On Sunday, Klal Yisrael will mark one of the most singular dates on the Jewish calendar.
An oasis of joy within a period of mourning, it is a day of great celebration. It is also a day of teshuvah, of earnest tefillah, a time that has been compared to Yom Kippur.
It marks the yahrtzeit of the author of the Zohar Hakadosh, the primary sefer of Kabbalah. In the famous words of the Beis Aharon, the Rebbe of Karlin, “Whoever has emunah in Rashbi has chizuk [from] Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. Just as Hakadosh Baruch Hu is Hashem for all, so is Reb Shimon for all — even for those who are inferior.”
Thousands will be spending Shabbos in Meron or in nearby Tzefas, and hundreds of thousands of others will be traveling to the tziyun of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai on Motzoei Shabbos and Sunday.
The greatness of being in Meron on Lag BaOmer cannot possibly be overestimated. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh is said to have climbed up the hill to the kever on his hands and knees. The Ari Hakadosh traveled from his home in Egypt to celebrate the chalakah, the first haircut, of his son in Meron.
Harav Shlomk’e, the Rebbe of Zhvil, zy”a, said that, like the expenses of Shabbos, Yom Tov and s’char limud, which are not deducted from the set amount of parnassah ordained for each Yid on Rosh Hashanah, so the expenses of traveling to Meron are not deducted from the cheshbon.
But as the Beis Aharon of Karlin said, all of us, regardless of where we are located, have a connection to Rabi Shimon.
A bachur once approached the Gerrer Rebbe, zy”a, the Beis Yisrael, to ask for a brachah before the trip.
The Rebbe asked where he was going.
“To Meron,” the bachur replied.
“Why?” the Rebbe pressed.
“To Rabi Shimon,” the bachur explained.
“For Rabi Shimon you don’t have to travel to Meron,” the Rebbe said. “You can meet him in every perek Mishnayos. Go learn!”
In his sefer Yaaros Dvash, Harav Yonasan Eibeschutz, zt”l, writes that Lag BaOmer is a special time for teshuvah and urges that whoever has the fear of Hashem in his heart should make certain to use the day wisely. “For the zechus of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai aids one who seeks to purify…”
Sefarim teach us that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was a gilgul of Moshe Rabbeinu, and it is noteworthy that Lag BaOmer falls on the same day of the week as the previous seventh day of Adar, the date that Moshe Rabbeinu was born and niftar. It is also the same day of the week as the fourth day of Sukkos the following year. According to many authorities, the fourth day of Sukkos is the ushpizin of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Moshe Rabbeinu symbolized the Written Torah; Rabi Akiva, the Oral Torah. Since Rabi Akiva was one of the Asarah Harugei Malchus who were tragically killed by the Romans, we celebrate instead the yahrtzeit of his foremost talmid, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai.
While 300 halachos were forgotten on the day Moshe Rabbeinu was niftar, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai revealed the deepest, most esoteric teachings of the Zohar on Lag BaOmer, in his final hours in this world.
The solemnity of this day has been compared to that of Yom Kippur, but this is also a day of music and dancing as we celebrate the Torah Sheb’al Peh.
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For generations, the elders of the city of Tzefas would faithfully transmit the following story:
When the Arizal ascended to Meron with his talmidim, among those who had gathered at the kever was an elderly man with a shining countenance who was considerably taller than the others. At one point during the joyous dancing, the Arizal began to dance with this elderly man and then reached out to the shamash who had accompanied him. The three began to dance with great deveikus.
Later, the talmidim asked the Arizal why he had seen fit to include the shamash.
“If Rabi Shimon bar Yochai saw fit to dance with him, I shouldn’t?”
It was then that the greatness of the shamash, Harav Elazar Azkari, who would later author the Sefer Chareidim, was revealed.
Lag BaOmer is a day famed for its miracles, a day when so many have merited to have their tefillos accepted. Wherever we are, we can be in Meron in thought and connect with Rabi Shimon.
And as we do so, let us make an extra effort to show respect for each other, for we cannot possibly know the true worth of a Yid. As we celebrate the Hidden Torah, let us remember that behind the veneer of a simple shopkeeper or shamash there may very well be a hidden tzaddik.