Monday, April 30, 2018

In the Merit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

From Entering the Light
Translation by Dovid Sears

Based on Rebbe Nachman’s teaching about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, found at the beginning of Likutey Moharan, Part I, Reb Noson’s prayer discusses the predicament of the Jewish people in these times, which are described as the “double darkness” that precedes the dawn of the Messianic Age. Rebbe Nachman discussed the power of the tzaddikim even after their physical passing in numerous lessons. Thus, Reb Noson supplicates Rabbi Shimon and the other tzaddikim who “rest in the dust” to intercede for the sake of the living, so that we may overcome our many obstacles and fulfill our spiritual mission as the bearers of God’s Torah.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “holy awakened being who descended from heaven,”[i] holy lamp, supernal lamp, mighty lamp, precious lamp! You promised the Jewish people that through you, the Torah would never be forgotten by Israel, when you declared: “With this book, the Zohar, you will go forth from exile!”[ii] Even in the “double concealment” of holiness that prevails during these times,[iii] which are called the “footsteps of the Mashiach,” you promised us that the Torah would still not be forgotten by our descendants, as it is written, “And I shall surely hide My face on that day because of all [the evil] that [Israel] did . . . Then this song shall speak up before him as a witness, for it shall not be forgotten from the mouths of his descendants.”[iv]

The days have finally arrived that we never wished to see![v] Our exile has gone on so long, and our servitude has persisted. Every day we wander in poverty, and our power has fallen greatly; “for the enemy’s power increases, and none is saved or assisted.”[vi] We remain like fatherless orphans, and there is none to take up our cause.

Yet in the adversity of these last days of our bitter exile, the light of Mashiach has already begun to glimmer, beginning in the days of the ARI, blessed be the memory of the tzaddik. Your nation, the House of Israel, now yearns and longs for God, and we all desire to revere Your Name with the most intense yearning, the like of which never existed before,[vii] “even if I were constantly awake, and always with You.”[viii]

I have arrived at the end of all generations, and still I am with You! We still cling to You, and yearn for Your service until our souls are about to leave us!

At the same time, our distance from You today is immeasurable. “We are drowning in the watery abyss, without a foothold! We have entered the deep water, and the rushing current sweeps us away!”[ix] Your people, Israel, has rebelled so greatly that it is impossible to describe the incitement of the Evil One, with which we have been attacked so severely, causing us to fall so low.

Who am I, in my spiritual poverty, to recount the troubles of Israel? O God, You alone fully know the plight of Israel in these times, at the End of Days. Nevertheless, I have come to speak and bewail the state of my soul: how far I am from God, and how extensive my spiritual damage, my many transgressions, and my enormous sins. “Over these I weep, my eyes flow with tears!”[x]

I don’t know any way to regain the power of holiness and attain perfect repentance. I don’t know of any path to begin to forsake my evil ways and my despicable thoughts, or how to remedy such spiritual disasters as these. O my soul, I don’t know where to go. Where can I take my profound disgrace? Where can I flee? Where can I hide because of my embarrassment and shame? I call to the mountains “Cover me!” and to the hills “Fall on me!”[xi] Woe for what has happened to me! Woe for what has happened to me!

“Therefore I said, ‘Leave me alone, I will weep bitter tears!’[xii] Perhaps He will have pity! Perhaps He will have mercy![xiii] For nothing prevents God from saving,” [xiv] even me, at this very time; for there is great relief and salvation before Him, as it is written, “You can do anything, and it is impossible to thwart Your objective.”[xv]

My teacher, my teacher, my teacher! “My father, my father! Chariot of Israel and its rider!”[xvi] Light of the lamp of Torah! Awaken, why do you sleep! How is it possible to endure the sufferings of Israel? Arise and awaken, together with all of the true tzaddikim, to gaze upon and behold the affliction of our souls! “All who rest in the dust, awaken and sing!”[xvii] Arise, sleepers of Machpelah,[xviii] to our support! Righteous pillars of the world, come to our assistance at this hour of crisis! Have compassion and mercy on the entire flock of the Children of Israel, myself among them -- although I am sinful, spiritually damaged, and full of transgressions from head to foot.

You know all the travail that we have encountered from the day we went into exile until the present, everything that each of us has endured. In particular, You know what I have gone through from the day the three levels of my soul and my body were “emanated, created, formed, and made;”[xix] what I have endured in each successive incarnation, especially what I have endured in my present body; everything I have ever experienced until today, what I remember still, and what I have forgotten.

It would take “all the lambs of Nevayot”[xx] to create enough parchment to describe a fraction of the damage I have caused in one day, given the spiritual repercussions of my actions according to the root of my soul; and all the more so, all the damage I have caused in the course of all my days, from the first until the last. Who could describe this, who could measure this? What can I say, what can I answer, what can I declare, and how can I exonerate myself?

Master of the Universe! Instill into the heart of this holy awesome tzaddik, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai [if one is privileged to stand at his gravesite, add: “who rests here”], as well as into the hearts of all true tzaddikim, not to hide their faces from me, but to stand up for me as eloquent defenders, to review my merits, and to search until they find good points in me. Thus they will intercede on my behalf that You mercifully draw me close to You, and grant me “a new heart and a new spirit.”[xxi] Then I will be able to truly arouse myself to return to You, from now on, sincerely and with a whole heart. “Heavens, pray for us!”[xxii] May all merciful and compassionate ones have mercy on me! May all those who rest in the dust intercede on behalf of one who is “drowning in the deep with no foothold”[xxiii] like me!

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai! Let us remember and take to heart that in these generations we merited to hear of your wondrous and awesome greatness – how the Torah hints that through you, the Torah shall not be forgotten. Because the final letters of the verse you cited as a proof: “Ki lo tishakhach mipi zaro . . . For it shall not be forgotten from the mouths of your children” spell the word “Yochai,” your father’s holy name. And a different verse hints to your holy name: “Ir Vi’kadish Min SHemaya Nachit . . . A holy awakened being came down from heaven,” the initial letters of which spell “Shimon [Hebrew: shin, mem, ayin, vav, nun].”   

You alone know the hidden meaning of these mysteries; you alone know the greatness of the assurance you gave to the Jewish people that through you, the Torah would not be forgotten from Israel; how Moses our teacher prophesied concerning this in his holy Torah long before!

Therefore, I have come to recall this: please, my holy masters! Have pity on me, and don’t consider all the evil I have done from time immemorial until today, in thought, speech, and action; “for I rebelled against the words of God, and despised the advice of the Supreme One.”[xxiv] Don’t gaze upon my evil deeds, and don’t treat me as I deserve, according to my sins. Don't let me be a thorn in your eyes, after all the times you tried to arouse me with thousands and myriads of hints and arousals, and with so many kinds of good advice to draw nearer to God, every day and every moment. Yet despite all this, in my stubbornness, I continued to ruin my life, and did not incline my ears or my heart.

Have compassion for me, and don’t pay attention to all this. Don’t allow your anger to burn against me, God forbid. Instead, devise new strategies by which to put an end to my banishment from God and from you, from now on. For there is still is no impediment to God’s deliverance, even now. I have no strength but with my mouth alone; and this, too, comes from God, Who did not withhold His kindness and His truth from me, but gave strength to a weary person like me, that I may now speak these few words.

Upon this I have staked my confidence: that the tzaddikim will have mercy upon me and take action, so that I may return to God in truth. May I go to the Land of Israel, speedily and in peace, and say all this and more at your holy resting places!

Tzaddikim! Holy sages! God in His goodness will surely hear your prayers! For your sakes, He will help, protect, and save me, together with the entire Jewish people. He will speedily bring me back in perfect teshuvah to Him, pick me up and not let me go. He will not despise or reject me in any way, until at last I return to Him in truth, and conduct myself according to His beneficent will forever. In this lifetime, may I fix all the damage I have done, in the power and merit of the true tzaddikim, upon whom I rely exclusively, as I have composed these words of mine before them and before the All-Merciful One, Knower of Secrets!

“God will finish everything for me! O God, Your kindness endures forever; the work of Your hand do not forsake![xxv] Take my soul out of prison, so that I may praise Your Name; the tzaddikim will crown You because of me, when You have dealt kindly with me!”[xxvi]

(LT II, 47)

[i] Daniel 4:10.
[ii] Zohar III, 124b. Rebbe Nachman discusses this declaration in the lesson "Lekhu Chazu Mifalot HaShem / Come, Behold the Wonders of God," printed immediately prior to the first discourse in Likutey Moharan.
[iii] This reflects the verse, "For I will surely hide (hastir astir) My Face on that day…" (Deuteronomy 31:18). That is, the light is hidden, and also the very fact of this hiddenness is hidden, as Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutey Moharan I, 56:3, s.v. ki yesh sh'ney hastarot. These two levels of divine concealment characterize this period of the "footsteps of the Mashiach." Reb Noson discusses this in connection with Rebbe Nachman's advocacy of our wearing both the Tefillin of Rashi and Rabbenu Tam in these times; see Likutey Halakhot, Tefillin 5:28-29, 32. Reb Noson also mentions "doubled and redoubled darkness" in Likutey Halakhot, Chadash 3:4, in describing the spiritual darkness of Egyptian society, in its obsession with hedonism. 
[iv] Deuteronomy 31:18, 21.
[v] Cf. Sanhedrin 98b: "Let him [the Mashiach] come, but let me not see it!"
[vi] Deuteronomy 32:36, according to Rashi.
[vii] Cf. Amos 8:11. See also Sichot ha-Ran 259, 260; Chayey Moharan 554; et passim, on the importance of longing and thirsting for God.
[viii] Psalms 139:18.
[ix] Paraphrase of Psalms 69:3.
[x] Lamentations 1:16.
[xi] Paraphrase of Hosea 10:8.
[xii] Isaiah 22:4.
[xiii] Liturgy, Selichot.
[xiv] I Samuel 14:6.
[xv] Job 42:2.
[xvi] II Kings 2:12. These were the Prophet Elisha’s words when he witnessed the heavenly ascent of his master, the Prophet Elijah, on a fiery chariot drawn by horses of fire.
[xvii] Isaiah 26:19.
[xviii] An allusion to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (with the exception of Rachel), who are buried together with Adam and Eve in the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron.
[xix] An allusion to the "Four Worlds" of Atzilut (Emanation), Beriah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation), and Asiyah (Action).
[xx] Paraphrase of Isaiah 60:7.
[xxi] Paraphrase of Ezekiel 18:31, 36:26.
[xxii] Liturgy, Selichot.
[xxiii] Op cit.
[xxiv] Paraphrase of Psalms 107:11.
[xxv] Psalms 138:8.
[xxvi] Psalms 142:8, according to Rashi.

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