Sefiras HaOmer

Mine are the Eyes of Bar Yochai

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Mine Are the Eyes of Bar Yochai

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach

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The accompanying poem, "Mine Are the Eyes of Bar Yochai," recalls the Talmudic account of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who hid in a cave from the Romans after the Bar Kochba rebellion was crushed in the second century CE. For 12 years, Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar lived off the fruit of a carob tree while studying Torah together and, according to popular tradition, developing the Zohar, the major work of Jewish mysticism. When the danger of Roman retribution had passed, the two emerged from their cave to find a world of men engaged in plowing, planting and reaping.
"How can men thus forsake eternal life to indulge themselves in a transient one?" shouted Rabbi Shimon when he realized that his fellow Jews were not continuously occupied in Torah study.

A Heavenly voice answered: "Have you come out to destroy my world? Return to your cave!"

Another year passed, and the two once again emerged from the cave. This time Rabbi Shimon was ready to accept the ways of men, but his son was not. "It is sufficient for the world," Rabbi Shimon pleaded, "that the two of us study Torah without interruption."

But Rabbi Elazar remained unconvinced.

Until one Friday afternoon, just before the sunset was to usher in the Sabbath. They saw an old man running home, his arms clutching two bunches of myrtle blossoms.

"What are these for?" they asked him.

"In honor of the Sabbath."

"Isn't one sufficient?"

"One of them," the old man explained, "is for the Heavenly command of Zachor, 'remember' the Sabbath to keep it holy; the other is for the second command, Shamor,' observe' the Sabbath by ceasing from all creative labor."

"See how much love the Jews have for their commandments!" Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, and at last his son was reconciled.

Tractate Shabbat 33

Elsewhere, the Talmud notes that Rabbi Shimon, whose total immersion in Torah study even exempted him from the requirement of regular prayers, once disputed the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, who believed that man could combine the study of Torah with a worldly occupation.

Rabbi Shimon asked: "If a man plows in the plowing season, sows in the sowing season, reaps in the reaping season, threshes in the threshing season and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? But, when Israel performs the will of God, their work is performed by others" ... Said Abaye: "Many have followed the advice of Rabbi Yishmael and it has worked well; others have followed Rabbi Shimon and it has not been successful."

Tractate Berachot 35


Mine are the eyes of Bar Yochai
They see about them
Yet look beyond

    They see
      A landscape of men serving the Earth
      Which bore them to be its masters
      And heirs on that day when all landscapes
      Will fade into a patient horizon

    They look

      At these toilers as condemned murderers of
      Time, vengefully strangled by the hands
      Of a clock whose tireless ticking drowns out
      The sweet murmur of eternity

Mine are the eyes of Bar Yochai
They see men
Yet seek angels

    They see
      An ancient rushing toward a sunset
      Which lies on weary Earth like
      A comforting blanket to be clutched
      When weekday nightmare ends

    They look

      At the blossoms in that yearning grip
      The twin symbols of a frail beauty
      That only blooms till another sunset and
      Fading, leaves a fragrance for lesser days


Mine are the eyes of Bar Yochai
They see foothills
Yet seek mountains

    They see
      Men who are able to find their God
      Whispering to him their prayer of perfect faith
      In a sublime thought or gesture of kindness
      Which paints his portrait on Earthly canvas

    They seek

      The perfect image of his glory which only
      His wisdom and word project on a screen
      For mind alone to see - and seeing, finds
      Dimensions long outlined by heart

Mine are the eyes of Bar Yochai
They see earth
Yet seek heaven

    They see
      Men stumbling, as they climb
      My royal road to perfection
      Forced to admit the reality
      Of a world that is but illusion

    They seek

      Those few who lose not heart
      Who know that the Levite gift
      Of freedom from Earthly needs
      Is due each true servant of God


Mine are the eyes of Bar Yochai
They set history
Yet seek eternity

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