When Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son came out of the cave where they were hiding for so many years they did strange things like wanting to destroy anyone who was working instead of learning Torah. Is that something we’re supposed to learn from?
Let me explain something to you. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son spent twelve years at first in the ma’arah, in the cave. What did they do for those twelve years? You understand that they did things that other people usually did not do. They were entirely devoted to nothing but coming as close to Hashem as possible. Even when they learned halachos – Bava Kama or Zevachim, whatever they learned – they did it with such a fiery devotion to Hashem. It was Torah lishmah in the highest sense so much so that they were actually communing together with Hashem.
And they did it in the midst of the utmost privation. What can you enjoy in life if you’re hiding in a cave? They used to take off their clothes and bury themselves up to their neck in sand so that they shouldn’t be naked when they studied Torah.
Now you understand that’s not comfortable. It’s itchy. All kinds of skin troubles can result. What about drinking water? What about food to eat? They suffered terribly. For twelve years, they went through every kind of yisurim, and they were devoted entirely to the service of Hashem. Twelve years!
Now when they came out, they weren’t ordinary people; and to them everybody else was wasting their time. When they saw a man plowing his field, they said, “He’s insane! He’s wasting his life plowing his field!” Until finally Hakodosh Boruch Hu caused them to be rebuked, to show how wrong they are. להחריב את עולמי באתם – “Did you come out to destroy my world?! Go back to your cave,” Hashem said. “Go back to your cave.”
Now this story, however, illustrates the greatness of great men. Great men look at other people as if they’re insane. And the truth is that in a certain sense they are. Only that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants people to be insane. He wants people to live in certain ways. If you want to be exceptional you can do it but not everybody can. הרבה עשו כרבי שמעון בר יוחאי – many did like him; but only harbei, not everybody. No; very many couldn’t do it.
And therefore the world is made for moderate people mostly. And moderate people have to do things like everybody else does. But if you’ll learn from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to at least once in a while to devote yourself more to Hashem, to go above what others are doing, then that is a career of greatness that is available to everybody.
Some people become so great like the Ba’al Shem Tov who went into isolation for a long time in the forest. Or Rav Yozel Novardoker. He had a hut in the woods where he used to go. Nobody knew the place where he went and he spent time in that hut all by himself thinking about Hashem. Yes, there were great men who did that.
Now, we’re not recommending that to anybody today but you have opportunities; like the Chovos Halevavos says: התבודדות בתוך ההמונים – you can have solitude in the midst of a crowd of people.
Imagine you’re going to a wedding. You have to go to the wedding, what can you do? Everybody is talking and talking and chatting and laughing, and you’re standing there smiling to everybody, and you’re thinking your own thoughts. You’re thinking your own thoughts about Hashem. That’s hatznea leches im Elokecha – you’re walking secretly with Hashem. You show the people that you’re together with them – you say, “Mazal tov, mazal tov.” But as soon as he walks away, forget about him and you’re thinking about Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That’s hatznea leches im Elokecha.
And you get more reward for that because nobody is going to know. When you came out of the woods, people said, “Ooh! This tzaddik was in the woods for five weeks! Oy yoy yoy, such a tzadik!” But when you come back from the chasunah, nobody knows you were in the woods for five minutes or ten minutes at a time. You won’t get any honor for that. Only that Hakodosh Boruch Hu will one day give you the biggest honor.
TAPE # E-33