R' Shimon and Jacob: R' Shimon b. Yochai part XII

[Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX , X, XI]

Since a miracle has occurred, said he, let me go and amend something, for it is written, “and Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem”, which Rav interpreted: Bodily whole, financially whole, and whole in his Torah. “And he graced the city”- Rav said: He instituted coinage for them. Samuel said: He instituted markets for them; R. Yohanan said: He instituted baths for them.

With the interjection of this seemingly unrelated story about Jacob’s arrival in the city of Shechem, the Gemara again superimposes a mythic dimension onto this narrative. The Patriarch Jacob, the progenitor of Israel, had fled his homeland from his brother Esav, the progenitor of Rome in the Rabbinic imagination. After spending many years in exile, Jacob returns to his homeland and finds a way to make peace with his brother. It is at this moment, having successfully encountered his brother, that Jacob arrives ‘whole’ in the city of Shechem. R’ Shimon, too, flees and returns better for it. He will also make his peace with Rome.

Rav speaks of three different types of ‘wholeness’ that Jacob has attained: Physical, financial, and ‘in Torah’. R’ Kook understands that these are essentially three aspects of the same over-arching wholeness, with each component reaching its perfection only in relation to the others. One cannot be whole in Torah if he is not whole financially, and vice versa. R’ Shimon had begun with an attitude that these elements impinge upon each other, but had acquired the ‘naivete’ (temimut) of Jacob the ‘simple man’, which takes a simpler, more whole vision which integrates that which R’ Shimon had compartmentalized.

Upon achieving wholeness, Jacob sought to extend it, to share it and make it available to others. Wholeness doesn’t happen in the cave, in an exile, but in the public sphere, where it can contribute and encounter others. The Rabbis suggest three ways in which Jacob sought to extend his wholeness to society. Minting coins, which standardizes purchase power, limits confusion, and builds trust between people. Building markets, which encourages and enhances interactions between people. Building baths, which encourages cleanliness and purity within society.

These were the very institutions that R’ Shimon criticizes at the beginning of the story. He now seeks to enhance them. Rather than seeing them as evil, he sees and seeks to develop their potential to participate in the ‘whole’ picture.

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