The Lag B'Omer "Departure" of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Rabbi Moshe Miller
From the Idra Zuta, Zohar III,
have learned: On the day that Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] was to depart
the world he began arranging his teachings.
of the stature of Rabbi Shimon know when they have fulfilled their tasks in this
world and when they are to pass on to the World of Truth. They therefore begin
preparing themselves for the transition.
The Disciples [of
Rebbe Shimon found out that he was making his final arrangements, and they] gathered
together at the house of Rebbe Shimon. Before him were Rabbi Elazar his son, Rabbi
Abba and the other disciples, so that the house was filled.
Rabbi Shimon looked up and saw that the house was full, he wept and said, "On
another occasion, when I was deathly ill (as mentioned in the Addenda to Zohar
Devarim), Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was with me. While I was choosing my place [in
the Garden of Eden] they granted me [extra years] until now. When I returned [to
the living], a fire surrounded me and it never ceased, so that no person could
come in to me without permission.
The fire surrounding him
was a sign that the Shechina was constantly revealed upon him. Even the greatest
of Rabbi Shimon's students, such as Rabbi Chiya, required permission to enter
(see Zohar II 14a).
Now I see that it has ceased, and so the
house has filled up [with visitors who entered without my permission].
explain that perhaps there were some there who were not worthy of hearing the
mysteries that Rabbi Shimon planned to reveal, and for this reason the Shechina
had left him (Kocho d'Rashbi, Ma'aracha 4).
While they were
sitting Rabbi Shimon opened his eyes [in the sense of spiritual gazing into the
higher worlds] and saw what he saw.
He experienced the revelation
of the Shechina (Sha'arei HaIdra).
Then fire surrounded the
house, so that everyone fled outside leaving only Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Abba
[who were worthy of receiving the Shechina]. The remainder of the disciples sat
outside. Rebbe Shimon said to Rabbi Elazar his son, "Go outside and see if
Rabbi Yitzchak is here. I made a promise to him [that he would live until the
day of my passing and that I would take him into the Garden of Eden (see Zohar
I, 118a)]. Tell him to put his affairs in order and then come and sit with me.
Happy is his lot!"
Rebbe Shimon arose [in deference
to the Shechina and the souls of saintly tzadikim that had descended to be with
him as he revealed the secrets of the Torah]. He then sat again, smiling and happy,
and he asked, "Where are the Disciples?" Rabbi Elazar arose and brought
them in. They sat down before Rebbe Shimon.
Rebbe Shimon raised
his hands in prayer and made his supplications with great joy. Then he said, "Those
who were in the Idra [Rabba] are invited [to stay, but not the rest of the visitors,
lest they put themselves in danger]. They all went out and only Rabbi Elazar his
son, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Chiya remained. Meanwhile,
Rabbi Yitzchak arrived, and Rabbi Shimon said to him, "How fortunate is your
lot. How much joy should be added to you on this day!" Rabbi Abba was sitting
behind Rebbe Shimon's shoulders and Rabbi Elazar before Rebbe Shimon.
Rebbe Shimon said, "Now is an auspicious time [to
reveal the secrets of the Torah]. I wish to enter the World to Come
without shame. For the holy matters that I did not reveal until now,
I wish to reveal in the presence of the Shechina, so that no one will
say that I left the world without fulfilling my task and that I concealed
[these secrets] in my heart until now so that they would come with me
to the World to Come. I see that today is special, for Hashem and all
the tzaddikim are rejoicing in my celebration (Hilula). I will
present them to you; Rabbi Abba shall write, and Rabbi Elazar my son
will review them, and the remaining Disciples must whisper them in their
Rabbi Abba rose from behind Rabbi
Shimon's shoulders [and sat before Rebbe Shimon]. Rabbi Elazar continued sitting
before Rebbe Shimon. Rebbe Shimon said, "Arise, my son, for another [a tzadik
from the upper worlds] will sit in that place." Rabbi Elazar arose [and sat
Rebbe Shimon wrapped himself [in his talit]. He sat down
and said: "'The dead do not praise G-d, nor do those who go down
into Silence [the eternal silence of the grave for the absolutely wicked]
(Psalms 115:17).' 'The dead do not praise G-d...' - this surely means
those who are called 'dead' [even when they are alive], for G-d is called
'[eternally] living', and He dwells among those who are also called
'live' [the righteous] and not among those who are called 'dead' [even
during their lifetimes, for they do not cleave to G-d, the Source of
Life]. The end of the verse states, '...nor do those who go down into
Silence' - those who descend to Silence will remain there. [I.e., only
those who descend to Silence permanently will not praise G-d, whereas
those who experience a temporary spiritual anguish [ Gehinom] after
death do return to utter G-d's praises]. But those who are called alive
are different; the Holy One, blessed be He, desires their honor."
...Rebbi Abba recalls, "I was writing, in middle
of quoting a verse. Rebbe Shimon stopped at the word 'chayim'.
I waited, wanting to continue, but did not raise my head to see why
Rebbe Shimon had stopped, for I was unable to look at the great light
that was shining around him. Suddenly, I heard a voice call out a verse
with the word 'chayim', and then another voice called out another
verse. I fell to the ground and wept. When the fire and the light departed,
I saw that the great light, Rebbi Shimon, had passed away. He was lying
on his right side and his face was smiling."
Moshe-Leib Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when he lived in Israel, was born
in South Africa and received his yeshiva education in Israel and America. He is
a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide
variety of topics, including a new, authoritative, annotated translation of the
Zohar. He currently lives in Chicago.