Elazar ben Simeon*

In the past two posts we learned about R’ Simeon bar Yochai and his son, Elazar ben Simeon. R’ Simeon bar Yochai was confident that both he and his son were a part of a unique group of individuals whose connection with God was extraordinarily close. The Yad Ramah confirms this by stating that no matter the size of the group, and even if prophets were greater, R’ Simeon bar Yochai and Elazar ben Simeon were a part of these precious few.

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While Elazar ben Simeon is noted as one of the 36 by his father, with seemingly no contradiction in our text, there are two very peculiar facts surrounding his father’s claim to his status. First is the constant use of “R’ Simeon bar Yochai and son” leaving Elazar nameless. Our text often includes nameless individuals when these individuals are not incredibly important (i.e. Noah’s wife). But if Elazar is one of the limited Lamed Vavnickim, one would think he would always be named whenever his father was mentioned due to the stature of being a Lamed Vavnick. The absence of his name could be to give more prestige to R’ Simeon bar Yochai himself, but that is at odds with R’ Simeon bar Yochai always insisting that his son is a member of the group.

Secondly, we have a text in Shabbat 33b that, ignoring the bizarre opening, takes the reader into the reasoning for R’ Simeon bar Yochai and Elazar ben Simeon’s living in a cave for 12 years. The text reads:

He and his son went and hid themselves in the Beth Hamidrash, [and] his wife brought him bread and a mug of water and they dined. [But] when the decree became more severe be said to his son, Women are of unstable temperament: she may be put to the torture and expose us.’ So they went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob tree and a water well were created for them. They would strip their garments and sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then put off their garments again, so that they should not wear out. Thus they dwelt twelve years in the cave. Then Elijah came and stood at the entrance to the cave and exclaimed, Who will inform the son of Yohai that the emperor is dead and his decree annulled? So they emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, ‘They forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal!’ Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burnt up. Thereupon a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, ‘Have ye emerged to destroy My world: Return to your cave!’ So they returned and dwelt there twelve months, saying, ‘The punishment of the wicked in Gehenna is [limited to] twelve months.’ A Heavenly Echo then came forth and said, ‘Go forth from your cave!’ Thus.’; they issued: wherever R. Eleazar wounded, R.Simeon healed. Said he to him, ‘My son! You and I are sufficient for the world.’
 

This text certainly suggests (or confirms) that through R’ Simeon bar Yochai there was a certain connection to a heightened spiritual experience. First, the appearance of Elijah and later a Heavenly Echo engaged R’ Simeon bar Yochai and Elazar. Elijah came directly for Elazar knowing he would out live his father. But the Heavenly Echo states that wherever Elazar (note that he is finally called Rabbi in this text) was wounded, his father would heal him. Could a Lamed Vavnick not heal himself? Seemingly R’ Simeon bar Yochai could heal others; but could Elazar not do the same acts as his father? The text itself makes the reader wary of Elazar’s importance and abilities without his father by his side. R’ Simeon bar Yochai, clearly loved and protected his son, and his followers would listen to the words he said. But aside from R’ Simeon bar Yochai words, the text gives us no confirmation of the Elazar ben Simeon being a Lamed Vavnick.