From Rabbi Tal Zwecker’s work-in-progress, Sefer HaHisbodedus, a collection of essays and translations on what the author describes as “the forgotten path of self-perfection and character development through seclusion and meditation.” Rabbi Zwecker is seeking sponsors for this important project. He may be reached through his website. We thank Rabbi Zwecker for permitting us to post several of his translations here.
Dwelling in Caves
Rabbi Yonason Eybeshutz
The earlier pietists (chassidim) would always choose to sit dwelling in caves and caverns in order to meditate in seclusion (le-hisboded) and to distance themselves from people who habituate and cause one to sin. The prophet himself cried out (Yirmeyah 9:1), “Who will place me in the desert?” And Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, peace be upon him, sat in a cave for several years. [One may ask,] couldn't he find somewhere else to hide from Caesar's decree [against Torah study]? It is well elaborated in the Talmud that the highest angels constantly surrounded him, as is known. Rather, he chose this place to dwell in order to acquire perfection; therefore, once he went out, he acquired a high level surpassing even that of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, as is related in tractate Shabbos, page 33b. Afterwards, he and many of his generation dwelled in caves learning Torah, as we find often in the Zohar regarding other sages at the time of Rashbi, as well as other tales related in the Zohar about sages who always dwelt in caves and crevices in order to acquire [the trait of] perfection and to distance themselves from people (Part 1, Derush/Sermon 14 for the days of Selichos).