Rabbi Shimon and the tears of his mother

Pedro Mealha

Here is a little Israeli Trivia.

The second most visited religious site in Israel after the Western Wall is the burial site of this great Rabbi in North Israel: Shimon Bar Yochai.

Rabban Shimon bar Yochai, also known by his acronym “Rashbi,” was a 2nd-century Tannaic sage in ancient Israel, active after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. He was one of the most eminent disciples of Rabbi Akiva and is the author of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah/mysticism.

The parents of Rabbi Shimon, Yochai, and Sarah, were barren for many years. Yochai decided that he would be forced to exercise the option to divorce his wife, as is the law, to fulfill the mitzvah/commandment of having children, which was a matter of great distress, especially to his wife.

Sarah fasted, prayed, and cried a lot to God, like Hannah did many years earlier, until her son Samuel, the first prophet, was born to the Jewish people. On the night of Rosh Hashanah, Yochai dreamed he was in a beautiful garden with many trees. Some were dry and barren, and some produced beautiful foliage and fruit. Suddenly, an angel appeared with a water flask and started to water only some dry, gnarled trees.

Approaching the dry tree, Yochai was leaning on, the angel pulled out a container from close to him and watered his tree. Soon afterward, it started to bloom, producing beautiful apple-like fruit with a pleasing scent and taste.

Yochai told his wife of the dream and what he felt was its interpretation: they would be blessed with a child in the following year. “But why did the angel water your tree differently than all the other dried-out trees?” asked Sarah. Yochai said they would have to go to Rabbi Akiva, the leading Rabbi of the time, for an interpretation.

Rabbi Akiva said, “The container you say the angel pulled from his chest was filled with the tears of Sarah’s prayer. Your dry tree was given life from the tears of her prayers.”

It was not long afterward, on the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah, that Shimon was born.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was one of three Godly giants in the Talmud, who is described as “a regular with (living and experiencing) miracles.”

After the death of his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon and his son Elazar, pursued by the Romans, were forced to hide in a cave. God caused a carob tree to spring up at the entrance to the cave, as well as a spring of fresh water. For thirteen years, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar dwelt in the cave where they studied the hidden secrets of the Torah, sustaining themselves on carobs during the week and figs on Shabbat, the tree offered miraculously and water. During this time, they studied and prayed until they became the holiest sages of their day.

I want to share a few of this great sage’s powerful sayings and teachings.

1. There are three crowns, or reasons, for a person to carry, honor, and respect: first is the crown of those who study and know Torah, the second is the crown of the priesthood (those who are fortunate enough to be born descendants of Aron and are priests), and the third is the crown of royalty. The crown of a good name, an earned positive reputation, surpasses them all.

2. Whoever is arrogant and haughty is as if he worships strange and false gods.

3. Three worthy gifts God presented to the Jewish people. However, these gifts were only given through great struggle and difficulties: the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the world to come.

4. Great is work, for it brings honor to its master.

5. Greater and worse is someone who fools and takes advantage of another through words than someone who deceives and takes advantage of someone through money, because regarding fooling someone with words, the Torah says, “and you shall fear God,” while regarding fooling someone with money, the Torah does not mention “and you shall fear God.”

6. Even if someone is righteous his entire life and only rebelled in the end, he has forfeited all he earned initially. Even if one is an evil person his entire life and repents in the end, his wickedness is not mentioned.

Chapter 263

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" Rabbi Ezagui opened in 1987 the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the Island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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