Bar Yochai: a Lag B’Omer celebration in Voices
and a song
Opening: Song “Bar Yochai”
Intro (Voice 1):
Honor Rav Shimon bar Yochai. He is called a tanna, one of the early most authoritative rabbis. He lived in the 2nd century c.e. He was born in the north, in the Galilee, and he died and is buried under Mt. Meron, which you can see from the windows of many of the holiest synagogues of Tsefat.
Bar Yochai is remembered as the author of the Zohar which was given in his name. Many mystical testimonies and events have been connected to him for centuries. He became the paradigm for mystical leaders, the Holy Ari will claim him as a model as will the Baal Shem Tov
and Nachman of Bratzlav
and Moses Hayyim Luzatto
and all of us who
sing in hymns
to enter the gates
of the field of holy apples.
Actually, he was somewhat of a rationalist. He was known in his halakhic pronouncements to seek the logic behind the halakha. There was no contradiction between mysticism and halakha, poetry and law.
It was said about Bar Yochai that his right eye used to smile and his left eye was sad. He combined many qualities that are not
commonly found together.
He was a student of the great Rabbi Akiva, with whom he had a complicated relationship. That is the way of genius, if you are taught by genius the relationship is often complicated and difficult. He studied with the great rabbi Akiva for thirteen years at B’nei B’rak. As with all great master student relations, sometimes you are student sometimes you are master sometimes you are child sometimes you are adult sometimes you are passive and one day you will have to leave your master’s house. Of all of Akiva’s pupils, only Bar Yochai and R. Meir were ordained by him, and Meir was ordained first.
Bar Yochai wanted to be first, he wanted the sign of his approval, he wanted to be known as the first talmid of Rabbi Akiva, not the second, he surely felt that he deserved it over Meir, but Akiva strengthened him by withholding this gift.
Akiva humbled him when he could not humble myself, the necessary humbling, and then Akiva loved him into a higher knowledge
where there is no first or second
there is no success or failure
there is no me and you
there is no R. Meir and R. Shimon
there is no master and student,
there is only love and intimacy and vulnerability and compassion
all are equal in the eyes of God.
It was Akiva who drew Bar Yochai away from himself
and placed him in the eyes of God,
“It is sufficient for you that I
and your Creator recognize your power.”
-said R. Akiva, about Bar Yochai ( TJ, Sanh. 1:3, 19a).
“It is enough for you to know that I and God know your excellence,”
Akiva told Bar Yochai, is this not enough?
Humility helped to free him to become the independent source of wisdom that he later became in the court of Sidon where he often brought down highly original decisions. He could not have been so independent without the teaching of his Master Rabbi Akiva who put him through the crucible of his own self-fulness and reminded him that
in God’s eyes
it is enough to know
— he is excellent.
Akiva opened him to his own creativity. Bar Yochai thanked him every day for the freedom to have failed, to have not earned the first ordination, to have been placed behind R. Meir especially when he was so certain that he deserved first.
Thank you for my failures, Bar Yochai said. Now is it surely enough for me that my Creator, and my teacher, knows my excellence.