Friday, May 04, 2007

Carobs and Dates

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The Talmud says (Shabbos 33b) that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was hiding in a cave with his son for thirteen years, HaShem miraculously created a carob tree and a spring of water from which the duo was physically sustained. Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) explains (Maharsha to Shabbos 33b) that the significance of the carob was because there was as double miracle involved: The Talmud (Ta'anis 23a) says that one only reaps the fruit of a carob tree only after seventy years has passed since the tree was planted. So, not only did HaShem sponteanously generate a carob for usage by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, but He also allowed its fruits to grow immediately. Rabbi Yehuda Low (Maharal to Shabbos 33b) explains that the fact that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai is especially significant because although one can surivive on a carob fruit, it is indeed the bare minumum (as the Talmud says Brachos 8b concerning Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosa). Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad explains (Ben Yehoyada to Shabbos 33b) that the acronym created by combining the hebrew word for "Carob" and "water" equals 48, which is an allusion to the forty-eight methods by which one can "acquire" the Torah (Avos, Chapter 6).

The Eitz Yosef points out that the Midrash (on the verse "And also Vashti" in Esther) has an alternate version of this story, which says that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai ate dates and water, not carobs and water. According to this Midrash, one loses the "double miracle" of the Maharsha. Although one can reconcile the seeming contradicition by explaining that one version is discussing the first twelve years which the father and son spent in the cave and the other version is discussing their diet in the last twelve months there. Nonetheless, one can explain that dates are especially portent because rightoeus men, tzadikkim, are compared to dates (see Bava Basra 80 based on the end of Psalms 92). Furthermore, the acronym formed by combining the Hebrew words for "water" and "dates" equals the Hebrew word Tam, a description of Jacob (Genesis 25:27) who sat in the tent learning Torah from Shem and Ever for fourteen years, just as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai sat in the cave learning Torah with his son for thirteen years.

This is the celebration of Lag B'Omer, the holiday of the Torah. (Sorry for any mistakes in this post, I wrote it by heart because I'm on my cousin's laptop and I don't have any seforim with me here).

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