Every Lag Ba’Omer, thousands of Chassidim and others travel to Meron to the grave of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai to celebrate his death. The only problem is, we have never heard of someone celebrating the death of a person! The Chasam Sofer reportedly even once asked, “Since when is it that the day a tzaddik dies is a holiday?”
Apparently it’s all based on a misprint from something the Ari”ZL wrote. It was the Ari’s practice to visit R’ Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave, since it has been common practice to visit the graves of Tzaddikim for centuries. Now, when R’ Chaim Vital recorded the Ari”ZL’s writings, he kept them private. According to the Muqata Blog:
Now, the Ari didn’t write any of his books. They were all written by his student Rav Chaim Vital, and he had a monopoly on the Ari’s teachings. For 15 years, he refused to allow anyone to read his books and writings about the Ari.
Till one day…Rav Vital fell very ill. A wealthy person bribed Rav Vital’s brother with 50 gold coins — and hired 100 scribes to complete the mammoth task of copying all of Rav Vital’s manuscripts relating to the Ari…in 3 days!
Soon, all of the illegally copied manuscripts were published and available to all…yet in the haste to copy everything in 3 days, the following error occurred (according to Rav Kosman).
In the original, hand written document of Rav Vital, it says the Lag BaOmer was “יום שמחת רשב”י” — the day of happiness of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (for being saved from the “plague – or Romans). The scribe copied it down as the abbreviated יום שמ’ רשב”י” which further was modified by the publishers to יום שמת רשב”י”, the day Rav Shimon Bar Yochai died.
Rav Shimon Bar Yochai was saved on Lag BaOmer from the “plague” (meaning he wasn’t killed that day), but there isn’t any historical record that he died on Lag BaOmer.
Thanks to the Seforim Blog, we have scans of Seforim substantiating this.
This is a copy of an earlier edition of “Pri Etz Chaim” in 1785 which used the word Sameach.
So why do we celebrate? If one looks in the Tur, the Shulhan Arukh as well as the various early commentaries, one will not find any other reason as to why there should be simcha on Lag Ba-Omer, other than that the students of R. Akiva stopped dying on Lag Ba-Omer. Be that as it may, this particular reason offers no insight into the connection between Meron, and more specifically Rashbi, and Lag Ba-Omer.
Another point: where do we even GET that Rashbi died on Lag Ba’Omer? The Seforim blog notes that, R. Yehosef Schwartz writes in his Tevuot Ha-Aretz (p.224) that he searched all over for the reason for the great simcha at Meron on Lag Ba-Omer, and concluded that it must be because Rashbi died on Lag Ba-Omer. R. Jonathan Eybeschutz, the Ba’al ha-Tanyah, Reb Zadok ha-Kohen, and the Arukha ha-Shulhan also say that Rashbi died on Lag Ba-Omer.
Personally, I’m all for parties, and I for one always wanted to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer in Meron, with the bonfire etc., where there’s such a positive energy there. Hey, who doesn’t want a good excuse for a party?