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Simeon Bar Yochai

Simeon Bar Yochai

Simeon bar Yochai or in Aramaic Rabban Shimmon bar Yochai is also known by his acronym which is Rashbi. This man was a very popular tannaic sage in the first century in ancient Israel. He was well known after the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE. Simeon was one of the high ranking followers of Rabbi Akiva and is associated with the writing of the Zohar which is the main work of the Kabbalah.

He is also closely associated with the legal homilies that are known as Sifre and Mekhilta. Simeon is the fourth most acknowledged sage in the Mishnah where he is usually referred to as “Rabbi Shimmon”.

It is also important to add that common legend has it that this man and his son (Rabbi Eleazer b. Simeon) were some of the most prominent Kabbalists. That is the reason why they are both very revered in the Kabbalistic traditions.

Critic of Rome

The Talmud records Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as being a critic to the Roman government and that is why he was forced to go into exile for over thirteen years with his son. Tradition notes that these two found a dwelling in a cave which is believed to be in Peki’in. It is also believed that right at the entrance of the cave, a carob tree grew up and a spring of fresh water came forth and thus they were well provided for against hunger and thirst. The two cast off their clothing and only used them during prayers. They embedded their bodies in the sand right up to their necks and read the Torah all day long.

Works and Legends

Rabbinic sources record him to have acquired a reputation as a person who performs miracles and it is because of that reason that he was taken to Rome as an Envoy. On reaching Rome, it is noted that he removed a demon from the daughter of the then emperor. However this demon is also said to have entered the daughter willingly so that Rabbi Shimmon would accomplish the miracle.

This Rabbi had a very big passion for law and that is why he was most commonly associated with the legal homilies (Sifre and Mekhita). There are however modern scholars who believe that Moses de Leon who published the Zohar is the one responsible for writing it.

A more detailed account of the Rabbi Shimon’s life and teachings are in W Bacher’s Agada der Tannaiten, ii. pp. 70-149.

There is also a mid-eighth century Jewish apocalypse that is associated with the Rabbi, see The Secrets of Rabbi Simon ben Yohai.

Yahrzheit

Jewish communities around the world celebrate both the Lag Ba’omer and the Yahrzeit which is the anniversary of death.

The Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s Yahrzeit is referred to as Yom Hillula which is a day of celebration. This is derived from the original writing of Shaar HaKavanot by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, which refers to the day as Yom Simchato or “the day of his happiness”. That is of course contrary to Yom SheMet which means “the day that he died”. It is therefore important to note that there is usually a widely acknowledged custom celebration on his yahrzeit at Meron which is the burial point of Rabbi Shimmon bar Yochai and his son (Rabbi Eleazer b. Simeon). Tens of thousands of people celebrate the Yom Hillula with torches, dancing and songs. It is also custom to find three year old boys having their first hair cuts at these celebrations right from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria. While that is taking place, their parents distribute goodies that include sweets and wine.

Most people accept the fact that Rabbi Shimmon and his son were buried at Mount Meron where there is a building that is arched in structure.
Click here for Panorama photos of Shimon bar Yochai tomb, Mount Meiron, Israel

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