Zohar, composed in the late 13th century, is the central text of
the Jewish mystical tradition. Woven into its series of homilies
on the Torah are many stories and parables. Rabbi Wineman, a specialist
in Jewish mystical studies, has translated many of these stories
from the medieval Aramaic into English; his translation, together
with his own commentary and analysis, make it possible for us to
approach this esoteric but very rich material.
A selection from the story
Rabbi Elazar said: "Haverim
[friends], let us go in love and in kindness, to a pomegranate
ripe and overflowing with juice whose name is Rabbi Yose of Peki'in.
For he has departed from this world without anyone coming to be with him and
care for him and he is nearby. They turned from the road and proceeded to go
there. As soon as the townspeople caught sight of the guests, they all came
out to greet them.
The haverim entered the house of Rabbi Yose of Peki'in. The latter's young son
allowed no one to approach the bed of his dead father; he himself was right
next to him crying, his mouth cleaving to his father's mouth. The child was
saying, "Master of the universe, it is written: 'If, along the road, you chance
upon a bird's nest (in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and
the mother sitting over the fledgling or on the eggs, do not take the mother
together with her young), let the mother go (and take only the young, in order
that you may fare well and have a long life)" (Deut. 22:6-7).
Weeping, he continued, "Master of the universe, fulfill this word written in
Your own Torah. My younger sister and I are the two children of our father and
mother. It was Your place to take us instead and to fulfill those words of the
Torah; and do not object, Master of the World, that it is written 'mother' and
not 'father,' for since our mother had died and was taken from her children,
our father was as both mother and father to us. And now our father, too, who
had been our protector, is taken from his children. Where is justice and where
is the law of the Torah?"
and the haverim wept in hearing the lament and the crying of this child. While
Rabbi Elazar began reciting the verse, "Like the heavens in their height, like
the earth in its depth (is the mind of kings unfathomable" [Proverbs 25:3],
a pillar of fire separated them, the child still cleaving to his father's mouth,
and not leaving him even for a single moment. Rabbi Elazar declared, "Whether
the Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to perform a miracle or whether He wishes
that no one else (but the child) attend to him, the words and the tears of this
child are too much for me."
While sitting, they heard a voice announcing, "Blessed are you, Rabbi Yose,
for the words and the tears of this young child have ascended to the throne
of the Holy King, and judgment has been given; God has designated for the Angel
of Death thirteen persons in your place, and twenty-two years will be added
to your life that you might teach Torah to this child who is sincere and whole
and beloved in God's eyes." Immediately they perceived that the fiery pillar
had departed and Rabbi Yose opened his eyes, the mouth of his young son still
cleaving to his mouth.
Rabbi Elazar spoke, "Blessed is our lot in that with our very eyes we have seen
the resurrection of the dead... The others said, "Privileged is your portion,
Rabbi Yose, and beloved is the Merciful One who has brought a miracle to occur
in response to the sobbing and weeping of your son; with his lovely words he
has forced open a gateway to Heaven...."
They took the child and kissed him and cried this time out of profuse joy....Together
with Rabbi Yose they discovered many new ideas in the Torah....
This story is perhaps the most charming of all those found in the Zohar. Beyond
this sheer charm, grasping the many allusions to other texts present in the story
enhances our appreciation of the narrative. Within this story, two biblical episodes
resonate even though the text nowhere specifically refers to them...
The akedah ("Binding of Isaac," Genesis 22), or more precisely, the akedah
as understood in the tradition of midrashic interpretation echoes in several ways
in the themes of this story. In our story, Rabbi Yose's son expresses not only
a willingness [like Isaac] but a definite request to die in place of his father.
Central to the story is the notion that the boy's readiness to die in place of
his father is accepted in the higher realms with the result that his father's
life is spared. [Isaac's] readiness is identified as the crucial element in the
akedah, is fully present in this story in the pleading of the child.
The motif of tears, so significant in this narrative passage, recalls the theme
of tears in various midrashic interpretations of the akedah. As Abraham took his
knife, tears fell from his eyes into the eyes of his son. The angels, alarmed
that Abraham might actually slaughter his son at the altar, cried aloud and wept.
In the latter source, angels tears fell on Abraham's knife, blunting its sharpness
and rendering it useless for striking his son.
An entire cluster of themes found in the midrashic reading and re-creation of
the Binding of Isaac echoes in the story of Rabbi Yose and his son; together they
have the effect of depicting the boy as an Isaac-figure. The son in the story
is a determined Isaac-figure who knows clearly what he is doing and toward what
he is heading, and at the same time he is also a young and tender Isaac-figure
likened in the text to a gadya, a young goat or animal.
A more transparent biblical account also resonates in the story. The scene of
the young son lying with his mouth upon the mouth of his dead father recalls the
story of Elisha and the son of the Shunamite woman.
While the scene in the Zoharic story clearly recalls the story of Elisha, the
strength of the similarities subtly points to the difference between the redeeming
or healing figures in the two accounts. Elisha was a navi, a prophet, and
therefore in his case the reader's expectation are less jarred than in the case
of a young child. In the zoharic story it is not a prophet but rather a child
who annuls the fact of death; the comparison extols the child and places him on
the same level as that of a prophet. The implied comparison brings to mind a statement
found elsewhere in the Zohar: "Sometimes prophecy is placed in the mouths of children,
and they prophecy even more that did the prophets in their time"
The figure of the child in our story connotes renewal, hope and continuity. The
archetypal association of the child with innocence lends still another dimension
to the child's role as the redeeming figure in the story: as death has an association
with the sin of Adam and with sin itself, the child in his very nature suggests
a world of purity and wholeness preceding the introduction of death into the world.
The child figure is a kind of personification of Eden, a condition lacking blemish,
defilement or moral complexity.
A Jew full of mizvot (good deeds) is likened to a pomegranate
full of seeds (Babyl. Talmud Berakhot 57a) [Back]
 Peki'in is the village in the Upper Galilee where,
according to the Talmud (Shabbat 33b) and the midrash (Kohelet Rabbah
10:11), Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, together with his son Elazar, lived
in a cave for thirteen years, hiding from the Romans. [Back]
 Bereshit Rabbah 56:8 [Back]
 Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Ch. 31; also Bereshit
Rabbah 56:5, 7 [Back]
 Zohar 2:170a [Back]
abridged version of the chapter "A Child's Tears" in Mystic Tales
from the Zohar, JPS 1997.