Lag Ba’Omer and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
One of the traditions attributes Lag Ba’Omer to the story of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva’s pupil. Alike the tradition attributed to the Bar Kochba rebellion, this tradition also connects between Lag Ba’Omer and the revolt against the Romans. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s activity was during the period that followed the Bar Kochba rebellion. He is recalled as one who was against the Romans and therefore was forced to flee and hide in a cave in Pekiin for 13 years, together with his son Elazar.
The legend from the Talmud:
Rabbi Yehuda (Bar Ilaei) and Rabbi Yossi (Bar Kisma) and Rabbi Shimon (Bar Yochai) and they lived among strangers. Rabbi Yehuda said: How pleasant are the acts of this nation they made markets, they made bridges, they made baths. Rabbi Yossi was silent. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: Everything they made – they only made for themselves. They made markets – so that they could sit prostitutes in them, baths – to refine themselves, bridges – to take customs duties. Yehuda walked amongst the strangers and spoke of them, and they told the government. They said: Yehuda who exalted us, shall be exalted, Yossi who was silent – shall be exiled to Zipporri and Shimon who criticized – shall be killed.
(Talmud Bavli Shabbat 33:72)
Three sages were the pupils of Rabbi Akiva who were certified as rabbis by him after the Bar Kochba rebellion and continued to develop the oral Torah. Their words constitute a basis for many laws in the Mishnah which was prepared several tens of years later in 200 AD approximately by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi. In the period when he was staying in the cave, according to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar which is the basis for the Kabbalah, and therefore many kabbalistic customs were connected with Lab Ba’Omer. There are those who also connect the custom of taking a bow and arrow out to the fields and explain this pursuant to the story that at the time of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai no rainbow was seen which symbolized protection against troubles, as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai wanted to ensure that there shall be protection of the people all the days of his life against troubles.
Tradition determined that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried at Mount Meron and there are testimonies from the Middle Ages that Jewish pilgrims customarily make pilgrimage to his tomb and lit candles and prayed. The Kabbalah determined that his birthday, the day that he became a rabbi, the date of his wedding and the date of his death to be Lag Ba’Omer, whereby when the Kabbalists reached Zefat in the 16th century they used to have a celebration on his tomb on Lag Ba’Omer, in memory of those dates. The custom of pilgrimage to Meron remains to this day. Tens of thousands of people come to his tomb on Lab Ba’Omer, light candles and bonfires, pray and are joyful. The main custom is the custom of the first hair cutting ceremony for boys aged three.