This past Kabbalat Shabbat we listened to Amitai Aricha sing one of the poems written by the Yeminite 17th century poet, Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, or as Gary Cohen spoke of him, the “Shakespeare of Yemen.”

Aricha sang in the Bell Cave one of the many chalk caves carved into the topography south of Jerusalem. These caves were used for all manner of reasons – but surely, acoustically, they are one of our great natural sound chambers. Here is the link for Im Nin’alu as well as other songs and singers.

For more:

As more news comes out of Israel regarding the multiple deaths and injuries from the Lag B’Omer gathering, it has become very clear that we need to continually stress our obligation as Jews to not recklessly endanger our own life or the lives of others, however “religiously” motivated those choices might be. “Just because we can, does not mean we should.”

There are many questions for all levels of authority in Israel to answer, be they religious and/or political authorities. In Israel separating the threads of responsibility between religious and governmental/political governance is very difficult – theirs is a long and very complicated history (and future) in this regard. Will this tragedy at Meron finally break the authorities out of their collective cave of darkness?

As I turned to the pages of this week’s Torah reading, I read the following phrase: “You shall not make idols for yourselves, and you shall not erect for yourselves a stone or a pillar, and in your land you shall not place a flooring stone upon which to prostrate yourself – for I am HaShem your God.” Behar 26:1

If anything, perhaps, based on such events, but also other circumstances, we must very carefully consider how we must not make an idol out of anyone. Not God. Not a revered teacher such as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. Especially not ourselves. We need to learn from Rabbi Shimon how our hubris, our arrogance, is often the source of our punishment.

Once, when Rabbi Shimon was together with Rabbi Yehudah ben Ilai and Rabbi Yose ben Chalafta, Rabbi Yehudah praised the Romans for their construction of markets, bridges and bathhouses. Rabbi Yose remained silent. But Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that all those engineering marvels were made for their own self-interest. When the Romans heard this, they rewarded Yehudah by appointing him to a position in government. Rabbi Yose, for not supporting him, was punished by exile. For his disparagement of the Romans, Rabbi Shimon was condemned to death.

To escape this punishment, Rabbi Shimon fled with his son to a cave. There they remained for thirteen years, studying Torah together, both the Revealed and the Hidden Torah. Rabbi Shimon wrote down the latter material for the first time in a book called the “Zohar,” Splendor, or Radiance.

The first time Rabbi Shimon came out of the cave, he was completely “out of tune” with the people of his generation. He observed Jews farming the land, and engaged in other normal pursuits, and made known his disapproval, “How can people engage themselves in matters of this world and neglect matters of the next world?” Whereupon a Heavenly Voice (a bat kol) was heard, which said “Bar Yochai, go back to the cave! You are no longer fit for the company of other human beings.” Rabbi Shimon went back to the cave, reoriented his perspective, and emerged again. This time, he was able to interact with the people of his generation, and become a great teacher of Torah, the Revealed and the Hidden.

And just as Rabbi Shimon learned to recognize we all have our place, our work in this world, so is this our lesson in this life.

Please, be safe,
Rabbi Lynn