First of all, today is my 5-month bloggoversary, and it also marks the day that I will surpass 10,000 hits. Mazal tov all around.
Though it's a bit late for Lag B'Omer, but right on time for the Daf Yomi cycle, I will be posting my exposition of the R' Shimon b. Yochai narrative from BT Shabbat 33b-34a . Since it's a long Gemara and a long exposition, I'll be posting it piecemeal. For now, I'm going to post a translation of the Talmudic passage. Online versions can be found here (original) and here (Soncino English).
For those of less patience, here's the English translation, with linked footnotes:
Now, why is he [R. Judah son of R. Ila'i] called the first speaker on all occasions?
For R. Judah, R. Jose, and R. Simeon were sitting, and Judah, a son of proselytes, was sitting near them.
R. Judah commenced [the discussion] by observing, 'How fine are the works of this people!15 They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths.'
R. Jose was silent.
R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, 'All that they made they made for themselves; they built market-places, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them.'
Now, Judah the son of proselytes went and related their talk,16 which reached17 the government. They decreed: Judah, who exalted [us], shall be exalted,18 Jose, who was silent, shall be exiled to Sepphoris;19 Simeon, who censured, let him be executed.
He and his son went and hid themselves in the Beth Hamidrash, [and] his wife brought him bread and a mug of water and they dined.20 [But] when the decree became more severe he said to his son, Women are of unstable temperament: she21 may be put to the torture and expose us.'22
So they went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob-tree and a water well were created for them. They would strip their garments and sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then put off their garments again, so that they should not wear out. Thus they dwelt twelve years in the cave.23
Then Elijah came and stood at the entrance to the cave and exclaimed, Who will inform the son of Yohai that the emperor is dead and his decree annulled?24
So they emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, 'They forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal!' Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up.
Thereupon a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, 'Have ye emerged to destroy My world: Return to your cave!'25 So they returned and dwelt there twelve months, saying, 'The punishment26 of the wicked in Gehenna is [limited to] twelve months.'27
A Heavenly Echo then came forth and said, 'Go forth from your cave!' Thus.'; they issued: wherever R. Eleazar wounded,28 R. Simeon healed. Said he to him, 'My son! You and I are sufficient for the world.'29 On the eve of the Sabbath before sunset they saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at twilight. What are these for?' they asked him. 'They are in honour of the Sabbath,' he replied.30 'But one should suffice you'? — One is for 'Remember-' and one for 'Observe.'31 Said he to his son, 'See how precious are the commandments to Israel.' Thereat their minds were tranquilized.
R. Phinchas b. Ya'ir his son-in-law heard [thereof] and went out to meet him. He took him into the baths and massaged32 his flesh. Seeing the clefts in his body33 he wept and the tears streamed from his eyes. 'Woe to me that I see you in such a state!' he cried out. 'Happy are you that you see me thus,' he retorted, 'for if you did not see me in such a state you would not find me thus [learned].34 For originally, when R. Simeon b. Yohai raised a difficulty, R. Phinehas b. Ya'ir would give him thirteen answers, whereas subsequently when R. Phinehas b. Ya'ir raised a difficulty, R. Simeon b. Yohai would give him twenty-four answers.
Since a miracle has occurred, said he, let me go and amend something, for it is written, and Jacob came whole35 [to the city of Shechem],36 which Rab interpreted. Bodily whole [sound], financially whole, and whole in his learning. And he was gracious to the city.,37 Rab said: He instituted coinage for them.38 Samuel said: He instituted markets for them; R. Johanan said: He instituted baths for them.
Is there ought that requires amending? he39 asked. There is a place of doubtful uncleanness,40 he was informed, and priests have the trouble of going round it. Said he: Does any man know that there was a presumption of cleanness here?1 A certain old man replied, Here [R. Johanan] b. Zakkai cut down lupines of terumah.2 So he did likewise. Wherever it (the ground] was hard he declared it clean, while wherever it was loose he, marked it out.3 Said a certain old man. The son of Yohai has purified a cemetery!4 Said he, Had you not been with us, even if you have been with us but did not vote,5 you might have said well. But now that you were with us and voted with us,6 It will be said, [Even] whores paint one another; how much more so scholars!7 He cast his eye upon him, and he died.
Then he went out into the street and saw Judah, the son of proselytes: 'That man is still in the world!' he exclaimed. He cast his eyes upon him and he became8 a heap of bones.