The group we are with this week was waiting until the temperature dropped yesterday afternoon to go to the old cemetery in Tzfat. The temperature did not drop, but the sun was not as direct. I had not thought to go with them. I have been there before and felt a great resentment that there has been a wall built to keep women away from direct access to the grave of the Ari, z”l, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. But something, something, something told me to go along with the group.
The sun felt hotter than it has, even with the lateness of the day. We stopped at the graves of the major tzaddikim who are buried there, Rabbi Yosef Caro, Rabbi Moshe Alshich, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. You can read more about them here on this page.
It was not very crowded that afternoon. I was actually amazed that there were families there, vacation for the holy. But my eyes/my camera were drawn towards the women. The mothers.
There was a man there who sits and oversees the graves, giving history and geography lessons to all who listen. He told us women to go ahead on the men’s side, since it wasn’t crowded and no one would mind.
That same man also also gives brachot. Here he is blessing a young Russian Jewish man who I gathered was new to the place; new to the tradition.
There was one grave that we didn’t visit. But I see that maybe we should have.
One of the Tannaim whose discussions appear throughout the Babylonian Talmud. He was related through marriage to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. According to one version, he was his father-in-law, according to another – his son-in-law. While Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair’s Talmudic statements are few in number (he is mentioned only eight times), nevertheless, they are characteristically deep in content, and deal in most cases with matters of ethics and the refinement of one’s personal attributes.
“Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair would say: Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the members and free men are put to shame, those who conform to the Law are held in contempt, the violent and the informer have the upper hand, and no one cares for the people or asks pity for them. Upon whom can we rely? Upon our Father in Heaven”.
“Says Rabbi Zeira in the name of Raba bar Zimona: If our ancestors were angels, we are human beings; and if they were human beings, we are donkeys, but not like the donkey of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, rather like other donkeys.”
In addition, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s seifer Mesillat Yesharim is based upon one of his sayings: “Torah leads to carefulness; carefulness to diligence; diligence to cleanliness; cleanliness to retirement; retirement to purity; purity to piety; piety to humility; humility to fear of sin; fear of sin to holiness; holiness to the reception of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit to the Resurrection of the Dead.”
And this reasoning leads to this understanding:
The study of Torah gives birth to actions.
R. Pinchas ben Yair’s teaching is not simply a list of levels of righteousness. Nor is it merely a ladder of spiritual growth. It is an engine propelling us from one level to the next. All we need to do is get on the elevator.
And I will finish with what I just saw via a post from LookJed, written by a Scottish Catholic journalist, Stephen Daisley:
I don’t know how Israel should respond. All I know is this: My heart aches for those boys, for their parents and loved-ones, for every friend they have been snatched from. Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyon vi’Yerushalayim.
My own response? Revenge may be the prerogative of G-d but there is a justice that men can exact: To go living, building, praying, raising families, and sending boys to yeshiva. In short, be Jewish. Ela sheb’chol dor va-dor omdim aleinu lechaloteinu; v’ha-kadosh baruch hu matzilenu miyadam.
Remember, survive, flourish. Pray for Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali z”l and hold their families in your heart.