“Living in the future.” For those of us who collect oxymorons, this one is an especially delightful specimen. It’s not as obvious as your run-of-the-mill “deafening silence” oxy, but one that unravels only under careful sophistry. If you haven’t already figured it out, allow me the pleasure: If one indeed lives in the future, it’s not the future anymore, is it? And if the person of whom we’re speaking only thinks he’s living in the future, than he’s not really living there, is he?

This week, however, Jews all over the world will celebrate the life of a man who quite literally lived in the future. Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count, is the day of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second generation after the Temple’s destruction, about 1,900 years ago. Rabbi Shimon is the author of the Zohar (the most basic book of Kabbalah), Mechilta (a central midrashic work), and of hundreds of laws and teachings cited in the Talmud. He played a fundamental role in the history of the Torah’s transmission through the centuries, in both its “revealed” (i.e., talmudical-halachic) face as well as its esoteric (mystical-kabbalistic) soul.

If there is one thing that characterizes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s life, it is that he inhabited a reality that, for most of us, still lies in the future: the reality of Moshiach, the messianic world of redemption, harmony and perfection. It is said of Rabbi Shimon that, for him, the Holy Temple was never destroyed, the people of Israel had never entered the state of galut (physical exile and spiritual alienation), and the world had attained the divine perfection of the Age of Moshiach.

The Midrash tells a story:

Once there was a disciple of Rabbi Shimon’s who left the Holy Land and returned a wealthy man. The other disciples saw this and were envious and also wanted to leave. Rabbi Shimon knew of this. He took them to a valley facing Meron and said: “Valley! Valley! Become filled with gold coins!” The valley started flowing with gold coins before them.

Said Rabbi Shimon to his disciples: “If it is gold that you desire, here is gold; take it for yourselves. But know that whoever takes now is taking his portion of the World to Come. For the reward of Torah is only in the World to Come.” (Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 52:3)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the deeper significance of this story:

The Torah is G‑d’s blueprint for creation, and the channel via which all of creation’s vitality and sustenance flows from Above. So everything in our world, from the loftiest spiritual blessings to the mundane wealth that comes in the form of gold coins, is facilitated by the Torah. But our world is an alma d’shikra, a place of concealment and deception. Things reach us but their source remains hidden; we see the result but have, at best, only a distorted perception of its cause. In our reality, it is possible that while Torah is the source of all the gold in the universe, one whose life is devoted to Torah may apparently suffer poverty, while one who abandons Torah may apparently acquire riches.

That is our world. The future world of Moshiach, however, is a world of truth. A world in which the hand is visible within the glove, the cause is evident in the effect, and the source of everything is revealed without distortion. In the World to Come, it is plainly visible that even physical gold flows from the headwaters of Torah.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai inhabited that future reality. His disciples, however, still lived in the present world.

Rabbi Shimon’s disciples were disturbed when the reality they experienced was at odds with the truth as they knew it. It troubled them that a colleague who forsook the study of Torah became wealthy, while they, who pursued it day and night, suffered poverty—despite the fact that they knew that Torah is the conduit of all worldly blessings.

So Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai granted them a glimpse of the World to Come. He showed them the world that he inhabited every moment of his life. And if they could not inhabit and access it themselves, at least they would behold it.

Each year on Lag BaOmer, we are drawn into the orbit of Rabbi Shimon’s futuristic world.

Here is another story that the Rebbe would often repeat to illustrate this point. The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (“The Holy Ari,” 1534–1572) had a disciple by the name of Rabbi Avraham HaLevi. This disciple had a custom to recite the Nachem prayer every day. Nachem is a prayer that speaks of the destruction of the Holy Temple and the resultant galut, and beseeches G‑d to comfort His grieving nation, rebuild the Temple and restore His revealed presence amongst us. Nachem is recited once a year—as part of the afternoon prayers on the Ninth of Av, the day on which the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Abraham, however, so keenly felt the pain of the destruction and the exile that he recited this once-a-year prayer every day.

Since Rabbi Abraham recited Nachem every day of the year, he also recited it on Lag BaOmer. This got him into trouble. One day, Rabbi Isaac summoned his disciple and said to him: “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai appeared to me and instructed me: ‘Say to this man: Why do you recite Nachem on the day of my joy?’”

The chassidic masters explain that on the day of a person’s passing, “all his deeds, teachings and accomplishments” attain their ultimate state of fulfillment and realization. Thus—explains the Rebbe—Rabbi Abraham was rebuked for mourning the galut on Lag BaOmer. On this, the culminating day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s life, the day on which Rabbi Shimon’s influence predominates, it is within our power to share Rabbi Shimon’s reality of a redeemed and perfected world.

And what of my delightful little oxymoron?

Yet the Talmud insists that “in the place that a person’s mind resides, that is where he is.” So “living in the future” need not be a contradiction in terms after all—if that’s where you are.