Approximately 75,000 – 100,000 Jewish pilgrims who participated in the Lag Ba’omer celebrations on Mount Meron Thursday night were in horror after at least 45 people were killed and over a hundred were injured in a stampede by the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into a closed-in complex, crushing dozens of people against fences. While all the injured were evacuated from the scene, many people required psychological aid, including medical volunteers. The stories of the event are truly horrific and very sad and those who helped with the rescuing are very traumatized.
Lag B’Omer is a non-biblical holiday. It is celebrated on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The Hebrew letter “Lamed” equals 30 and the Hebrew letter “Gimmel” equals 3, hence “LaG”.
This holiday commemorates a couple of important events in Jewish history. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged among the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva (teacher of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities proscribed by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of loving and respecting one’s fellow (ahavat Yisrael).
The other main event is remembering the death of Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century AD, was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah, and is the author of the classic text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”
Please remember to pray for the families of these who have lost their lives. I heard of one man who was killed who leaves behind 9 very young children.