The Hilulah is the term used for the commemoration date of the passing of a Tzaddik(spiritual master). Many people only light a candle for the deceased as a way of remembering him but, if we understand a little better what it’s all about, we will find there’s a lot of potential for elevation during these days.
The word Hilulah in Aramaic literally means “wedding”, and it’s been extensively used in connection to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai(Rashbi), the author of the Zohar. Rashbi was incredibly happy when he was about to pass. The sages said that a fire tornado surrounded his house and many angels and departed souls came to hear his last words. Most of the people ran away and only his close disciples could withstand such an awesome moment.
But, what does this have to do with a “wedding”?
First let’s explore a little better the differences between a Rasha (wicked person) and a Tzadik on the day of their passing.
Wicked people by definition are very much attached to physicality. They love their money, their power, and their lives more than anything. In general, they try to maximize pleasure to an extreme because supposedly that’s what’s meant to give them happiness. Saying no to themselves rarely happens and often, they resort to all sorts of unsavory means of acquiring what they want, even if it’s just a lie. In essence, they live for their desires.
By contrast, Tzaddikim realize that the world is temporary; that whatever you have is fleeting and meaningless. All pleasure one gets here is subtracted from their reward in the afterlife. This is not just some knowledge, but a way of living. Therefore Tzaddikim pursue peace, love and act almost entirely with pure compassion eventowards those that wrong them. As Rabbi Chaim Vital once said, “All that matters if the life of the World to Come”.
By being detached from physical pleasure and pain, purifying their minds and bodies, the Tzaddikim long for the day they will pass away because that’s like a graduation ceremony. It means their job here is done and they know they will receive an awesome reward in the afterlife.
Wicked people, on the other hand, dread death they instinctively fear what is to come. Death, for them is the end of life. For the Tzaddik, death is just the beginning. For this reason, the sages teach us that the Tzaddik is alive even while he’s dead, and the wicked are dead even while they are alive. That’s because the former cling to Hashem, the source of life while the latter rejects Him.
Whatever the case, when a worthy soul leaves the body, there’s a long, arduous process until it finally reaches Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). This may actually involve a lot of pain but the Tzaddik knows this is all for the best. More than that, he knows his own level and is willing to go through the purification process to attain the highest perception of Hashem as that is the ultimate pleasure possible.
Nevertheless, the lowest part of the soul called “Nefesh” stays in the grave, while the “Ruach” goes to Gan Eden, and the Neshama goes to the Throne of Glory. Praying in the graves of Tzaddikim is a huge merit because according to Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Dayan, it is equivalent to 100 hours studying in the Beit Midrash.
Not only that, but people tend to think that every prayer is immediately “heard” when that’scertainly not the case. For example, the sages tell us that wearing Sha’atnez (a mixture of Linen and Wool, which is a sin), makes a person’s prayer go in vain. Similarly, someone who breaks Shabbat or makes others sin (such as by tempting them) will have a hard time being listened to.
Going to the graves of Tzaddikim is a big advantage because the Nefesh there brings the prayer up the Ruach, which in turns brings it to the Neshama, which in turns brings it before the Creator. It’s kind of a shortcut. The Arizal stressed praying in the graves of the Tzaddikim a lot because a person can get strength and illumination. Many stories are told of people that had big problems in life, which were solved by going to the graves of the Tzaddikim almost immediately. This is especially when someone goes for a visit during the 15th and 29th of every month, and, of course, during the Hilula, of the Tzaddik as long as it’s not Shabbat or Yom Tov (when the soul leaves to go up one level).
Contrary to what many people think the Gan Eden is actually a waiting room until the final resurrection of the dead, which will come with Mashiach. After the Third Temple is built reality will shift to a new, much more spiritual phase in which what was known as pleasure will be considered pure pain and a new sense of pleasure will be formed.
While waiting in Gan Eden, the soul receives a grand elevation on the day of its passing, the Hilula. And, surprisingly, it may actually be taken to dip in the Nahar DiNur (River of Fire) in order to merit this gift.
This is why Rashbi was so joyous. As the one who authored the Zohar, the basis for Kabbalah, he’s decreed that people remember the ultimate goal, which is to truly bond with the Creator in the World to Come.
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