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Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (approx. 15-135 C.E.)
During "Sefirat Ha'Omer"
or the "Sfira" as it is usually referred to, observant Jews
commemorate the loss of thousands of the students of the great 2nd
century sage, Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud relates that due to
lack of respect for each other, Rabbi Akiva's students were
struck with a terrible plague. On the 33rd day of the Omer, the plague
ended, but nearly all of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students had
perished. To commemorate the tragic loss of these Torah Scholars,
32 days of the Omer are marked as days of mourning, during which
observant Jews refrain from marrying, shaving, cutting hair and
listening to live music.
Rabbi Akiba was active in the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome. He believed that Bar Kokhba was the Moshiach (messiah), though his contemporary rabbis openly ridiculed him for that belief (the Talmud records another rabbi as saying, "Akiba, grass will grow in your cheeks and still the son of David will not have come.") When the Bar Kokhba rebellion failed, Rabbi Akiba was taken by the Roman authorities and tortured to death.
One of Rabbi Akiva's surviving disciples, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is also deeply connected with the 33rd day of the Omer. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai spent his life studying the Kabbalah, the hidden esoteric aspects of the Torah. According to tradition, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai finished revealing his teachings, recorded in the famed book, the holy Zohar. He died that evening, and was buried in the cave on Mount Meron, near Safed, where he had lived.
Mazor Guide to Lag b'Omer brings you much more about the holiday, its meaning and its traditions... See the links below.
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