Lag BaOmer, also Lag B’Omer, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.
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This day marks the hillula (celebration, interpreted by some as anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendor), a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. This association has spawned several well-known customs and practices on Lag BaOmer, including the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimages to the tomb of Bar Yochai in the northern Israeli town of Meron, and various customs at the tomb itself.
The origins of Lag BaOmer as a minor festival are unclear. The date is mentioned explicitly for the first time in the 13th century by the Talmudist Meiri in his gloss to Yevamot 62b. The Talmudic passage states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a divinely-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. Meiri named Lag BaOmer as the day when, “according to a tradition of the geonim”, the “plague” ended.
After the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, he was left with only five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation, and is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. The Zohar calls the day of Bar Yochai’s death a hillula. Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria and author of Etz Chaim, was the first to name Lag BaOmer as the date of Bar Yochai’s hillula. According to the Zohar , on the day of Bar Yochai’s death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah. Lag BaOmer therefore became a day of celebration of the great light (i.e., wisdom) that Bar Yochai brought into the world.