The Original Man Cave

Rabbi Wagensberg
Lag B'Omer
The Original Man Cave

Lag B'Omer celebrates the yahrtzeit of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai (also known as the Rashbi after the acronym of his name) who revealed the teachings of Kabbalah to this world in the Zohar. The Rashbi once said that he possessed the ability to exempt the entire world from strict justice (Succah, chap. 4, "Lulav Va'arava", pg.45b). This ability came from the fact that the Rashbi suffered greatly in the cave that he hid out in for thirteen years. His pain and suffering was not a result of his own sins, but was rather a way of exempting the wicked from the harshness due to them on account of their sins (Rashi, Maharsha Chiddushei Aggados, Sefer Chassidim chaps. 611-615).

Moreover, Hashem sat the Rashbi next to Him at the time that He created the world (Zohar, Acharei Mos, pg. 61b). The reason for this was that the world was created with the attribute of strict justice, as it says, "In the beginning, "Elokim" created etc...." (Gn. 1:1). The Name "Elokim" is always associated with strict justice. However, the world cannot survive with that type of starkness. People need to rely upon the attribute of compassion in order to last. God knew this but created a world of roughness anyway in order that the righteous should come along and sweeten the ruggedness with compassion.

As the Rashbi watched a world of strictness being created, Hashem educated him to arouse his empathy for the world and temper its callousness with kindness (Shvilei Pinchas). The Rashbi succeeded, which is why we find two stories of creation in the Torah. The first story is found in Genesis, chapter 1. There it says that "Elokim" created the world. However, the second story of creation is found in Genesis, chapter 2, in which it says, "Havayah Elokim made earth and heaven" (Gn. 2:4). The Name Havayah is always connected to softness. Not only was Havayah joined together with Elokim, but Havayah even precedes Elokim in the verse, demonstrating compassion's superiority to strict justice (Rashi, Gn. 1:1, citing BereishisRabbah, 12:15). This became the new world order.

Once again we see that the Rashbi exempted the world from strict justice. When you boil it down, this is the essence and constitution of the Torah (teachings) of the Rashbi. It is filled with compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, tolerance, and understanding of others.

There is even a hint in a verse that the Rashbi and his Torah were next to God at the time that He created the world. The first word in the Torah is "Bereishis" (in the beginning). That word is spelled with six Hebrew letters. They are: beis, reish, aleph, shin, yud, and suf. When we unscramble those letters into the following order: aleph, tuf, reish, shin, beis, and yud, they serve as the acronym for "Ohr Toras Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai" (the light of the teachings of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Chidah, notes, Nitzotzei Oros, 1; Agra D'kallah, Remazim, Tzirufei Bereishis, 55).

This hint supports the idea that God appointed the Rashbi to smooth over the edginess of the world. Moreover, without the Rashbi, Torah itself would have been forgotten from the ranks of the Jewish people. This is evident from the following piece in the Talmud.

When the Sages entered Kerem B'yavneh, they predicted that the Torah would be forgotten from the Jewish people. They even supported their position from various verses (Amos, 8:11-12). The Rashbi commented, God forbid, that the Torah be forgotten from the Jewish people." The Rashbi went on to cite a verse of his own which says, "For it will not be forgotten from the mouth of its offspring" (Dt. 31:21).

The other sages were not wrong. They were blessed with Divine inspiration and saw the challenging situations that the Jewish people would have to face at the End of Days. The Jews would be so overwhelmed that there would not be any time to engage in Torah study. The verses cited by the Sages proved that they were right in their assessment.

The Rashbi also agreed with the sages. Naturally speaking, they were right. The darkness that would exist during the generation that would endure the birth-pangs of the Messiah would be insurmountable. However, the Rashbi promised to alter the course of future events by revealing the teachings of the Kabbalah. Those teachings are so powerful that they have the stuff that it takes to keep the people connected to Torah no matter what (Shvilei Pinchas).

Time has proven the Rashbi to be right. We do live in challenging times, and yet, Torah is thriving! This reality is the result of the seeds that the Rashbi planted, which was explained by the Arizal, and expanded upon by the Ba'al Shem Tov.

There is even a hint from the verse that the Rashbi cited that it was because of him that Torah was not forgotten. The verse was, "For it will not be forgotten from the mouth of its offspring." The Hebrew reads, "Ki Lo Sishuchach Mipi Zaro." The last letter of each word spells "Yochai." This teaches us that it was because of "Zaro" (his seed) of "Yochai" (which was Rebbi Shimon) that Torah was not forgotten from "Zaro" (its offspring) of the Jewish people (Likkutai Moharan).

From all of this we see once again that the Rashbi saved the world from destruction. Had the Jews forgotten Torah, the world would have reverted back to chaos (Avodah Zarah, chap. 1, "Lifnei Eideyhen", pg. 3a, Gn. 1:2, Reish Lakish). It was the Rashbi's teachings that prevented this forgetfulness, thereby saving the world from destruction.

We find an allusion to the fact that the Rashbi brought compassion to the world. The Rashbi hid out in a cave for thirteen years involved in constant Torah study amidst pain and suffering (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 33b). During those thirteen years, the Rashbi mastered the thirteen rules by means of which the Torah is expounded (Bereisah D'Rebbi Yishmael, Safra, Preface). The thirteen principals parallel the thirteen attributes of God's mercy (Ex. 34:6-7). Therefore, during those thirteen years, the Rashbi also mastered the thirteen qualities of God's mercy. The Rashbi was able to draw upon those attributes in order to rescue the world from strict justice.

The first person to hear about the thirteen attributes of mercy was Moshe Rabbenu. It is not arbitrary that it was specifically the Rashbi who delved into their deeper meaning. This is because the Rashbi's soul was the spark of Moshe Rabbenu (Arizal, Likkutei Shas, Shabbos). This is why we find many similarities between Moshe's life and the life of the Rashbi.

For example, Moshe had to flee from the sword of Pharaoh, and the Rashbi had to flee from the sword of the Caesar. When Moshe fled, he went to a desert and reached shleimus (completion) in his Avodas Hashem, being chosen by God to be the shepherd of Israel after demonstrating compassion for a baby goat (Shemos Rabbah, 2:2). When the Rashbi fled, he went to a cave and reached shleimus by mastering the thirteen ways of compassion.

Furthermore, Moshe learned about the thirteen attributes of mercy in a cave (Ex. 33:22), and the Rashbi studied those thirteen attributes in the same cave! (Livnas Hasapir, parshas Bereishis, 3:1). One might ask, "How can this be?" The Rashbi's cave was in Eretz Yisrael, whereas Moshe's cave was outside the land, in the wilderness?

The Livnas Hasapir answers this by saying that the cave of Moshe was one of the things that God created on the first erev Shabbos during twilight (between sun-down and three stars appearing. Pesachim, chap.4, "Makom Shenahagu", pg. 54a). This makes that cave magical, similar to the other things that were created at that time. For example, the Manna, which was angel food, that does not produce waste when consumed by humans. Another example would be the mouth of Bilaam's talking donkey.

The cave was also magical. It was created in Eretz Yisrael, but when it came time for Moshe to be hidden within it, God moved the cave to the wilderness. When the Rashbi needed it to hide in, God returned it to Eretz Yisrael (Livnas Hasapir).

It should not come as a surprise that God moves real estate around. When it came time to give the Torah, God brought the Temple Mount from Eretz Yisrael to the wilderness, called it Sinai, and gave the Torah upon it. It was later returned to Eretz Yisrael (Yalkut Reuveini, Yisro, #50, citing a Midrash).

We actually sing about this on Shabbos day in the song "Yom Shabbason" (written by Reb Yehudah Halevi). In the third stanza it says, "He spoke in His holiness on Mount Mohr (Har Hamoriah - The Temple Mount), the seventh day Zachor V'shamor (remember and safeguard)." Did Hashem really command us to observe Shabbos on Har Hamoriah? Didn't Hashem command us in keeping Shabbos in the Ten Commandments which were given on Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:8; Dt. 5:12)?

The Eitz Yoseph answers this question based on the aforementioned Midrash that says that Hashem moved Har Hamoriah to the desert, called it Sinai, and gave the Torah on it. It turns out that God DID command us in observing Shabbos on Har Hamoriah! Then the mountain was returned to Eretz Yisrael. According to this, Moshe Rabbenu did set foot on the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael! If mountains can be moved, so can caves.

Getting back, we have seen that the most fundamental teaching of the Kabbalah is to become more compassionate people. There is a practical way of keeping this teaching alive. Let's make the following resolution. After every Torah session, let's think to ourselves how our newfound information can help sculpt us into more compassionate people. For instance, if we just learned about Borer (selecting) on Shabbos, we would have seen that the halachah demands that we may only take the good from the bad of any mixture. What a powerful lesson this is because it teaches us that we should only focus on other people's good points, while ignoring their bad points!

As we do this more and more, we will connect our Torah learning (which is based on the thirteen ways by means of which the Torah is expounded) to the thirteen attributes of mercy, shaping us into even more compassionate people, and thereby be empowered to sweeten a very harsh world.

So, may we all be blessed to become the types of Tzaddikim that are capable of tapping into the thirteen aspects of mercy through the study of Torah and its thirteen ways by means of which the Torah is expounded, and thus illuminate a very dark world with the teachings of the Rashbi, transforming harshness into compassion, and thus exempt the entire world from strict justice.