during these seven weeks religious Jews refrain from listening to music or big celebrations such as weddings. Many Jews do not attend any forms of entertainment or listen to music, and it is customary not to cut one's hair or shave.
The thirty-third day of this 50-day period is a break in the Omer period. Tradition tells us that during the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the second century C.E., many of the students/soldiers of Rabbi Bar Kochba, the revolt's leader, fell ill, and thousands died. On the thirty-third day of the Omer, the counting, they suddenly regained their health, and ever since that time, the thirty-third day has been a mini-holiday for Jews. The name of the day, Lag B'Omer, refers to the letters "lamed" and "gimel" of the Hebrew alphabet, which signify the number 33.
Lag B'Omer is also the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the first Kabbalistic work, the Zohar. When the ARI, the great Kabbalist of the 16th century, came to Tzfat, one of the customs that he instituted was that of visiting the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mt. Meron on Lag B'Omer. In the 19th century, a new tradition was added -- taking a Torah scroll from the home of the Abu family in Tzfat and walking it to Mt. Meron.
Today, the Abu Torah scroll is ceremoniously taken to the Central Bus Station of Tzfat and driven to Meron, and with that the festivities of Lag B'Omer begin. Throngs of people from all over Israel - actually, from all over the world - make their way to Meron to pray at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, and to ask for his intercession in the heavens for health, wages, and peace in the home. Hassidic and Sephardic (eastern and North African) Jews who have always been close to Kabbalistic thought are particularly close to this tradition. Hundreds of thousands of people make their way to Meron during the 24-hour period of Lag B'Omer. Busses run between Meron and Tzfat throughout the day and night and many families bring their 3-year-old sons for their first haircuts on Lag B'Omer at the tomb, another kabbalistic tradition instituted by the ARI of Tzfat
There are many people who claim that they wouldn't go near Mount Meron on Lag B'Omer for anything. The crowds, the hassles and the traffic jams create an atmosphere that many people find difficult to deal with. But for many others, it's a "must" on their schedule, an experience that is not to be missed.