May 12, 2020


The Divine Mandate for FreedomAnd restraint -- as the holiday of Lag B'Omer reminds us. (SHMUEL KLATZKIN, May 12, 2020, American Spectator)

As is common in times of great oppression, there was continual disagreement among the Jews as to the best way to relate to Rome. No one could claim success, so the arguments were not settled. Some advocated accommodation and pointed out the positive side of Rome -- the roadways, the aqueducts, the baths, the plumbing, the orderliness brought to commerce and travel on an immense scale. Rabbi Shimon, however, thought these improvements meant nothing if freedom was denied. Rome eventually put a price on his head, and he had to flee for his life.

The story passed down through the generation by the Talmud is that he and his grown son hid in a cave for 12 years. He lived on the most meager of rations; he was sustained by his constant review of the Oral Law, of which he was a master, and by his deep mystical insight, for he was deeply spiritual and meditative as well as being a master of law.

The Talmud tells a tale of what occurred when he and his son finally emerged. His ardor for freedom was undimmed, and having put all at stake for his God and country, he was violently dismayed by seeing life going on around him as if all were normal. How could anyone not devote themselves completely to God and give up everything for the cause? As the text describes it, fire shot out from him and consumed the people who were acting as if all they had to do was to plow their fields, nothing more.

In response to this came a heavenly voice that said, "Is this what you will do with My world? Go back to your cave!"

The text tells us that he and his son went back to the cave for another year. When they emerged this time, Rabbi Shimon's son still would burn people up with his anger, but Rabbi Shimon would immediately heal them.

The central message of this story is that no matter how holy and completely dedicated people are, they are not empowered to hold the entire world to their level of behavior. The world is a divine creation, even if it does not fully reflect that. In particular, people do not see and respond in the same way, even to the greatest issues, and their lives must be respected nonetheless. We must accept these differences, not merely as regrettable allowance to a bad reality but also as something that represents God's overriding will.

The message then is that the need to allow freedom is not a human conceit pressed at the expense of true loyalty and dedication to the highest of causes. Human difference is part of the supreme design; we each have a voice and a role in the discussion and in the determination of our common affairs.

Posted by at May 12, 2020 12:00 AM