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In the Light of Rabbi Shimon
The group of sages gathered around the bed of their mentor, listening avidly to the words of wisdom emitting from his lips.  His final request of his students was to mark the day of his passing with rejoicing.  Then his voice dimmed and, surrounded by his students, his soul departed heavenward.

This is the tale of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.  His students faithfully honored his last wish, and they passed the custom down through the generations.  To this day, Rabbi Shimon’s day of passing, Lag B’Omer, is marked with bonfires, music, singing and rejoicing.  In Israel, the festivities in his final resting place in Meron are legendary, with thousands of Jews from all walks of life participating in the celebration.

Rabbi Shimon’s final request seems odd—why did he ask that the day of his passing be marked with rejoicing?  Furthermore, why is he the only Jewish figure whose yahrtzeit is noted in this fashion?  There have been many outstanding leaders, scholars and sages, yet the date of their passing is not commemorated like Rabbi Shimon’s.  Why don’t we celebrate the dates of passing of our first teacher and leader, Moses, or our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

It is recorded in the holy Zohar, a mystical work believed to have been authored by Rabbi Shimon himself, that on the day of the passing of a tzadik, his soul ascends to levels in heaven that he had never been able to reach during his lifetime.  Therefore, for Rabbi Shimon, the day of his death was rightfully a time of rejoicing, and he asked his students to rejoice with him.  However, how did this day become transformed into a holiday for the entire Jewish people?

While the answer to this question is multi-faceted, we can answer by highlighting one aspect of the life of Rabbi Shimon.  As mentioned, he authored the Zohar, the fundamental work of Jewish mysticism.  The revelations of the book of Zohar paved the way for the secrets of Torah that will be revealed by Moshiach himself.  With the writing of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai purified the atmosphere of the world and prepared it for the eventual Redemption.

True, the best way to prepare for Redemption is through studying Torah and fulfilling mitzvoth.  However, study of the mystical aspects of Torah has a special potency in hastening the Redemption.  Since Rabbi Shimon had the merit to reveal the mystical teachings of Torah to the world, the day of his passing is marked with special celebrations by Jews throughout the world.

The book of Zohar is the foundation for the entire field of Kaballah and Chassidut.  Chassidut, which was first expounded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov over 270 years ago, sheds light on the mystical interpretations of the Zohar and enables them to be understood by the average intellect.  The revelation of Chassidut served as an important step in revealing the mystical aspects of Torah and preparing the world for Redemption.

If so, the best way to mark the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the 33rd day of the Omer is through studying the mystical teachings of Torah, especially as explained in Chassidut.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggested that we place special emphasis on studying those parts of Torah that address the topics of Moshiach and Redemption, which will further help us to prepare for the ultimate revelation of Moshiach.  This is the best way to honor the memory of Rabbi Shimon and honor his final reques
   
 

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