A Password to the World That is Coming: The Wedding Celebration of Rabbi Shim’on Bar Yochai
PARABOLA Vol. 31, No.2 (Life After Death), Summer 2010
( PARABOLA, Volume 35, Number 2, summer 2010: “Life After Death”)
Rabbi Shim’on sits up on his bed, laughing, weeping, raising his hands while praying to The Holy One May His Name Be Blessed and sharing the amazing moments of his exit from this world.
Special guests—both invited and those who magically appear—are arriving for this extraordinary event. They are placed according to their ability to face the Truth and hold this vessel; Some are around him, some outside the room and some sit quietly outside the house.
Some have just arrived from Meron, his home-town and some come from afar, from unknown worlds.
Rabbi Sim’on is totally immersed in rejoicing. Imagine your most beloved students and honored guests surprising you by joining in your most precious celebration, the one you have waited for your entire life.
Fire is appearing and disappearing throughout the whole event. There is no room for sentimentality nor for ordinary responses.
This Second Century CE Sage was able to pass to his soul companions what he saw and experienced as he exited this world. As he engaged in his own death, he revealed, finally, deep secrets of the great mystery. Hidden secrets he had harbored for a long time.
At last can be revealed…
The event of his passing is celebrated in the world to this day.
This remarkable testimony appears in the Zohar, the primary sacred source work of the Kabala, authorship credited to Rabbi Shim’on himself. When I read the description in Daniel Matt’s book, I was moved to tears. These days the Eastern traditions are better known for accounts of the passing of great spiritual masters, such as those in Soygel Rimpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. However, now we know that in Western spiritual literature we may learn a firsthand account of the pinnacle of life of a Tzadik, a deeply righteous man!
Despite his historical placement and notoriety for his wisdom as great teacher, the life and death of Rabbi Shim’on has been accessible only recently. This discovery, previously hidden behind the complexities of reading Aramaic and then understanding the astonishing nuances, is filling a huge gap in the greater story of Jewish spirituality and the search for meaning of our own lives. Dedicated seekers are making renewed efforts to honor the account and have embraced its deeply moving testimony, especially on the Jewish holy day of Lag b’Omer, the eighteenth day of the month of Iyar.
Such an event has a special name: “Wedding Celebration.” It indicates a re-union. A re-union of the Lover and the Beloved. As we will see, a delegation from above is welcoming the rabbi and a delegation from below is giving him leave. For a short, unique period of time, called in Hebrew sh’e/at rat/zon, meaning a time of divine willingness available from above, the veil between this world and the other world has become very thin and transparent.
It’s a celebration because Rabbi Shim’on’s soul is about to ascend and unite with the She/chi/nah, the feminine aspect of the divine. Very soon his light will extend and shine to the whole world, not just to the ones who knew him. In any real hi/lu/la, meaning celebration in Aramaic, the intense, ecstatic, joyous tone is obvious.
Great Tzadikkim have always been surrounded by their students Rabbi Shim’on’s most esteemed students, known as The Companions, were never far. For this event, he was very specific who would attend to him at the final hour. This important arrangement is among the documentation.
Thus, begins the Wedding Celebration as witnessed by The Companions. Assembled, among select others, were Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Shim’on’s son, with whom he had hidden in a cave for twenty years to escape the purges of the Roman Legions.
The description is explicit: as fire whirled through the house, Rabbi Sim’on opened his eyes and he saw what he saw, which alludes to seeing of the Shechinah before one’s death. Rejoicing, he said:
“I will arrange you like this:
Rabbi Abba will write; Rabbi El’azar, my son, will repeat;
the other Comrades will meditate within.”
“Now is the time of favor!
I want to enter without shame into the world that is coming.
Holy words, until now unrevealed,
I want to reveal in the presence of Shekhinah;
so it will not be said that I left the world deficiently.
Until now they were hidden in my heart
as a password to the world that is coming.”
“The Blessed Holy One wants the righteous to be honored
more than He wants Himself to be honored!”
“Now the Blessed Holy One wants the righteous to be honored
and all of them are coming with Him!”
As soon as he saw the sages coming into the room from afar, he roused his Companions from their places:
“‘Look! Here is Rabbi Pinhas son of Ya’ir[i]!
Prepare his place!’”
“…all are listening to my words, those above and those below.”
He went on, quoting from Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, upon realizing in whose company he was keeping:
“‘I am my Beloved’s,
His desire is upon me’
(Song of Songs 7:11).
All the days that I have been bound to this world
I have been bound in a single bond with the Blessed Holy One.
That is why now ‘His desire is upon me’!
He and His holy company have come to hear in joy concealed words
and praise for the Holy Ancient One, Concealed of all Concealed!”
Rabbi Eliezer continued to record his descriptions:
“Separate, separated from all, yet not separate!
For all is attached to It, and It is attached to all.
It is all!
Ancient of all Ancients! Concealed of all Concealed!
Arrayed and not arrayed.
Arrayed in order to sustain all:
not arrayed, for It is not to be found.
When arrayed, It generates nine lights,
flaming from It, from Its array.
Those lights, sparkling, flashing,
Radiate, emanate to all sides….
Until now these words were concealed,
for I was scared to reveal;
now they have been revealed!
Yet it is revealed before the Holy Ancient One
that I have not acted for my own honor
nor for the honor of my family
but rather so I will not enter His palace in shame.
Furthermore, I see that the Blessed Holy One
and all these righteous ones approve:
I see all of them rejoicing in this, my wedding celebration!
All of them are invited, in that world, to my wedding celebration! Happy is my portion!”
Then Rabbi Sim’on Bar Yochai raised his hands, cried and laughed. He wanted to reveal one word:
“He said, ‘I have been troubled by this word all my days
and now they are not giving me permission!’”
Summoning up his courage, he sat and moved his lips and bowed three times. No one could look at his place, certainly not at him.
Then Rabbi Shim’on said,
“He said, ‘Mouth, mouth, you have attained so much!
Your spring has not dried up!
Your spring flows endlessly!
For you we read:
“A river issues from Eden.”
And it is written:
“Like a spring whose waters do not fail”
Now I avow:
All the days I have been alive, I have yearned to see this day!
Now my desire is crowned with success.
This day itself is crowned!
Now I want to reveal words in the presence of the Blessed Holy
all those words adorning my head like a crown!
…I have now begun revealing words
so I will not enter shamefully into the world that is coming.
I have begun! I will speak!…
I have seen that all those sparks, sparkle from the High Spark,
Hidden of all Hidden!
All are level of enlightenment.
In the light of each and every level
there is revealed what is revealed.
All those lights are connected:
this light to that light, that light to this light,
one shining into the other,
inseparable, one from the other.
The description of the unification of all ends with the observation:
“It and Its name is one.”
Rabbi Shim’on’s words subsided. Rabbi Abba was still writing, his head still bent down, the light was overwhelming. He could not look. Then the scribe started trembling. He heard a voice calling:
“Length of days and years of life…”
And another voice:
“He asked You for life, and you granted it.”
No one reached Rabbi Shim’on, no one could. He had been surrounded by light and fire all day. Rabbi Abba laid on the floor and wailed. After the fire disappeared, Rabbi Shim’on saw the Holy Spark, Holy of Holies leaving the world, enwrapped, lying on his right, his face smiling.
With the burning barrier gone, Rabbi El’azar kissed his father’s hand; Rabbi Abba licked the dust from the bottom of his feet. The Companions wanted to cry but could not utter a sound. Finally they let out a cry. They carried their dear teacher out of the house and toward the cave on Mt. Meron. A fire blazed before them and a voice was heard:
“Come and enter!
Assemble for the wedding celebration of Rabbi Shim’on!
‘He shall come to peace;
They shall rest on their couches’
As they approached the cave’s entrance, a voice came from inside:
“‘This is the man who shook the earth, who made kingdoms tremble! Many open mouths of accusation up in heaven
Subside today because of you, Rabbi Shim’on son of Yohai!
His Lord prides Himself on him everyday!
Happy is his portion above and below!
Many sublime treasures are in store for him!
Of him it is said:
‘As for you,
go to the end and take your rest;
you will rise for your reward at the end of days.’”