Rabbis and Whores: R' Shimon b. Yochai Part XIV

[Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX , X, XI, XII, XIII]
Said the old man: The son of Yohai has purified a cemetery! Said he, “Had you not been with us, even if you have been with us but did not vote, you might have said well. But now that you were with us and voted with us, It will be said, ‘[Even] whores make each other up; how much more so scholars!’” He cast his eye upon him, and he died.
The old man, who had just testified to what he saw in his youth, now turns on R’ Shimon; he didn’t trust himself, was afraid to take a potentially unpopular stand. He succumbs to the temptation of the status quo. From his perspective, R’ Shimon has indeed purified a cemetery, because all is a cemetery.

Contrast this ‘old man’ with the ‘old man running’ that R’ Shimon encountered earlier. Whereas the first old man moves vigorously forward, ancient yet ever fresh, this old man suffers from religious paralysis, and is an impediment to progress.

R’ Shimon responds by once again imposing his vision, and once again destroying. However, whereas the first time he does so, he is sent back to the cave, he isn’t this time. This reinforces the sense that R’ Shimon re-enters the world with his passion and idealism intact. Engaging the world need not result in the dulling of religious fervor, though withdrawal might be a prerequisite for successful engagement.

R’ Shimon understands that the momentum required to ‘purify a graveyard’ mandates a degree of mutual respect amongst the Rabbis. Once one stands up to be counted in that group, a degree of professional respect must be observed. Otherwise, the prestige of the group suffers as a whole. Thus, R’ Shimon criticizes the old man and sees him for what he really is – dead. Let the old man remain in the cemetery of which he’s so fond!

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