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Acquiring Torah 32: Rashbi: Illuminating Others With Our Eyes

Rabbi Yehudah taught: The generation of whom Rabbi Shimon is one are all righteous, saintly and fearful of sin, and the Divine Presence abides among them as among no other generation. Therefore these things are stated openly and not concealed, whereas in former generations supernal mysteries could not be revealed, and those who knew them were afraid to utter them.


For when Rabbi Shimon expounded the mysteries of the verse, all the Companions were in tears and his meaning was clear to them. (Zohar III, Acharei Mot 79a)

What does Rabbi Yehudah mean when he describes Rabbi Shimon’s generation as “all righteous, saintly and fearful of sin,” when surely there were many people who were not? Why does he not describe the Companions rather than the generation? This paragraph ends with a description of the Companions being in tears; how does that reflect on the entire generation? Is it possible that previous generations were not as great as that of Rabbi Shimon’s? What about the generation of Hillel and Shammai?

The Zohar continues: In the days of Rabbi Shimon one man used to say to another: “Open your mouth so that your words may spread Light.” After Rabbi Shimon died, they would say, “Do not let your mouth bring guilt on your flesh (Ecclesiastes 5:5).”

Fortunate is the generation of Rabbi Shimon! To it the verse applies, “Fortunate are you, O land, when your King is a free man (ibid 10:17).” This is Rabbi Shimon who holds his head erect to teach doctrine and fears not, like a free man who says what he wants to say without fear.

Rabbi Shimon looked at his generation and saw all the righteousness, saintliness and fear of sin in all of them, and that allowed him to reveal secrets without fear. This loftiest of human beings saw the lofty in everyone around him. He spoke to the highest parts of them.

Those closest to Rabbi Shimon, the Companions, sensed that when Rabbi Shimon taught, he was addressing the Highest parts of the generation, and it was that, which allowed them to grasp his meaning and moved them to tears.

We must strive to see this when studying and teaching Torah. We must look at everyone and focus on their righteousness, saintliness and fear of sin. We cannot focus on their lackings and faults, or their spiritual weaknesses. When we can see everyone as did Rabbi Shimon we will experience the same sense of freedom, and speak without fear.

Our perception of our students and children, our friends and contemporaries, changes the nature of what we study and teach. This is the real secret of Illumination, the Zohar.

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