Lag b'Omer 5779

Holiday #12 (255) Lag b'Omer 5779 May 22-23
The Zohar GroupPraises of Rabbi Shimon Bar YochaiLaws & Customs

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Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and His Circle

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, often referred to simply as Rashbi (an acronym taken from the initials Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), lived during the era of Roman persecution (2nd century CE). He was one of the foremost students of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon was one of the teachers of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the revered compiler of the six orders of the Mishnah.

Around the year 3909 (149 CE) Rabbi Shimon was forced to flee from the Roman authorities. He hid in a cave for thirteen years together with his son Rabbi Elazar, where they studied Torah day and night. They were miraculously sustained by the fruit of a carob tree and water from a spring until the emperor died and the sentence upon them was annulled.

During his stay in the cave, Rabbi Shimon apparently wrote the main body of the Zohar, described as "the First Mishnah." One of his foremost disciples, Rabbi Abba, recorded the bulk of his teachings, as mentioned in the Zohar itself. Many of his teachings were passed on orally to his close associates and disciples, called the chevraya, and to their disciples, and they committed some of his teachings to writing, probably over a period of several generations. Among the chevraya were Rabbi Shimon's son, R. Eleazar; his scribe R. Abba; R. Yehudah; R. Yossi ben Yaakov; R. Yitzchak; R. Chizkiyah; R. Chiya; R. Yossi; and R. Yaakov bar Idi.

Rabbi Shimon passed on to the world of truth on Lag ba-Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer); he is buried in Meron together with his son Elazar. Hundreds of thousands make the pilgrimage to Meron every year on Lag ba-Omer to pay tribute to this great saint.

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Praises of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

1. Although Rabbi Shimon is best known as the author of the Zohar, nevertheless, he holds an important place in the revealed aspects of Torah, the Talmud and associated works. Even when the halachic ruling is not according to his opinion, the Talmud declares, "[The opinion of] Rabbi Shimon can be relied upon in a pinch." Furthermore, Rabbi Shimon has the unique distinction of being mentioned in every chapter in the Talmud.

2. Rabbi Shimon's saintliness was so great that in his merit no rainbow (a negative portent) during his lifetime. He declared that he had seen the most elevated souls (bnei aliyah) and that they were very few. He testified that he and his son Elazar were two of them, and if there was only one - it was he. He declared that he had the power to exempt the entire world from strict judgment from the day it was created until his days. Rashbi's soul derived from the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu and from the soul of Mashiach.

3. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai never experienced the Exile. Although the Temple was destroyed in his lifetime, he remained bound to G-d's revealed Light. Every Jew who travels to Rabbi Shimon's resting place in Meron on Lag B'Omer attains this above-Exile condition.

4. Rabbi Shimon's soul is in a constant state of elevation. Indeed, it reaches the ultimate domain of the Infinite Light, which precedes the Great Contraction (tzimtzum). That's why the light of his holy accomplishments -- that shines below each year on his anniversary - reaches below until it affects every grade of Jew. This explains the multitude of simple Jews who gather in Meron on Lag B'Omer.

5. Rabbi Shimon revealed great secrets to his students [recorded in the Idra Rabba section of the Zohar] in the last hours before he passed away. Since the Zohar was physically introduced into the world on Lag B'Omer, its great light shines on that day. And every succeeding year the light increases in intensity.

6. [Asynopsis by Yehoshua Metzinger from part of a Chassidic discourse published in Sefer Maimorim Melulet vol. # 2 (Kehot). ]
To understand the greatness of "Rashbi" (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), the Zohar relates that he was the object of awesome praises from the Torah scholars of his generation, which included some of the greatest Torah scholars in Jewish history, such as Rabbi Yehuda, who called him "Shabbos." The Zohar even states that his image was the image of G-d himself.

But why praise anyone so much? We can understand this by considering the psalms that we say every day during our prayers to G-d. Most of the content of our prayers is basically praises of G-d, yet does G-d really need our praises? After all, G-d is incomparably greater then the entire creation, the physical and spiritual worlds, as it is written in the Zohar: "The entire creation is considered as null and void in relation to G-d."

However, in order to awaken G-d's desire to continue maintaining the world in existence and to provide us with all of our sustenance, we need to praise him. Our sages established that before we ask for our needs in prayer we should praise G-d first, even though praying for our needs is a commandment from the Torah, in order not to appear ungrateful for the privilege of being able to ask G-d for all of our needs. By making the effort and doing so we awaken in him the desire to provide us our needs with pleasure.

This principle applies to the Rashbi. Since he was so much greater than the other Torah scholars of his time, they had to praise him in order to arouse his desire to teach them from his great Torah knowledge. Not only that, but the reason why was brought as an example the praises to G-d before praying for our needs is not only to tell us that when we want to receive something from someone that is far greater then us we have to praise him, but also to tell us that the difference between Rashbi and the rest of the Torah scholars of his time was comparable to the difference between the Creator and the created beings.

Some Laws and Customs -

"FIRST HAIRCUT & PEYOT SHAPING" ceremonies for three year old boys are the highlight of Lag b'Omer at Meron for many families and spectators, as everyone gathers to help snip.  Actually, everywhere in the world, Jewish boys born between Pesach and Lag b’Omer receive their first haircut and peyot on Lag b’Omer. Upon reaching the age of 3 (i.e., completing three years and beginning the "holy fourth"-see Lev. 19:23-25), a Jewish child begins to receive his or her official training in mitzvot.  The first mitzvah for a three year old boy is (Lev. 19:27) "Do not cut off the hair on the side of your head."  Four centuries ago, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist, camped at Meron with his family in order to "make peyot" for his son on Lag b'Omer "in the presence of" Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.  Since then, especially in modern-day Israel, it has been a strong custom to administer the "first sheering" (comparable to the mitzvah of the First Fleece Offering-see Deut. 18:4) at Meron, and ideally on Lag b'Omer - birth date and custom permitting.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most important sages in Jewish history, lived over 1800 years ago.  Teachings in his name abound throughout the Mishnah, Gemorrah, and Midrashim, while the Zohar, the primary source text of Kabbalah, is built around Rabbi Shimon's revelations to his inner circle of disciples.  During the hours before his passing, on Lag b'Omer, he disclosed the "most sublime" secrets of Torah (see quote below), in order to ensure that the day would always be an occasion for great joy, untouched by sadness because of the Omer period and mourning for him.  The seminal importance of the Zohar in Jewish thought and the annual pilgrimage to Meron are testimonies to his success.

Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff


last year's Lag b'Omer page

for more Kabbalah insights on Lag b'Omer

A special Lag b'Omer in Meron miracle story.

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