Sunday, May 18, 2014

To the Sandcave!

A guest post by Y. Bloch
Today is Lag BaOmer, a minor holiday that, despite having an excellent theme song courtesy of Ren and Stimpy, has never gotten much respect. It is most closely associated with Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai (Rashbi), the 2nd-century Israeli sage who spent 13 years in a cave hiding from the imperial forces of Rome for an injudicious tweet.

R. Judah commenced by observing, "How fine are the works of this people! They have made markets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths." R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, "All they made, they made for themselves: markets, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them." (Talmud, Shabbat 33b)

Rashbi started a trend of spelean hideouts for honing superpowers and training sidekicks.

Much is made of Rashbi's decade-long stay in the cave with his son, delving into the secrets of the Torah, while buried to their necks in sand and trying desperately to come up with new recipes for carob (this being the tree which miraculously sprang forth to sustain them). However, many ignore what happens once Rashbi finally comes to terms with his new carob- and silicon-free life. 
"Since a miracle has occurred," said he, "let me go and institute something..." Rab said: He instituted coinage for them. Samuel said: He instituted markets for them; R. Johanan said: He instituted baths for them. 

Rashbi, who decried those selfish and greedy Romans for their economic, social and health-care policies, suddenly finds himself putting them into practice. It seems that after all this time (and after enjoying the rejuvenating powers of a bathhouse for himself), he came to terms with modern life. Yes, those hedonistic hegemonists, the Romans, may have developed these institutions for their own benefit, but that should not invalidate them.

This, of course, is still a pressing issue. Some fundamentalists only want to look at the provenance of various innovations, and if a given item doesn't pass the purity test, it's unacceptable. Rashbi teaches us that at the end of the day, it does not matter where technology comes from, but what we do with it.

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