Passing Herzliya and Netanya, we travel north along the scenic coastal plain and then turn eastwards through the plain of Armageddon, with a view of biblical Megiddo.
Tiberias, on the shores of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee was built by Herod Antipas early in the first century. It has many archaeological remains from the Mishnah and Talmud period (first to fifth centuries) including the graves of three prominent sages, two of which we will see.
Due to his reputation as a miracle worker, the grave of Rabbi Baal HaNes, a pupil of Rabbi Akiva who is buried not far away, is possibly one of the most visited by both religious and non-religious Jews.
The original structure built over the grave of Rabbi Meir was destroyed during an earthquake in 1337 and its exact location was lost. Miraculously the two stone pillars which marked his grave were found and the present building was erected in 1867. The two stone pillars are now on the tomb. The two domes, one blue and one white are visible from afar.
In addition to separate prayer areas for men and women there are also two study areas, one for Ashkenazim and one for Sepharаdim. Be prepared for a mini market palace selling candles, religious books and artifacts, CD’s, posters of famous rabbis and head coverings.
Far more subdued is the tomb of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon or Moses Maimonides, the Rambam. A world renowned sage, scholar, philosopher and doctor, author of the 14 volume “Mishne Torah”, he is revered by Jew and non-Jew alike.
He died in Egypt round 1235 and his wish was to be buried in Tiberias. It is said that the camel bearing his body stopped alongside the grave of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, a first century sage who escaped from Jerusalem in 70 CE when it was destroyed by the Romans, and refused to move.
In Safed we will walk through the alleys of the old city, stopping at the synagogue of the Ari haKadosh, Rabbi Isaac Luria, mystic and student of the Kabala, as well as at the visitors’ center and the artists’ galleries.
Mount Meron is the site of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Rashbi, a great sage of the second century who is credited with writing the first book on the Kabala, the Zohar. Supposedly written during the thirteen years he and his son hid from the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple.
As he died on Lag BaOmer, a day of celebration as it was the day that the plague which killed Rabbi Akiva’s students ended, his burial site has become an annual mass pilgrimage site. Tents are pitched, bonfires are lit and three year old boys to have their first haircut.
As the tomb is also a synagogue and so has separate entrances for men and women. As at the tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes, here too there are stalls offering religious artifacts, candles and posters.