Thousands were on hand Saturday night to join the celebration of Lag BaOmer as Rabbi Yaakov Yosef lit the traditional bonfire at the Tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik (Simon the Just) in the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhood named for the sage. (All Israel news photos: courtesy of Yossi Fuchs / News 24)
Jewish families returned to live full-time in the neighborhood about a year ago, after many years of coming in and out of the neighborhood to pray at the grave site of the sage for whom the area is named.
The neighborhood, known to Arabs as Sheikh Jarrah, is closer to the center of capital than Ramot or Har Homa, is close to a government complex on one side and not far from the Regency Hotel on the other. Despite numerous struggles with Arab squatters over the years, Jewish groups have worked hard to restore its Jewish nature; at least one property has been owned by a Sephardic Jewish organization for more than 120 years.
Shimon HaTzaddik is mentioned in Pikei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers, 1:2) as “among the last of the Great Assembly.” He is also known as the author of the famous dictum, “The world stands on three pillars: the study of Torah, the service of G-d, and on the performance of kind deeds.”
One famous story about the sage, who was the “Kohen Gadol” – the High Priest – in the Second Temple period for 40 years, involves an encounter he had with the world-conquering Macedonian Emperor, Alexander the Great. Alexander came to Jerusalem with the intention of destroying it. But when he met Shimon HaTzaddik, he suddenly realized that this was the same individual he had encountered in his dreams each night, and who had advised him on the tactics to be used in the next day's battle. The advice never had never failed him. Instead, the High Priest took Alexander on a tour of the Temple, and though he refused the great conquerer's request to place a marble image of himself within the Temple courtyard, he offered to name each male child that year after Alexander. The emperor accepted Shimon HaTzaddik's offer, and that is how “Alexander” became a Jewish name.