Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Learning From, and Leaning on, Rabi Shimon


Oy! Do we ever need the zechus of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai this year!

The Gemara (Gittin 19) teaches us, “Kedai hu Rabi Shimon lismoch alav b’shaas hadechak. We can rely on Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai in a time of difficulty.”

If there was ever a time of difficulty, it is now. As Yidden, we know the difficulties both from within and without that we are facing. There is a large world out there with billions of people and so many countries where innocents are being indiscriminately murdered on a mass scale, but for some reason, the entire focus of the world is on tiny Israel. Not only that, but the world’s focus is not on the fact that Arabs massacred Jews on October 7th, but on the fact that the Jews are actually trying to defend themselves.

As Americans, too, we have a lot to be worried about. Anti-Semitism on campuses across the country is just a sign of a much greater rot that threatens us. There are very, very powerful forces in this country that want to bring down the United States of America. They want to emasculate American power that is critical to the upkeep of the entire world order. Towards that goal of trying to bring down the county, they seek to sow mayhem, chaos and anarchy.

Jew-hatred is just one siman of what is happening. These powerful forces are working assiduously, insidiously and, sadly, successfully to create anarchy. What started with Black Lives Matter back in the Covid era has morphed into “Free Gaza” and is in essence a movement to kill America and kill freedom around the world.

China is just waiting to step into the void.

Tapping into Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai’s Koach of Tefillah on His Yahrtzeit

That is why we must lean on Rabi Shimon this Lag Ba’omer. Lag Ba’omer is a tremendous yom tefillah.

I once saw a reason explaining why every Yid has a special power of tefillah on Lag Ba’omer, an ability to invoke rachamei Shomayim.

There is a fascinating Medrash about a couple from the town of Tzidon who had been married for ten years but had not had children. The husband decided to consult Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai about divorcing her.

Rabi Shimon told him that just as they had celebrated their marriage bond with tremendous joy, so should the severance of that very bond be celebrated in joy.

The husband therefore prepared a great feast. At the height of the feast, he called his wife and asked her in his joy to choose whatever she desired of his possessions to be hers and concluded that he would not refuse her anything.

What did she do? She served him so much wine that he got drunk and fell asleep on his bed. She then told her servant to take him into her room in her father’s house.

The following morning, when he awoke and found himself in his wife’s home, he asked her why he had been brought there. Hadn’t he made it clear that he intended to divorce her? She replied, “Didn’t you tell me that I could take whatever I wanted? I desire not gold, not silver, not precious gems, not pearls. All I want is you!”

When the husband heard this, the bond between them was renewed with even greater meaning and he took her back as his wife. They went to Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai and asked him to daven for them. He did and they merited a child. The Medrash continues by saying that we learn from here that just as Hashem is able to make the barren [woman] bear children, so can tzaddikim make the barren [woman] bear children (Shir Hashirim 1:30).

On a tzaddik’s yahrtzeit, the unique abilities that he had in his lifetime are aroused in Shomayim. On Lag Ba’omer, which is Rabi Shimon’s yahrtzeit, his unique koach hatefillah, his power to invoke rachamei Shomayim with his tefillos, is aroused. That is why Lag Ba’omer has become accepted as a special day of tefillah throughout the generations when our tefillos can be answered.

Understanding the Difficulty

There is another related lesson to be learned from Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai that is extremely important.

Often, when going through a difficult period, we get so down. We just wish it would be over. Unable to deal with the difficulty and adversity, we might say to Hashem, “Hashem, please don’t test me. Let this difficulty just end now!” Of course, there is nothing wrong with crying out to Hashem in pain, but it is also worthwhile to bear in mind that sometimes, the difficult times are actually the key to our future success.

In the famous piyut that we sing on Lag Ba’omer titled “Bar Yochai,” the author says, “Bar Yochai moshav tov yoshavta… Bar Yochai, it was a good dwelling that you found on the day you ran away and escaped from the Romans. [For thirteen years] you stood in the sand of the rocky cave; there you merited your crown of splendor and radiance.”

The piyut is referring to the twelve years that Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai spent hiding in the cave, fearful that if the Romans would find him, they would immediately kill him.

Think for one second.

Think about how difficult things were for Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Here you have a person who was living in constant fear for his life. He had to be so careful. All he had was one set of clothing, and to ensure that they wouldn’t become ruined, he dug a hole in the ground where he would be able to sit covered up to his neck so that he could remove the clothes to preserve them. That is how he learned, with his body completely submerged in the sand. Over time, the sand made crevices in his skin, causing him great pain.

They were very difficult years. Then, even after he came out, he was forced to reenter the cave and remain there for another twelve months.

The Difficulty Itself Was the Source of Brocha

On the surface, those years in the cave seemed to be a terrible golus. Yet, it is clear from history that Rabi Shimon’s greatest aliyah happened during those difficult years. He reached unfathomable levels in ruchniyus during that time. The Zohar Hakadosh originated in the cave.

The lesson that we can learn is that sometimes, what appears to be the most difficult period in our lives may become the very period when we shteig and grow the most. It might just be specifically during those times that we receive so much brocha and so much ruchniyus from Hashem on a level that will eventually enrich us and possibly even illuminate the world.

I heard from an adam gadol that this is the meaning of the piyut that says, “For thirteen years you stood in the sand of a rocky cave and davka during that most difficult period you merited the crown of splendor.”

We never wish difficult times on ourselves and we daven that Hashem should only bestow upon us brocha that we clearly understand as being brocha, but if Hashem, in His wisdom, does give us a difficulty, we should realize that we can grow tremendously from that adversity. That is another lesson from Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai.

We can and should internalize this lesson and recognize that Lag Ba’omer is an extremely auspicious day. It is a day when, in the zechus of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, our tefillos can accomplish so much. It is a day when we can try to remember that difficulties are very often the greatest opportunity for growth.

We don’t ask for them, but if they come, let’s embrace them.




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