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RABBI SHIMON BAR YOCHAI'S LAST DAY IN THIS WORLD
Arachim
He reached the heights of spirituality, and left us a lesson that is valid yet today.

 

In the Zohar, we find a description of Rabbi Shimon's final day: He spent the entire day teaching his disciples. When the sun started to sink into the west, he said:

"Blessed be He, and Blessed be the Name of the Holy One, for ever and ever. All our words are valid, and all are holy. Do not deviate from them to the left or the right. They are all secrets and concealed knowledge that were hidden and masked until now, for I was wary of revealing them. It is revealed and known before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, that I have not acted to aggrandize my own honor or that of my fathers, but in order to instruct my disciples. And I see that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, agrees with me and rejoices in my joy."

He braced himself and sat up, and his lips moved in prayer. He gave off such a glow that it was not possible to look in his direction, and certainly not directly at him. He said: "All my days I sought to reveal this secret, and I was not successful. But now that I have permission, I decree that this day shall not grow dark as do all the days, for this day is entirely in my control, and behold, I am beginning to reveal hidden secrets on it."

And indeed, so it was.

Rabbi Shimon sat and expounded. Rabbi Abba sat before him and wrote, and his son, Rabbi Elazar repeated the matters. All the disciples listened and were moved. The fire rose in flames around them, and the sun did not set. He revealed secrets of the Torah from the furnace of the hidden secrets, until he came to the verse: "For there G-d commanded the blessing, eternal life." (Psalms 133:30)

Rabbi Abba said, "Our holy teacher did not finish saying the word 'life' before his words grew weak. I, who was writing, wanted to write more, but I could not hear. And I did not lift my head, because the light was so intense, and I was not able to look. When I heard a heavenly voice call out, saying 'They will add length of days and years of life and peace for you…' I was shaken. I heard another voice: 'He asked life of You, You gave it to him, a length of days forever and ever.' The entire day, the house was enveloped in fire, and no one drew close to it, of it was surrounded by fire and light."

That same day, we fell on the ground and wept. After the fire died down, we saw that our holy teacher, holy of holies, had passed away, wrapped in his garment, lying on his right side, and with a smile on his face. Rabbi Elazar his son and Rabbi Abba rose up and carried his bed out of the house. The bed began to float in the air, a fire flaming before it. And everyone heard the heavenly voice saying: "Rise up and come and gather for the festival of Rabbi Shimon."

When they entered the burial cave, they heard a voice say: "This man shook the earth. He made kingdoms tremble. How many evil decrees were revoked this day because of you! You are Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose Creator boasts of him each day. Happy is your lot! How many sublime worlds have been reserved for you! Of you it is said: 'And you, go to your end and repose, and rise to your destiny at the end of days.'" (From the Zohar)

In addition, the Zohar records page after page of esoteric teachings transmitted by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to his disciples on that day. Rabbi Shimon passed away on Lag Be'Omer, the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, and was buried in the town of Meiron. To this day, we commemorate the day of his passing, which was marked by flames of heavenly fire around his home, and by whose light he recounted his final words of Torah, with singing and dancing to the light of bonfires. The best known song we use to mark this evening is: "Bar Yochai, you were anointed, to your good fortune, with the oil of rejoicing, by your comrades."

Some five hundred years ago, Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura wrote: "On Lag BeOmer, the day of his passing, everyone gathers (at his tomb in Meiron) from all the surrounding towns and they light large torches, in addition to the usual memorial candles… for many barren women are remembered (and healed) and many sick people are cured as a result of pledges they made and donations they donated at this gathering."

The saintly Rabbi Isaac Luria went to Meiron to be there on Lag BeOmer. The saintly Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, author of Or Hachayim, made a point of visiting Rabbi Shimon's gravesite from his native Morocco in 1742. When he reached the foot of the mountain where the grave is located, he got down from the donkey on which he was riding and began to climb uphill on foot. Along the way, he asked himself out loud: "Where am I, the lowly one, headed? To the flames of holy fire, and the hosts of Heaven, and the souls of all the righteous ones!"

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai elevated his soul to the level of an angel, if not even higher. How did he do this? By studying Torah, by fulfilling G-d's commandments, through prayer and through serving G-d.

He was not born an angel; he advanced, step by step, and was assisted by Heaven in his ascent to great spiritual heights, just as the Sages tell us: "He who wishes to purify himself receives divine assistance."

Likewise, G-d promises us that if we create an opening the size of "the eye of a needle", He will in turn open for us an aperture the size of a large hall." (Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:3) It's up to us to take the first move, but it need not be a giant step. Even the eye of a needle will do. Once we demonstrate our interest, G-d will respond by helping us along. It's as though we want to get to the observation platform atop the Empire State Building, and need to go up to the first flight of stairs on foot in order to get the elevator to the top.

What seems to be a minor good deed, an "incidental" mitzvah, or a few short words of heartfelt prayer, can work wonders the size of a banquet hall. It's worth trying; the results may surprise you.


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