קבר רשב"י
קבר רשב"י פלאש 90

We all want to make the world a better place to live and to eradicate evil and suffering. But how do we do so?

It may be tempting to use a "quick fix" solution - destroy what exists and replace it with the ideal. Instant perfection! But the development of the world is not so simple. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, otherwise known as the Rashbi, attempted to employ a similar method. Consequently he was sent to learn an important lesson regarding Tikun Olam. We can find guidance in our understanding of this important theme of world perfection in Rav Kook's explanation of the story of Rashbi in the cave.

The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) tells us that Rashbi and his son fled the Romans and found shelter in a cave. They hid there for twelve years learning the secrets of Torah from Eliyahu HaNavi and Moshe Rabenu. When they emerged from the cave and encountered people who were plowing and sowing, Rabbi Shimon bar Yocḥai said: “These people abandon eternal life and engage in temporal life?!” The Talmud relates that every place that Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar turned their eyes was immediately burned. The Gemara continues: A Divine Voice emerged and said to them: “Did you emerge from the cave in order to destroy My world? Return to your cave.” Thus they returned and learned for another twelve months.

Rav Kook explains that the desire to bring Tikun Olam is very praiseworthy, but the method to bring it about is not necessarily to immediately wipe out whatever seems to contradict the ideal. Adam’s sin and the fall of the world from the ideal of Gan Eden brought about curses such as "by the sweat of your brow shall you eat." This brought an end to a previously perfect world where everything was available to man without his unending toil. Rav Kook further explains that in the cave, freed from the day-to-day demands and limitations of our world, Rabbi Shimon and his son rose to attain perceptions of the loftiest levels of Creation and to glimpse into the ideal future state of existence.

When he initially left the cave, Rabbi Shimon wanted to bring this ideal into being immediately. Thus his protest was not directed against evildoers, but rather against ordinary people dealing with the basic functions of making a livelihood. His fiery reaction was a protest against the present order of the world as it remained after the sin of Adam. Rashbi felt that this descent of existence was unnecessary. Inspired by the exalted vision of perfection which he experienced in the cave, he saw how humanity’s amazing future was ready and waiting, right around the corner. If only man would return to his true greatness, then life by the sweat of one’s brow would be unnecessary. Thus with an impulsive and forceful effort, he sought to do away with the cursed level of existence which he encountered.

Explaining this mistaken perspective, Rav Kook writes:

"From the lofty perspective of how the world is meant to be… there is no room for cosmetic, patchwork fixings [ideologies that come to improve here and there, but which leave the world in its present, limited and ailing framework]. Rather a complete erasing of the present order with all the evils and injustices in society is demanded [by this incomplete perception]. There is a need to start all from scratch, that everything shall rise from the foundation of holiness and purity… There is no measure to the distress felt by these holy souls at the sight of the evil that reigns in the present, while the road to betterment [seems to them to be] open and so near…" (Rav Kook, Ein Aya, Shabbat Ch.2, Sec.272).

Thus the two great Torah scholars had to go back to the cave to learn an important lesson. The Divine Plan and Method of bringing the world to perfection is beyond the wisdom of the wisest. "Not to aspire a sudden revolution which is impossible without destruction… " rather "to improve slowly but surely until all returns to the ultimate tikun and the evil returns to good." Not by destruction of the present, revamping, starting all over - immediate utopia, rather to deal with all the forces of life, with all their limitations and deficiencies, and redirect them. As the Ramchal writes: "It is not the intent of Hashem to persist in the order of good and evil [allowing evil to exist] and then, in one moment, to abandon it and initiate the order of Oneness" (Daat Tvunot 48). Rav Kook explains that the new lesson was not that these holy people - that wanted more than what existed in the world - had to lower their ideal, to compromise with reality, thinking that it is impossible to change. Quite the opposite. They had to get to an even higher level of holiness that knows how to bring that ideal to fulfillment, by going down to the world as it is and slowly, steadily, purify and raise it.

The Ramchal (ibid., 40) tells us that the Divine Order is "to manifest the might of its complete sovereign sway that … the earth is to be left to the vicissitudes of time, while evil holds sway in the world… even if His creations thereby descend to the lowest level. In spite of this, His world will not go lost, for His alone is the reign… From the very depths of our many sore trials, the salvation will most assuredly spring" and "the more manifest will be the strength of G-d's Oneness and the omnipotent sway of His reign."

G-d's way is to bring the world, with all its forces, to that lofty ideal, slowly slowly. G-d is the "King who wants life" and has "no desire in the death of the wicked rather that he should return from his ways and live" (Yehezkiel 33:11, 18:23). The Divine Wisdom created the world such that it can and will rise from the fallen state in a gradual developing fashion and not all at once (Ramchal, Klach Pitchei Chochma 131).

This teaching has ramifications on many levels of life – individual, national and international. On the simplest level, this applies to how we relate to a mischievous, misbehaving child who is breaking things in the home. Obviously to strike him until he is so bruised that he can’t move his arms and legs is not the solution. Nor is a demand for immediate change. Rather the child must be taught to redirect his energies to their proper use. The goal, in this example and many others we could list, is to have fully developed forces all working in the most positive and constructive direction.

So too regarding the process of Israel’s Redemption. It is easy to reject the State of Israel for its deficiencies and secular façade. Nonetheless, instead of wishing for the downfall of this "misbehaving" child, we should recognize its Divine significance and make every effort to expose its true content, redirecting its G-d-given powers, both the physical and the spiritual, to their proper goals. This route takes more patience and understanding of how Divine Providence comes about in natural ways, but we are meant to "work with Hashem" (Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat Ch. 6) and go in His ways to perfect the world.