Today is the 33rd day, four weeks and five days of the counting of the Omer. Today is known as Lag b’Omer, in commemoration of the Talmudic figure, Shimon bar Yochai. The authorship of the Zohar, a Jewish mystical work is attributed to him; however, according to scholarly research, the Zohar has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon, a Spanish Rabbi and kabbalist, who lived during the thirteenth century.
Many in Israel light bonfires on Lag b’Omer [although, perhaps, not this year] especially in Meron, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Although an actual person, who is mentioned in the Talmud, he has become somewhat of a legendary figure, because of the Zohar, where he is the main character. He is honored as having revealed the secrets of the Torah, while Moses de Leon is assigned a lesser seat amongst rabbis, memoralized in relative obscurity.
The day is also the day when the plague that had been taking the lives of R’ Akiva’s students stopped, after decimating twelve thousand pairs of his students. In fact, the historical Shimon ben Yochai is said to have been amongst the few who remained alive at the time. He is credited with superhuman feats in the Talmud, thus sparking the beginning of his legendary status through the Zohar. Yet, instead of viewing the bonfires as symbolic as the light of wisdom emanating from him, I prefer to perceive the flames of the bonfires as representative of the light of Torah.
All the same, on Lag b’Omer, many have barbecues, in lieu of bonfires; and, I must admit that I have been craving a kosher hamburger, as well as a kosher hot dog or two ever since lunch time today. One last point, as food for thought, regarding the students of R. Akiva. According to the Talmud, the reason attributed to their deaths was a lack of respect towards each other. By way of a negative example, we can learn through the serious repercussions of their disrespect, to focus on our relationships with others, especially family and friends, with respect, tolerance, and forbearance to the other, in full recognition of their positive qualities and contributions as unique persons.