Most Wanted

(Torah Portion Bechukosai) Most Wanted

I want to focus on a person who was pursued and hunted, and found refuge in a cave for 12 years.

No, he was not a mass murderer, terrorist or one wanted for his evil behavior. On the contrary…. he was placed on the most wanted list by the Romans because he was a great sage, scholar and loyal teacher of Torah.

He was Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai who lived approximately 1800 years ago.

Rebbe Shimon was an outstanding disciple of the famous Rebbe Akiva, and because he openly defied the Roman tyranny, was sentenced to death and was compelled to flee and hide in a cave with his son Elazar.

The Talmud describes a miracle that occurred. A carob tree and a spring of water were created for them to draw their sustenance. During the 12 years that Rebbe Shimon and his son Rebbe Elazar spent in the cave, they studied Torah together. Also, Rebbe Shimon was given the Heavenly wisdom to compose the Zohar, our Kabalistic mystical teachings of the Torah.

One day Elijah the Prophet appeared at the mouth of the cave and informed them that the Roman Caesar had passed away and the decree had been annulled.

When Rebbe Shimon and Rebbe Elazar ventured out into the civilized world after having been totally immersed in the spiritual world for 12 years in the cave, it was difficult for them to adjust to people involved with the mundane. A Heavenly voice ordered them back into the cave for an additional 12 months so that they may prepare themselves to reenter society. At the end of 12 months, a Heavenly voice called out that they should emerge from the cave.

On the day that Rebbe Shimon passed away, he shared the mystical secrets of the Torah, the Zohar, with his students. Because he exposed the secrets of the Torah on this day, he instructed that his Yahrtzait be marked as a day of rejoicing, rather than a somber day.

Rebbe Shimon’s Yahrtzait is Lag B’Omer – the 33rd day of the Omer count (Sunday) – a day that is observed joyously despite the fact that it is in the midst of the Omer count which is generally marked as a period of semi-mourning because 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva died during this period between Peasch and Shavuos. Interestingly, although all the students died before Rebbe Shimon, none of them died on Lag B’Omer – the day destined for celebration.

Although Rebbe Akiva was at the advanced age of 92 when he suffered the devastating loss of his thousands of students, he gathered five outstanding students and taught and transmitted the Torah tradition to them. One of these five students was Rebbe Shimon ben Yochai.

After the wicked Roman Emperor Hadrian destroyed the city of Beitar – the last stronghold of the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple – Rebbe Akiva defied Hadrian’s decree forbidding the teaching, study and observance of Torah. For this he was lead to a martyr’s death.

Also in defiance of Hadrian’s decree, Rebbe Yehuda ben Bava, a colleague of Rebbe Akiva, gathered the greatest disciples of Rebbe Akiva and gave them Semicha – ordination. Rebbe Yehuda ben Bava was mercilessly pursued and killed by the Romans. However, he positioned himself in such a way that his students could flee and continue the tradition of the great Torah masters. Rebbe Shimon Ben Yochai was one of the students who received Semicha at that time.
The Romans keenly understood that the future of the Jewish people was dependent on having qualified teachers to educate the masses, sought to bring on Rebbe Shimon the same death as his peers.

As it emerges, the expansion of the revelation of the secrets of the Torah – Kabbalah from which we have so much benefit, came about through the Romans forcing Rebbe Shimon to hide in the cave.

Lag B’Omer is a celebration of the best of our ‘fugitives!’

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks