Every year on the holiday of Lag BaOmer, we go to the park, have bonfires and live music and many celebrations.
I never understood this. Are we supposed to have celebrations on the anniversary of someone’s passing?
Lag BaOmer marks the passing of the great sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century. Rabbi Shimon was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of Judaism and is the author of the Zohar, the classic work of Kabbalah.
On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”
“Yahrtzeit” Day of Passing
The codifiers of Jewish law mark the anniversary of someone’s passing, known as the Yahrtzeit, as a day of introspection and seriousness, when close relatives of the deceased refrain from joining a wedding, and some have the custom to fast.
Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, in his abridged code of Jewish law, sums it up this way:
It is a time to be inspired to return to G‑d, to take a look at one’s deeds and to make changes in one’s life. Through this the souls of one’s parents will have merit in the world above.
The same would apply to the Yahrtzeits of the righteous, such as the day of Moses’ passing, which is marked by many as a fast day and day of introspection. See Yahrzeit: Memorial Anniversary for the customs of this day.
The Kabbalists explained that the day of a person’s passing is a time when the soul is once again judged, and his or her merits are calculated, and the soul is then elevated to a more spiritual level in heaven. Therefore, it has become a custom to do good deeds and learn Jewish texts to bring merit and spiritual pleasure to the deceased person’s soul.
In Hassidic circles the custom is not to be overtly depressed or saddened on the day of the passing; rather the day is marked in a more positive and pleasant manner
by remembering and learning from the individual’s life and good deeds.
How Could We Celebrate?
However, Rabbi Shimon did specifically ask his followers to be joyous on his Yahrtzeit; and the rule is that when one asks that the solemn part of the Yahrtzeit be abandoned, we listen to the request. Therefore, it is permitted to be joyous and celebrate on this day.
On the day of a person‘s passing, his or her entire lifework, good deeds and teachings ascend to higher spiritual realms. It is a time when one’s soul reconnects to higher levels of G dliness, the source of life. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that this is the reason Rabbi Shimon asked that this day be remembered as a joyous day; to mark the elevation of his soul to higher spiritual levels.
The wish of the great sage, Rabbi Shimon, is adhered to in Jewish communities across the globe. We “remember and do” by learning about and celebrating the life and teachings of Rabbi Shimon.
See What Is Lag BaOmer? from our section on the Holiday of Lag BaOmer.