Darkness and Lightness of the Soul

May 2, 2021
According to tradition, the cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Photo by Ovedc/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Bar Yohai lived within a cave for many years,
By leaving it he caused his father-in-law great distress.
“Alas that I should see you so,” was Pinhas ben Yair’s
reaction. Bar Yohai said: “You should now be troubled less.
If I did not look half as weathered, I’d be half as wise!”

They then debated just as great Talmudic scholars do,
and bar Yohai proved, much to Pinhas’s great surprise,
that his ability to solve some major problems grew
far more in darkness of the cave than when outside.
He’d studied in academies, but there’s one that is greater
in heaven. Living in a cave as if he’d died,
he learned what greatest rabbis may discover only later,
after death, in heaven, when we all may find
what Bar Yohai found in the darkness of a silent cave
where he discovered wisdom. Most of us will never find it
until our bones are buried in the darkness of a grave,
our spirit not by Torah’s holy Zohar blinded.

This blindness damaged Bar Yohai, frowning, far too strict
towards the Jews outside his cave, both his pupils quite
unable, when he left the cave he lived in, to constrict,
to see them as he could once they’d dilated in good light.


This year, Lag B’Omer was extremely sad, because while celebrating it about fifty Jews died, in an accident that occurred while they were leaving the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Rabbi David Wolpe pointed out that Rabbi Shimon Ba Yohai, who lived in a cave with his son for twelve years, becoming the legendary apocryphal author of  the mystical masterpiece, the  Zohar, which means “Bright Light,” had difficulties relating to reality, having experienced mystic visions in the darkness of his cave for twelve year.  Rabbi Wolpe pointed out that the message of the story about Rabbi Shimon and his son is that reality trumps the brilliance of illusions created by mystical insights.

Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976.  Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored “Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel.” He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.

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