The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Simon, the Righteous.
Simon was performing the functions of High Priest during the triumphal career of Alexander, about the year 3000. The sons of Judah found no cause to oppose this warrior, and when, after his first victories over the Persian army, he came to Syria on his way to Egypt, they joined with the kingdoms which paid him homage.
Simon the Righteous, as representative of the nation, proceeded to the seacoast to greet the conqueror, attired in his priestly robes, and attended by a number of priests and nobles in the full dignity of their costumes.
Alexander at once approached the High Priest and
greeted him warmly; and when his officers expressed their astonishment at this mark of condescension, he told them that the form and feature of this same priest, clad in the same robes he now wore, had appeared to him in a dream and promised him success in arms.
Alexander was conducted through the Temple by Simon. On entering, he said, "Blessed be the Lord of this house." He was charmed with the beauty of the structure, and expressed a desire to have a statue of himself erected as a remembrance, between the porch and the altar. Simon informed him that it was not allowable to erect any statue or image within the Temple walls, but promised that, as a remembrance, the males born among his people that year should be called Alexander. That is the manner in which the Rabbis Alexander obtained their names.
Alexander continued well-disposed towards the High Priest, and through his intercessions granted the Jews religious freedom and release from all tributary burden during the Sabbatic year; and the Jews entered Alexander's army, and assisted in his conquests.
This state of affairs lasted unfortunately only until the death of Alexander. In the quarrels among his generals, which followed and continued for two decades, the Jewish people suffered much. The armies of Antigonus and his son Demetrius destroyed the fertile fields, gave wings to blessed peace, and filled the inhabitants of Judea with horror and dismay.
’Twas on the Sabbath that Jerusalem was taken by storm. The mighty walls, impenetrable strongholds since the days of Nehemiah, were again breached and broken, and the city laid open to her enemies.
These occurrences Simon lived to see, and his trust in God as well as his love for his people were sorely tried.
[paragraph continues] Yet he did not waver in his faith. He fortified the Temple, repaired its damaged places, and raised the foundation of the five courts. He enlarged the water reservoir in the Temple to provide against a scarcity during siege times, and ever after that the Temple was well supplied with water; a matter of note considering the climate and the soil of Jerusalem.
Neither did Simon neglect the spiritual interests of his people. He did not lead them to believe that their strength and safety depended only upon earthly means. He remembered well the teachings of his predecessors, "Upon three things does the salvation of Israel depend: on the observance of the law, upon reconciliation with God by means of grace furnished by the Temple worship, and upon deeds of benevolence."
The many wars and disturbances which agitated the period of his life were productive of much and varied evil, and the extremely pious sought, as in the days of the prophets, to withdraw from the world and consecrate themselves to God by Nazarean vows.
Simon did not approve of this, and protested against it in many ways. He made an exception, however, in one case, that of a young and handsome shepherd, whom he found to be really sincere in his desire. When the latter came to him, desiring to become a Nazeer, the High Priest questioned him:
"Why," he asked, "why do you, so young and handsome, with flowing, silken ringlets, why do you wish to hide so much beauty and destroy so much which is pleasant to the eye?"
"Because," replied the youth, "my flowing ringlets have almost enticed me to sin from mere vanity. I saw the reflection of my face in a clear stream, and a proneness to
self-deification seemed taking such hold of me, that I desire now at once to consecrate my hair unto the Lord, through the Nazarean vow." 1
Simon kissed the young shepherd, and said to him:
"Would to God there were in Israel many Nazareans like to thee."
Simon is renowned for his familiarity with the law, for his services as president and member of the great Senate, and for the efficient manner in which he strengthened the religious fervour of the people and participated in all their doings and institutions.
He officiated as High Priest for forty years, and himself announced the approach of his death on completing the services on the Day of Atonement. On entering the Holy of Holies upon this sacred day, he had been used to perceive, every year, an apparition in white garments, which attended all his actions in the performance of his office. On this particular day he failed to see it, and considered this fact a harbinger of his death. He died seven days after the holy day.
Posterity honoured him as the most holy among men, and it has been asserted that during his life visible tokens of God's favour never ceased.
His grandchildren, however, deserted Judaism entirely, and set the example for those actions which brought upon Israel the troublous times of Antiochus Epiphanes.
It was shortly after Simon's death, and in view of the degeneracy of the people, that the pious resolved that only the priests should use the holy name of God. The four letters of the sacred name were substituted for the name itself, and the latter was only uttered by the priests when
they concluded the daily sacrificial service, and pronounced a blessing on the people, and by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
212:1 The law concerning this may be found in Numbers 6.