The Counting of the Omer recounts the fifty days between the Jews emancipation in Egypt and the spiritual liberation of the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot. The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer is the Jewish holiday Lag B’Omer. This Jewish holiday is celebrated primarily for two different reasons, the end of a plague upon the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva and the passing of one his students, the first to publicly teach the Kabbalah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
During the Counting of the Omer, the Talmud states that 24,000 of the students of Rabbi Akiva died from a divine-sent plague because they did not act respectfully towards one another. The Jewish holiday Lag B’Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, because it’s the day the plague ended. Some believe that the students died as part of a Roman attempt to destroy Judaism after the Bar Kokhba revolt.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
After the plague had killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students, he would only teach five more before the end of his life. One of them was Rabbi bar Yochai. Yochai went on to become one of the greatest Torah teachers of his generation and was the first to publicly teach the deepest secrets of Kabbalah and is believed to be the author of the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. There is even a source in the Kabbalah that says that Rabbi Yochai was the living reincarnation of Moses. Rabbi Yochai’s death is celebrated on the Jewish holiday Lag B’Omer and many of its customs stem from Yochai’s final teachings before his passing. Many people light bonfires on the Jewish holiday because Rabbi Yochai brought a spiritual light into the world. Also, bonfires are lit on the Jewish holiday because on the day of his passing, Rabbi Yochai completed his final teachings deep into the evening but daylight persisted until his final words had been spoken.
Celebrating Lag B’Omer
On Lag B’Omer, the Jewish holiday is celebrated by families going on picnics and outings, and children go out into the fields with their teachers and shoot rubber arrows and play with bats and balls. Another popular Jewish holiday custom is to light a bonfire symbolizing the light that Rabbi Yochai brought into this world. In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar bar Simeon, tens of thousands of Jews gather to celebrate the Jewish holiday by lighting torches, singing songs and feasting.