Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Angels

Free translation and adaptation of a discourse by
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Eve of Lag b'Omer 5747 (1987)

by Rabbi David Rothschild



A Chassidic discourse is the most developed form of the inner Torah. Every word is sculpted by Divine Inspiration. Delivered to coincide with a weekly Torah reading or Jewish festival, these discourses make a spiritual connection with auspicious times.

Concepts from Kabbala and Zohar are developed to perfection. Their relevance to the Five Books of Moses and Tanach (Old Testament) as well as passages from the Talmud is expounded upon. This reveals their "inner meaning."

These discourses presuppose a familiarity with Torah. Perhaps for these reasons, only a handful has been translated into English and published as books by the Kehot Publication Society.

Over the course of two hundred years, the Lubavitcher Rebbes delivered thousands of discourses. Now for the first time they are being made public on the Internet.

In the texts that follow an attempt was made to abridge and elucidate their content. To provide background information for difficult terms and concepts, additional material from other Chassidic discourses,has been added. The remaining content is a free translation.


Part 1 (of 3)


I. Simultaneous Service
Angel Talk
Time Frames

I. Simultaneous Service

Angel Talk

"I will be sanctified among the children of Israel" (Leviticus 22: 33). The Talmud sees in this verse the biblical injunction of sacrificing one's life to hallow G-d's Name. But the Zohar learns an additional instruction: "We are commanded to sanctify G-d daily." That is, every day Jews must hallow G-d. How do we perform this mitzvah?

Angels teach us how. Isaiah testifies that the angels praise G-d: "And one exclaimed to another. 'Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of hosts" (Isaiah 6:3). Ezekiel also witnessed their acclamation: "I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, 'Blessed be the glory of the L-rd from His place'" (Ezekiel 3:12). Hence the Sages of old instituted the practice of reciting these verses in our daily prayers.

The Talmud (Chulin 91b) examines the angels' Divine service and concludes, "There exist three categories of angels who sing G-d's praise. The first group exclaims the blessing 'Holy' once. A second assembly praises G-d twice, 'Holy, holy.' And the third set repeats the acclaim three times, 'Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of hosts'." Each class of angels represents a different manner of Divine Service. And their three methods of praise are in response to different magnitudes of Divine revelation.

A question, though, is raised in Chassidic discourses. The Talmud infers the angels repeat the same praise. It's just that they repeat it in differing frequencies. Yet it appears that, in truth, each group says an entirely different acclamation.

Chassidus states that the first set's praise corresponds to prayer; the second applies to Torah study; and the third refers to the performance of the mitzvahs. These three categories of Divine service constitute the three pillars upon which the world is sustained.

Consequently, each of the three sets of praise represents a particular subject. And each one must be accomplished in its specific time. As the Talmud teaches (Shabbat 10a), "There is a separate time for prayer, Torah and mitzvahs."

Time Frames

The Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in Tiberias during Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's lifetime. It provides an eyewitness account that Rabbi Shimon interrupted his Torah studies to build a succah. Rabbi Shimon, though, was one of the sages whose entire occupation was immersion in Torah study. From his example we derive that mitzvahs are in a separate category, which requires the suspension of Torah study to enable their performance.

The Talmud's description of Rabbi Shimon as one whose "entire preoccupation was the study of Torah" must be understood. For we see that he did in fact stop learning to carry out mitzvahs. And at those times he wasn't studying!

Chassidus solves this quandary by explaining that Rabbi Shimon's learning continued to have an effect even when it was interrupted. That is, while he was performing mitzvahs, his earlier learning carried on.

The praying of Rabbi Yehudah also illustrates this principle. The Talmud observes, "He prayed only once a month." His single prayer maintained its power for the following thirty days. Not only did its effect last thirty days, rather, the prayer itself continued!

The Talmud provides other examples of this principle. When we perform a mitzvah whose observance occurs in appointed times, a special blessing - "who granted us life" (shechiyanu) - is recited. But, even though Passover lasts a full week, we say this blessing only on the first day. Why isn't it recited on every day of Passover? The answer is that the initial blessing continues its effect for the remainder of the holiday.

Nevertheless, the stories in the Jerusalem Talmud illustrate that Rabbi Shimon's learning and succah construction were separate elements requiring distinct time periods . In like manner, the shechiyanu blessing extends into the succeeding days of Passover. This, despite the fact we perform other mitzvahs during that period, such as eating matzah.

With the above in mind, we can now understand the Chassidic interpretation of angels' praise. Each of the three sets of acclamation is a category in and of itself. Yet at the same time, the fact that one group of angels recites "Holy" twice and another assembly says "Holy" three times indicates the inter-inclusion of their service. Sometimes, the two methods of Divine service of prayer and Torah study are carried out simultaneously. Other times, the three types of service of prayer, Torah and mitzvahs are performed concurrently.

[on to Part 2]


[Rabbi David Rothschild, a resident of Tsfat, is the founder and editor of Nefesh Magazine.]


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