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Rabbi Shimon and Me

Do I have that same kavod? Though I’m dressed more appropriately, I’m watching from the sidelines and can’t even manage to be wholeheartedly present

mishpacha image

onestly, it’s not hard to see why Rabi Shimon burned everyone up after those first 12 years in the cave.

I’ve just walked in the door to the tziyun and I’m bewildered by the eclectic, colorful assortment of Yidden here on this ordinary Tuesday afternoon: shiny silver heels, sensible orthopedic shoes, fluorescent pink sneakers. I try to stay balanced on my own two feet while I navigate the crowd.

A lady at the door, who looks to be several months past her due date, calmly and persistently approaches every single person who enters, asking for donations for needy kallahs. Meanwhile, an unseen woman jubilantly tosses out Sephardic-flavored brachos and handfuls of candy; they shower the kever as those around her answer “Amen!” with equal parts bemusement and fervor. Ladies in sleeveless shirts adjust their borrowed headscarves.

A smiling woman, holding a newborn in one arm and a toddler in the other, poses for a photo. She’s flanked by an indeterminate number of other children. Women hold animated phone conversations in front of the sign that reads PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE. A lady with pink fingernails wearing pants places a bottle of arak on the kever, murmurs fervently for a few minutes, and then removes the bottle and leaves, apparently satisfied.

After the three-hour bus ride to Meron, I have some trouble getting my bearings in the midst of this holy bedlam. I find a seat in the corner and try to focus. Immediately, I’m distracted by a stream of cold air from the air conditioner blowing directly on my face. A small bird alights on a shelf and begins pecking at a forgotten cookie. An elderly woman struggles to open a metal folding chair. I give her my seat; she smiles gratefully, says something incomprehensible in a language I may or may not know, places a tray of rugelach on the seat I vacated, and walks away.

I wander around, displaced and unsettled. This is what goes on at the gravesite of one of the holiest people who ever lived? How can I find the sense of balance and deep inner connection I’ve been craving when the room is filled with all these characters?

Until suddenly I realize: I’m burning up people who came to visit a tzaddik.

See those two little girls in shorts? Dark, beautiful eyes. Their mother brought them to Meron to see a tzaddik. Once, I was also a little dark-eyed girl in shorts — and the most interesting place I ever got to visit was the science museum.

See that lady adjusting the sheer scarf over her sleeveless top? She has enough kavod for this place to put on that scarf. Do I have that same kavod? Though I’m dressed more appropriately, I’m watching from the sidelines and can’t even manage to be wholeheartedly present.

See that elderly lady in the gold sequined T-shirt taking dozens of selfies at the kever? She and I share a collective neshamah. Am Yisrael looks as much like her as like me, and the kedushah of our core selves is identical. In the middle of absorbing this truth, I notice that her necklace reads MIRIAM. My name. She is me.

Slowly, slowly, I stop burning people up.

Slowly, slowly, the neshamah of this place starts to shine through the neshamos of the people who are here.

Slowly, slowly, I relax, find my bearings, claim my place among these eclectic holy people who are mine.

Belonging is more complex than we imagine. It’s not about ignoring the fragmentation we see — but it’s not about judging the differences, either. Reflected in the glass by the kever, I notice an Arab cleaning woman peering in, cigarette dangling from her hand. I wonder what she sees. Does she sense the chaotic unity here? Can she? Or is that just for us to find?

A woman I’ve never seen before rubs me warmly on the back as I’m leaving. “Besorot tovot.”

I think I finally get why Rabi Shimon needed that extra year away from the world. If I could find the lady with the arak, I’d drink a l’chayim with her right now.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 590)

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Tagged: Lifetakes