Thursday, May 11, 2017

Zionist Chassidim: Before and After the Cave

By Rafi Ostroff
Head of the Religious Council of Gush Etzion

The teachings of Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai were the focus of several sermons by the Rebbe of Husiatyn for the Torah portion of Emor and for Lag B’Omer, repeatedly, during several years.

What will be with Torah?

We start with the famous dispute between Rabban Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael about how much effort we should put into making a living:

We have been taught: Why is it written, “And you shall gather your grains” [Devarim 11:14]? It is because it is written, “Let this Torah never leave your mouth” [Yehoshua 1:8]. Can this be literally true? Therefore, we are taught, “You shall gather your grains.” You should live in a normal way. These are the words of Rabbi Yishmael. Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai says, can it be that a man should plow at the time of plowing, plant at the time of planting, harvest at the time of the harvest, thresh at the time of threshing, and remove the chaff when there is a wind? What will then be with the Torah? Rather, when Yisrael observe the will of G-d, their work will be performed by others... But when Yisrael do not observe the will of G-d, they must do their own work, as is written, “You shall gather your grains.” [Berachot 35b].

Rabbi Yishmael insists that a man must behave in a normal way and make a living, and not depend on a miracle for his livelihood. Rabban Shimon feels that a Jew has a special mission in this world, and therefore if he will behave normally he will not be able to fulfill his destiny of Torah study. There is literally not enough time to do everything, and the result is that we must concentrate on fulfilling G-d’s will.

Go Back to your Cave!

Here is how the Rebbe explains Rabban Shimon’s outlook:

Rabban Shimon was always present in the world of the spirit, and he was never sufficiently linked to the physical world and its needs. Therefore all he saw was the destiny of the high-level people, who are few in number. And that is what Abayei meant when he said, “Many people followed the path of Rabbi Yishmael and succeeded, and many tried the path of Rabbam Shimon and failed,” because Rabban Shimon’s path is suitable only for a few. In the end, he was shown by heaven that a leader of Yisrael must descend from the mountain to the people, go down from the heights to be able to connect with this world, in order to look at its needs and to judge Yisrael in a positive light. And this is what we see when Rabban Shimon left the cave with his son (after staying there for twelve years)... A heavenly voice came out and told them: Did you come to destroy My world? Go back to your cave! (Shabbat 33b).

Finding the Merits

In another place, Rabban Shimon commented in a way that seems to contradict what he taught in Berachot:

“So that I can test him to see if he will follow My Torah or not” [Shemot 16:4]. The Torah was only given to those who ate the manna. What does this mean? A man would sit and study without knowing from where his food and drink would come, and from where he would get clothing to cover himself. This means that the Torah was only suitable for those who ate the manna.

Rabban Shimon here shows us the merits of the nation of Yisrael by saying that they cannot study Torah properly, since it was only given to those who ate the manna and who did not have to worry about their livelihood. This commentary corresponds to Rabban Shimon’s very lenient approach, that even if a man only reads the Shema morning and night he has fulfilled his obligation to “never let Torah leave his mouth.” This is opposed to the opinion of Rabbi Yossi, who insists that in order to fulfill this requirement a man must study at least one chapter during the day and one chapter during the night.

The Rebbe of Husiatyn feels that this lenient requirement is accepted as halacha as a way of adding merits to the nation:

We can also add that the words of Rabban Shimon in Berachot (that a man must study Torah and not be involved in a livelihood) were said before he spent time in the cave, while the words in Mechilta (that the Torah was suitable only for those who eat the manna) were said after he spent the time in the cave. This was after he was shown by heaven that one should search for the merits of Yisrael, and we cannot expect everybody to maintain the high standards of Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai – since after all there are very few who are at his level.

Rabban Shimon must find the merits of the nation, since he was a great leader. As far as the Rebbe of Husiatyn was concerned, this in itself is the main mission of the Chassidic masters.

Let us pray that on the eve of Lag B’Omer this year that these two great masters will publicize our merits in heaven.

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