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19 Iyar 5766 - May 17, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Level of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

by HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l
Delivered at the Mesibas Chasal Siddur Pesach, 5729

In honor of the holiday of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Lag BaOmer.

The Remains of Mon, the Taste of Mon

"And bnei Yisroel ate the mon for forty years until they came to a habitable land; they ate the mon until they came to the edge of the land of Canaan" (Shemos 16:35). This posuk seems to contain a contradiction, for it mentions two different places that bnei Yisroel stopped eating mon. The gemora uses this to show that although the mon stopped descending daily when Moshe died on the seventh of Adar (at "the edge of the land of Canaan"), the people subsisted on the mon that remained in their containers until the sixteenth of Nisan when they ate from the produce of the Land (Kiddushin 38).

Tosafos asks why the gemora didn't cite the posuk in Yehoshua (5:12) which states explicitly that "the mon finished on the day after Pesach . . ." and suggests that "perhaps [the gemora] preferred deriving it from the Torah's words" — an answer that is not readily understandable.

The gemora brings another Beraissa that asks that bnei Yisroel apparently did not eat mon for forty years, as the posuk says they did. The mon descended for the first time on the sixteenth of Iyar, a month after they left Egypt and they consumed it daily until the sixteenth of Nisan forty years less one month later. The Beraissa proves from this that the matzos that they brought out with them from Egypt, which they ate for the first thirty days, tasted like mon.

Still the Ideal

"Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said, `If a person ploughs in the ploughing season, sows in the sowing season, reaps at harvest time, threshes in the threshing season and winnows when there is wind, what will become of the Torah? But, when Yisroel are fulfilling Hashem's will, their work is done by others . . .' Abaye said, `Many people tried to emulate Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and were unsuccessful' " (Brochos 35).

There is a tradition from the talmidim of the Vilna Gaon that although many were unsuccessful in emulating Rabbi Shimon, individuals should try and do so and they will succeed. Although there is scarcely a person in our generation who merits studying Torah on such a level, it is still possible to attain something of it. (Ed. Note. See Nefesh HaChaim, shaar 1:8 and Tzidkas Hatzaddik, p. 224).

Ploughing and sowing according to the season was the life adopted by the generation that entered Eretz Yisroel. The generation that lived in the desert were on a level like that of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Their "work was done by others"; their needs were met without requiring any effort on their part and they studied Torah all the time. Individuals can [still] emulate the way of life that all of Knesses Yisroel followed to begin with. [At any rate,] the beginning of a person's life and Torah study should be as close to the level of Rabbi Shimon as possible.

Total Dependence

"`Who is this coming up from the desert?' (Shir Hashirim 3:6) — Their virtues are from the desert" (Shir Hashirim Rabba 3:7). The foundation of all of Knesses Yisroel's qualities is the generation that lived in the desert.

Even after "entering the Land," when the life of "ploughing and sowing in season" began, they still clung to the life of the generation of the desert where "work is done by others," subsisting on the mon that remained in their vessels until the sixteenth of Nisan. This is why the gemora prefers the posuk in the Torah to the one in Yehoshua. The Torah had been given to them in the desert by Moshe Rabbenu, on the level of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, with their needs being provided without them having to make any effort.

As soon as they left Egypt they tasted mon in the matzos that they brought with them. Knesses Yisroel's beginning was life lived with complete dependence upon Hashem yisborach. The taste of mon started at Pesach and the mon finished [forty years later] on Pesach. The festival of Pesach carries the flavor of life that is wholly dependent on Hashem yisborach, which Knesses Yisroel experienced in its youth.

"Your following Me in the desert, in a land that was not sown" (Yirmiyohu 2:2).

"`Who is this coming up from the desert?' Their virtues are from the desert"!

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