The holiday of Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of Omer) is celebrated to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of The Book of Zohar, who died on that day. In the chapter “Idra Zuta,” article “Azinu,” The Book of Zohar describes Rabbi Shimon’s passing in this way: For the Lord bestowed blessing, even eternal life upon him” (Psalm 133). Rabbi Abba said: The holy Light did not finish proclaiming life until his speeches were completed. I recorded it and thought of recording some more, but did not hear. And I did not lift my head because there was a very great Light that I could not look upon. Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba stood up and took him away from his place. And the whole house was filled with a fragrant scent. They placed him on the bed and no one touched him besides Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba. When they carried the bed out of the house, they heard a voice. Then everyone entered and gathered together for the celebration to honor Rabbi Shimon.
The Zohar uses these colorful descriptions because it is written in the language of Midrash (story telling). But of course, it is not talking about his physical death, but the passing of the soul which goes on to the state of the end of correction. That is why this is such an important event and why this entire system, which includes his students, receives such a great Light.
This is not talking about a person’s death, but about the thinning out of a spiritual Partzuf. First the Light comes and dresses into a Partzuf, forming inside it Taamim, Nekudot, Tagin, and Otiyot. The clothing of the Light into a Partzuf and its disappearance make the Light fit for being used, and that is how Rabbi Shimon’s soul attains its true action—the last level, the general end of correction. This is what The Zohar describes.
All the other friends, all the souls that depended on him and that resulted from his Partzuf, which became filled with Light and is now freed from it, now receive through it the entire Light that leaves it. They are those who were attached to it, connected to it, and participated in attracting Light when it passed away.
The death of a Kabbalist means that the entire Light he absorbed inside of his soul together with his students, accumulating it with their help for all humanity, is now made free by him and passed to all the other souls. Now this Light becomes like an illumination, like surrounding Light which he gives to others. His passing symbolizes this passage of Light.
That is why we celebrate this day in this way and are happy about receiving this upper Light, which is called “The Zohar,” capable of correcting all the souls, of connecting and elevating every person to the Creator’s level. That is why this holiday is called the holiday of Light—the Light that reforms, the Light of correction. Every person has to ask himself: Does he really use this Light?
This Light has been given to us, but are we using it and are we realizing ourselves correctly? This is called participating in the holiday of Lag B’Omer.
From the program on Lag B’Omer on 5/17/11