Thursday, October 2, 2008
My Kasha on Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai & Emerging From the Cave
There's something about the story in Shabbos 33b that I couldn't understand. Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the holy Tanna, had to hide in a cave for 12 years so that he would not be killed by the Romans for speaking against them. During that time, he and his son devoted all of their time and kochos hanefesh into learning the deepest secrets of the Torah. So much so, that when he came out after 12 years, he couldn't fathom how regular people could waste their time working instead of learning. The gemara says, "חזו אינשי דקא כרבי וזרעי אמר מניחין חיי עולם ועוסקין בחיי שעה כל מקום שנותנין עיניהן מיד נשרף." They saw people planting and seeding. He said, 'They abandon the eternal world and engage with the transient world?!' Everything they looked at was burned up."
Hashem did not like this so He sent down a heavenly voice to say, "חיזרו למערתכם!" "Return to your cave!" My question is this: The whole source of the problem with the Tzadik's attitude toward Jews' involvement in worldly things was the fact that he was immersed in the holiness of plumming the depths of the secrets of the Torah and learning the secrets of what would become the Zohar Hakadosh, the holy Zohar! And he was in this for so long that he was unable to fathom how anyone could live in anything other than this most exalted state. So why does Hashem tell him to go back into the cave?! This was the very source of the problem to begin with!
I asked this question to my rebbe last Shabbos. As I understand it, this is what he told me, primarily in the name of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa:
Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, through his learning and hisbonenus in the cave reached the deepest and biggest hasagos (comprehensions) in the world, the secrets of the Zohar Hakadosh. But, lulei d'mistefina, there was one thing that was so deep that he did not yet understand. The Neshoma of a Jew. He had to go even deeper and understand even more to understand that. This is why going back into the cave to understand even deeper depths was the tikun for his inability to fully understand the Neshoma of a Jew. The neshoma of a Jew is even deeper than all of the secrets of the Zohar Hakadosh.
Of course it does not bother us that the holy Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, at that temporary point in his development, in his first excursion from the cave, did some damage. Because ultimately, without the whole process, Klal Yisroel would never have had the Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai that we now have. He transformed and deepened our understanding of Hashem, Yiddishkeit, the Universe and everything, B"H! Hakol haya l'tov.
(Picture courtesy of Carol Darby)
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