1/31/2006

Striking and Healing: Talmudic Reading of the R' Shimon b. Yochai Story, Part VIII

Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

A Heavenly Echo then came forth and said, 'Go forth from your cave!' Thus.'; they issued: wherever R. Eleazar wounded, R. Simeon healed. Said he to him, 'My son! You and I are sufficient for the world.'

R’ Shimon and his son, upon their first exit from the cave, were notified indirectly, by hearing that the world around them had changed. The second exit, however, they are by a Heavenly Voice which addresses them directly, signifying that this time, they themselves have changed. Hell has done its job.

R’ Shimon, the Idealist, went into the cave because the world didn’t meet his standards, or so he thought. He therefore felt no need to soul-search or experience Hell during the first period in the cave, and felt ready to leave when the world changed a bit for the better. Only during the second period in the cave does he learn that his idealism is tainted by rejectionism, and only when he learns how to constructively engage the world without sacrificing his ideal is he summoned forth from the cave.

Whereas after their first exit they destroyed, after their second exit only R’ Eliezer strikes, and R’ Shimon heals. Does R’ Eliezer need more time in the cave? Wouldn’t it be better not to strike in the first place?

This one line indicates that R’ Shimon and R’ Eliezer didn’t merely build a ‘tolerance’ for the evils and failings of the world, didn’t just calm down from their prior overzealousness. On the contrary, they maintained every last drop of their sensitivity to what’s wrong in the world, but found a more constructive method of addressing it. They have not rejected rejection; rather, they have gone beyond it.

Had the heroes simply ignored the wrongs they encountered, it would indicate that they had become impervious to them. However, they kept noticing it, identifying it, and fixing it. Before evil can be addressed, it must be identified. Every fight against evil must have these two elements – one which antagonizes, and one which rebuilds, a ‘good cop’ and a ‘bad cop’, one who exposes the full monstrosity of evil, and one who is willing to negotiate with it, to move it forward in baby steps. As a contemporary example, the Black Civil Rights movement had two faces: Malcolm X. demonizing the White Man and Martin Luther King Jr. calling for rapprochement and brotherhood. Alternatively, Zionists in Mandatory Palestine had the diplomatic face of the Jewish Agency, but also the fist of militias such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang. Like flexing muscles, a tear followed by a mend, differentiation followed by reintegration, striking followed by healing, yields improvement.

R’ Shimon now reflects on the irony of his own situation. He had rejected humanity, though he is himself human. It finally dawns upon him that his very own existence validates humanity! If he can achieve perfection, then humanity still has hope. As C. S. Lewis stated, “It’s more important that Heaven exist than that I ever get there.” The very possibility of the ideal, the perfect, the ultimate, gives meaning and purpose to everything that comes into contact with it. A world that can produce a R’ Shimon b. Yochai is not a futile world.
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