for neglecting to separate tithes. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, says: Askara comes as punishment for slander. Rava said, and some say that it was Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who said it: What is the verse that alludes to this? “But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that swears by Him shall glory; for the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped” (Psalms 63:12). The punishment for lying is that the mouth will be stopped. Askara affects the mouth along with other parts of the body.
A dilemma was raised before those who were sitting in the study hall: Did Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, say that askara comes as punishment only for slander, or perhaps he said it was also for slander? Come and hear a resolution to this dilemma from that which was taught in a baraita: When our Sages entered the vineyard in Yavne, Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, and Rabbi Shimon were there, and a question was asked before them with regard to this plague of askara: Why does it begin in the intestines and end in the mouth? Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Ila’i, who was the head of the speakers in every place, responded and said: Even though the kidneys advise, and the heart understands, and the tongue shapes the voice that emerges from the mouth, still, the mouth completes the formation of the voice. Therefore, the disease begins in the same place that slander begins and it ends in the mouth. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, responded and said: This disease ends in the mouth because one eats with it non-kosher things. They immediately wondered about this: Does it enter your mind to say that askara is caused by eating non-kosher food? Are those who eat non-kosher food so numerous? Rather, it comes as a punishment for eating foods that were not ritually prepared, i.e., were not tithed. Rabbi Shimon responded and said: This disease comes as a punishment for the sin of dereliction in the study of Torah.
They said to him: Women will prove that dereliction in the study of Torah is not the cause, as they are not obligated to study Torah and, nevertheless, they contract askara. He answered them: They are punished because they cause their husbands to be idle from the study of Torah. They said to him: Gentiles will prove that this is not the cause, as they also contract askara even though they are not obligated to study Torah. He answered them: They are also punished because they cause Israel to be idle from the study of Torah. They said to him: Children will prove that this is not the cause, for they are not at all obligated to study Torah and they also suffer from askara. He answered them: They are punished because they cause their fathers to be idle from the study of Torah. They said to him: School children will prove that this is not the cause, as they study Torah and, nevertheless, they suffer from askara.
The Gemara answers: There, it must be understood in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Guryon, as Rabbi Guryon said, and some say that it was Rav Yosef, son of Rabbi Shemaya, who said it: At a time when there are righteous people in the generation, the righteous are seized, i.e., they die or suffer, for the sins of the generation. If there are no righteous people in the generation, school children, who are also without sin, are seized for the sins of the generation. Rabbi Yitzḥak bar Ze’iri said, and some say that Rabbi Shimon ben Nezira said: What is the verse that alludes to this? “If you know not, you fairest among women, go your way forth by the footsteps of the flock and feed your kids, beside the shepherds’ tents [mishkenot]” (Song of Songs 1:8). And we say in explanation of this verse: They are the lambs that are taken as collateral [hamemushkanin], which is etymologically similar to the word mishkenot, in place of the shepherds. If the shepherds and leaders of the generation corrupt the multitudes, young children die because of their sins. With regard to the dilemma, conclude from it that Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Yosei, said that the illness of askara also results from slander, as the baraita provides an additional cause of the illness. The Gemara comments: Indeed, conclude from it.
In this baraita Rabbi Yehuda is described as head of the speakers in every place. The Gemara asks: And why did they call him head of the speakers in every place? The Gemara relates that this resulted due to an incident that took place when Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Shimon were sitting, and Yehuda, son of converts, sat beside them. Rabbi Yehuda opened and said: How pleasant are the actions of this nation, the Romans, as they established marketplaces, established bridges, and established bathhouses. Rabbi Yosei was silent. Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai responded and said: Everything that they established, they established only for their own purposes. They established marketplaces, to place prostitutes in them; bathhouses, to pamper themselves; and bridges, to collect taxes from all who pass over them. Yehuda, son of converts, went and related their statements to his household, and those statements continued to spread until they were heard by the monarchy. They ruled and said: Yehuda, who elevated the Roman regime, shall be elevated and appointed as head of the Sages, the head of the speakers in every place. Yosei, who remained silent, shall be exiled from his home in Judea as punishment, and sent to the city of Tzippori in the Galilee. And Shimon, who denounced the government, shall be killed.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, went and hid in the study hall. Every day Rabbi Shimon’s wife would bring them bread and a jug of water and they would eat. When the decree intensified, Rabbi Shimon said to his son: Women are easily impressionable and, therefore, there is room for concern lest the authorities torture her and she reveal our whereabouts. They went and they hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob tree was created for them as well as a spring of water. They would remove their clothes and sit covered in sand up to their necks. They would study Torah all day in that manner. At the time of prayer, they would dress, cover themselves, and pray, and they would again remove their clothes afterward so that they would not become tattered. They sat in the cave for twelve years. Elijah the Prophet came and stood at the entrance to the cave and said: Who will inform bar Yoḥai that the emperor died and his decree has been abrogated?
They emerged from the cave, and saw people who were plowing and sowing. Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai said: These people abandon eternal life of Torah study and engage in temporal life for their own sustenance. The Gemara relates that every place that Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar directed their eyes was immediately burned. A Divine Voice emerged and said to them: Did you emerge from the cave in order to destroy My world? Return to your cave. They again went and sat there for twelve months. They said: The judgment of the wicked in Gehenna lasts for twelve months. Surely their sin was atoned in that time. A Divine Voice emerged and said to them: Emerge from your cave. They emerged. Everywhere that Rabbi Elazar would strike, Rabbi Shimon would heal. Rabbi Shimon said to Rabbi Elazar: My son, you and I suffice for the entire world, as the two of us are engaged in the proper study of Torah.
As the sun was setting on Shabbat eve, they saw an elderly man who was holding two bundles of myrtle branches and running at twilight. They said to him: Why do you have these? He said to them: In honor of Shabbat. They said to him: And let one suffice. He answered them: One is corresponding to: “Remember the Shabbat day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and one is corresponding to: “Observe the Shabbat day, to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12). Rabbi Shimon said to his son: See how beloved the mitzvot are to Israel. Their minds were put at ease and they were no longer as upset that people were not engaged in Torah study.
Rabbi Pineḥas ben Ya’ir, Rabbi Shimon’s son-in-law, heard and went out to greet him. He brought him into the bathhouse and began tending to his flesh. He saw that Rabbi Shimon had cracks in the skin on his body. He was crying, and the tears fell from his eyes and caused Rabbi Shimon pain. Rabbi Pineḥas said to Rabbi Shimon, his father-in-law: Woe is me, that I have seen you like this. Rabbi Shimon said to him: Happy are you that you have seen me like this, as had you not seen me like this, you would not have found in me this prominence in Torah, as the Gemara relates: At first, when Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai would raise a difficulty, Rabbi Pineḥas ben Ya’ir would respond to his question with twelve answers. Ultimately, when Rabbi Pineḥas ben Ya’ir would raise a difficulty, Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai would respond with twenty-four answers.
Rabbi Shimon said: Since a miracle transpired for me, I will go and repair something for the sake of others in gratitude for God’s kindness, as it is written: “And Jacob came whole to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram; and he graced the countenance of the city” (Genesis 33:18). Rav said, the meaning of: And Jacob came whole, is: Whole in his body, whole in his money, whole in his Torah. And what did he do? And he graced the countenance of the city; he performed gracious acts to benefit the city. Rav said: Jacob established a currency for them. And Shmuel said: He established marketplaces for them. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He established bathhouses for them. In any event, clearly one for whom a miracle transpires should perform an act of kindness for his neighbors as a sign of gratitude. He said: Is there something that needs repair? They said to him: There is a place where there is uncertainty with regard to ritual impurity