The great Joy of Lag B’omer
Our sages advise us to make good use of this holy day, Lag B’Omer.
In a letter to his followers, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes, “Rejoice on this day… celebrate by singing praises to God from the book of Psalms, and not God forbid by lightheaded frivolity.”
On the day of Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day from the second night of Passover, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the seminal book on mysticism known as the Zohar, was preparing to leave this world. He told his son, Rabbi Elozar, and the students gathered around him, “This is an auspicious time. I will now reveal Divine secrets of the Bible-Torah that I have never yet disclosed so that I will arrive in the world to come without reason for embarrassment. I see that today is a special and unique day….”
He instructed his student, Rabbi Abba, to write down what he was about to say, Rabbi Elozar, his son, to repeat it, and the other students to listen carefully. He then revealed to them the section of the Zohar known as Idra Zuta. At that time, the Holiness of Rabbi Shimon was so intense that none of the students could gaze upon him, and throughout the entire day, a fire surrounded the house, keeping everyone else at a distance.
Rabbi Abba wrote: “While I was writing, and Rabbi Shimon was quoting a verse from the Bible, he stopped at the word Chaim (‘life’). I waited, wanting to continue, but did not raise my head to see why he had stopped, for I could not look at the bright light he radiated. Suddenly, I heard a voice call out another verse from the Bible that included the word Chaim again, and then another voice called out another verse. I fell to the ground and wept. When the fire subsided and the light faded away, I saw that the great luminary, Rabbi Shimon, had passed away. He was lying on his right side, with a smile on his face.”
Soon afterward, residents of nearby Tzipori came to take Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to bury him in their village, but the inhabitants of Meron (a city in the northern part of Israel) sent them away. Meanwhile, the bed, now outside the house, levitated while a fire burned before it. A voice rang out, “Come and gather to celebrate (the life of) Rabbi Shimon!” When they entered the cave in which he would be buried, another voice was heard, coming from within: “This man shakes up the world and all its kingdoms; many adversaries in Heaven are silenced because of his merit; God glories in him daily. Fortunate is his portion, both Above and below!”
Rabbi Elazar Azkari, who lived approximately 500 years ago, was a clerk in a house of study in Tzfat (a city in Northern Israel) and was regarded as simple. No one knew of his Holiness, piety, and scholarship. On Lag B’Omer, Rabbi Elazar Azkari traveled to the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, and while there, he met the great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and his students and danced with them. He also danced with an older man dressed in white, dancing with intense joy. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria took hold of the older man’s hands, danced with him, and then danced with Rabbi Elazar Azkari.
After leaving, the students asked Rabbi Yitzchak, “You must have danced with the elderly man because he is a great person, but why did you dance with the clerk? He is indeed God-fearing, but is it fitting for you to dance with him?”
Rabbi Yitzchak laughed and said, “If Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai danced with him, is it not an honor for me to dance with him?”
A later account by Rabbi Asher Zelig Margolies (1941) described the pilgrimage to the tomb on Lag B’Omer in detail: “It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day, the joy and rejoicing… which takes place in Meron on Lag B’Omer. It is a day of great happiness in the upper and lower worlds …it is rejoicing like the world-to-come.
Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of Holiness, with the joy of singing holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls near the holy burial sites of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elozar… Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders, distributing wine and cakes, calling out L’Chaim — to life — and exchanging blessings.”
Chapter 98 www.aspiritualsoulbook.com