An Incident Regarding Rabbi Shimon
The Midrash (Shir Ha’Shirim, Chapter 1 and Pesikta De’Rav Kahana, Chapter 22) tells a story about a couple who lived in Tzidon (Tyre) and were married for ten years and still did not merit bearing children. The came before Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and wished to get divorced and part ways.
Rabbi Shimon told them, “Just as when you got married, you made a great feast and celebration, you must now do the same upon getting divorced. Afterwards, we will arrange the Get and you can go on your ways.” The couple agreed and that night, they had a great feast, as they did on their wedding night. At the party, the husband told the wife, “I allow you to take one object of your choosing as a memento of our marriage and take it back with you to your father’s house.”
During the meal, the wife gave her husband some hard liquor to drink until he was so intoxicated that he fell asleep. She then told her servants, “Pick up my husband and carry him to my father’s house.” In the middle of the night, the husband woke up and found himself in a strange house. He asked, “Where am I?” His wife answered, “In my father’s house.” He asked, “Why am I here and not in my house?” The wife replied, “You told me I could take anything I wanted as a keepsake. I chose to take you.”
The couple reconciled and the next morning, they went to see Rabbi Shimon. He was so moved by this story that he prayed for them and nine months later, they had a baby boy.
This was the power of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “the man who cause the earth to tremble and kingdoms to quiver.” His power came from his unmatched dedication to Torah study through complete separation from all materialistic things.
Loss of a Mitzvah Relative to its Reward
It seemed in the beginning as though Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lost everything he had in the world. As a result of standing firm in his convictions, he had to flee and hide out in a cave for thirteen years where he studied Torah incessantly with his son Rabbi Elazar until his body was full of wounds as a result of the dirt, they were submerged in. This was at the same time when his peers outside of the cave continued on with their lives and Torah study. However, as a result of the great devotion through which Rabbi Shimon studied Torah, he merited becoming one of the greatest Tannaim and the leader of all the sages of Kabbalah. He also merited bringing about great miracles and wonders.
The Mishnah in Avot states, “Rabbi says: What is the straight path that one should cleave to? Anything that brings glory to one who follows it on account if which one accrues honor from others. Be careful with lighter Mitzvot as you would more stringent Mitzvot, for you do not know the reward for the Mitzvot. Furthermore, calculate the loss of a Mitzvah compared to its reward and the reward of a sin compared to its loss.” For instance, if a person studies Torah for two hours a day during which time he could have been working. If he would have worked, he would have earned more money, however, he still chooses to spend this time learning Torah. This is the calculation of the loss of a Mitzvah compared to its reward, for when one thinks about how great the reward for Torah study is and how much more reward one will receive for it in the World to Come, this makes money seem insignificant.”
The Gabbai of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, whose name was Rabbeinu Politi, recounted that when he lived in Istanbul, he had a textile factory and was very successful. Next to his store, a non-Jew opened up his own textile factory, however, Rabbeinu Politi ignored him.
One day, a high-ranking Turkish general entered the store and said, “I am the commanding officer for fifty-thousand Turkish troops. I need to purchase uniforms for all of them and I would like you to make them. Please show me your best merchandise and name your price.”
Rabbeinu Politi replied, “Dear sir. It is now 5:00 PM and they are waiting for me in the synagogue for Mincha services. Could you please do me a favor and wait twenty minutes so that I can pray and then, I shall return.” The general replied, “No, I cannot! I am in a rush, and I cannot wait!” Rabbeinu Politi apologized and said that he would have to forgo the deal since he needed to go pray. Rabbeinu Politi told himself, “I am so happy that now, my prayer is worth fifty-thousand uniforms!”
The general then went next door to the competing textile store owned by the non-Jew and purchased the fifty-thousand uniforms from him.
Three months passed and Rabbeinu Politi was sitting in his store when suddenly, the Turkish general marched in. He exclaimed, “See here. All the uniforms I ordered from your neighbor are of inferior quality, they tear easily and the color fades quickly under the sun. These are soldiers and they need high-quality uniforms! I would therefore like to reorder all these uniforms, but only from you!” Rabbeinu Politi showed him the fabric and the general was so pleased, he paid him double what he was willing to pay the first time. This time, the general had already learned to appreciate his quality.
This is an example of loss of a Mitzvah compared to its reward, for a Mitzvah’s “residual reward is in this world and the principal reward is in the World to Come.”
May the merit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai protect us all, Amen.