Saturday, November 28, 2020 -
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What would Rashbi say?

SOMETIMES timing is a funny thing. Just a day before Lag b’Omer, when so many cities in Israel are  blanketed in the smokiness of bonfires commemorating the day that the holy Rav Shimon bar Yochai left this world, Netanyahu announces his move for a unity government. One of the primary issues for Netanyahu is reaching a boiling point. The Tal Law — the exemption of yeshiva students from IDF army service — is an issue which his present coalition government is split on.

In a nutshell, what is the story of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi)?

Rashbi lived during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. He was one of the five surviving students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, who ensured the continuity of Rabbi Akiva’s teachings, ensured that the stellar Torah developments of his generation would not be forgotten.

At that time, part of the Roman persecution of the Jews was the outlawing of Torah study, on pain of death! The Romans wanted to wipe out Jewish tradition. But nothing would stop Rashbi from studying Torah. He defied the Roman decree.

The Romans got wind of it and issued a death warrant. Escaping with his life, Rashbi, together with his son Elazar, entered a cave. Father and son hid for 12 years, completely detached from society, completely engaged in one thing only: Torah study.

Miraculously, just outside the cave, a carob tree sprouted and a stream of water flowed by. These alone sustained these two students in a total spiritual immersion of Torah study.

When the Emperor who had issued the death warrant died, Rashbi and his son emerged from the cave. After over a decade of  total physical isolation and spiritual nourishment, blinking daylight for the first time, Rashbi encountered a man plowing his field. Rashbi, coming from a different realm of existence, having accessed spiritual heights for 12 years, found that his eyes literally burned. Upon seeing this farmer engaged in plowing a field instead of engaging in Torah study, Rashbi’s eyes flashed and burned this man.

A heavenly voice rang out: “This is what you left the cave for? To destroy my creations? Re-enter the cave!”

The rest of this article is available in the IJN’s print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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