Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and His Circle
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, often referred to simply as Rashbi (an acronym taken
from the initials Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), lived during the era of Roman persecution
(2nd century CE). He was one of the foremost students of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon
was one of the teachers of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the revered compiler of the
six orders of the Mishnah.
Around the year 3909 (149 CE) Rabbi Shimon was
forced to flee from the Roman authorities. He hid in a cave for thirteen years
together with his son Rabbi Elazar, where they studied Torah day and night. They
were miraculously sustained by the fruit of a carob tree and water from a spring
until the emperor died and the sentence upon them was annulled.
his stay in the cave, Rabbi Shimon apparently wrote the main body of the Zohar,
described as "the First Mishnah." One of his foremost disciples, Rabbi
Abba, recorded the bulk of his teachings, as mentioned in the Zohar itself. Many
of his teachings were passed on orally to his close associates and disciples,
called the chevraya, and to their disciples, and they committed some of his teachings
to writing, probably over a period of several generations. Among the chevraya
were Rabbi Shimon's son, R. Eleazar; his scribe R. Abba; R. Yehudah; R. Yossi
ben Yaakov; R. Yitzchak; R. Chizkiyah; R. Chiya; R. Yossi; and R. Yaakov bar Idi.
Rabbi Shimon passed on to the world of truth on Lag ba-Omer (the 33rd day
of the Omer); he is buried in Meron together with his son Elazar. Hundreds of
thousands make the pilgrimage to Meron every year on Lag ba-Omer to pay tribute
to this great saint.
Praises of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
1. Although Rabbi Shimon is best known as the author of the Zohar, nevertheless,
he holds an important place in the revealed aspects of Torah, the Talmud and associated
works. Even when the halachic ruling is not according to his opinion, the Talmud
declares, "[The opinion of] Rabbi Shimon can be relied upon in a pinch."
Furthermore, Rabbi Shimon has the unique distinction of being mentioned in every
chapter in the Talmud.
2. Rabbi Shimon's saintliness was
so great that in his merit no rainbow (a negative portent) during his lifetime.
He declared that he had seen the most elevated souls (bnei aliyah) and that they
were very few. He testified that he and his son Elazar were two of them, and if
there was only one - it was he. He declared that he had the power to exempt the
entire world from strict judgment from the day it was created until his days.
Rashbi's soul derived from the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu and from the soul of Mashiach.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai never experienced the Exile. Although the Temple was destroyed
in his lifetime, he remained bound to G-d's revealed Light. Every Jew who travels
to Rabbi Shimon's resting place in Meron on Lag B'Omer attains this above-Exile
4. Rabbi Shimon's soul is in a constant state of
elevation. Indeed, it reaches the ultimate domain of the Infinite Light, which
precedes the Great Contraction (tzimtzum). That's why the light of his holy accomplishments
-- that shines below each year on his anniversary - reaches below until it affects
every grade of Jew. This explains the multitude of simple Jews who gather in Meron
on Lag B'Omer.
5. Rabbi Shimon revealed great secrets to his
students [recorded in the Idra Rabba section of the Zohar] in the last hours before
he passed away. Since the Zohar was physically introduced into the world on Lag
B'Omer, its great light shines on that day. And every succeeding year the light
increases in intensity.
6. [Asynopsis by Yehoshua Metzinger
from part of a Chassidic discourse published in Sefer Maimorim Melulet vol. #
2 (Kehot). ]
To understand the greatness of "Rashbi" (Rabbi Shimon
bar Yochai), the Zohar relates that he was the object of awesome praises from
the Torah scholars of his generation, which included some of the greatest Torah
scholars in Jewish history, such as Rabbi Yehuda, who called him "Shabbos."
The Zohar even states that his image was the image of G-d himself.
why praise anyone so much? We can understand this by considering the psalms that
we say every day during our prayers to G-d. Most of the content of our prayers
is basically praises of G-d, yet does G-d really need our praises? After all,
G-d is incomparably greater then the entire creation, the physical and spiritual
worlds, as it is written in the Zohar: "The entire creation is considered
as null and void in relation to G-d."
However, in order
to awaken G-d's desire to continue maintaining the world in existence and to provide
us with all of our sustenance, we need to praise him. Our sages established that
before we ask for our needs in prayer we should praise G-d first, even though
praying for our needs is a commandment from the Torah, in order not to appear
ungrateful for the privilege of being able to ask G-d for all of our needs. By
making the effort and doing so we awaken in him the desire to provide us our needs
This principle applies to the Rashbi. Since
he was so much greater than the other Torah scholars of his time, they had to
praise him in order to arouse his desire to teach them from his great Torah knowledge.
Not only that, but the reason why was brought as an example the praises to G-d
before praying for our needs is not only to tell us that when we want to receive
something from someone that is far greater then us we have to praise him, but
also to tell us that the difference between Rashbi and the rest of the Torah scholars
of his time was comparable to the difference between the Creator and the created
Some Laws and Customs -
"FIRST HAIRCUT & PEYOT SHAPING" ceremonies for three year
old boys are the highlight of Lag b'Omer at Meron for many families
and spectators, as everyone gathers to help snip. Actually, everywhere
in the world, Jewish boys born between Pesach and Lag b’Omer receive their
haircut and peyot on Lag b’Omer. Upon reaching the age of 3 (i.e., completing
three years and beginning the "holy fourth"-see Lev. 19:23-25), a Jewish
child begins to receive his or her official training in mitzvot.
The first mitzvah for a three year old boy is (Lev. 19:27) "Do not cut
off the hair on the side of your head." Four centuries ago, Rabbi
Yitzchak Luria, the great Kabbalist, camped at Meron with his family
in order to "make peyot" for his son on Lag b'Omer "in the presence of"
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Since then, especially in modern-day Israel,
it has been a strong custom to administer the "first sheering" (comparable
to the mitzvah of the First Fleece Offering-see Deut. 18:4) at Meron,
and ideally on Lag b'Omer - birth date and custom permitting.
STUDYING THE ZOHAR AND OTHER TEACHINGS OF
RABBI SHIMON BAR YOCHAI
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most important
sages in Jewish history, lived over 1800 years ago. Teachings in his name
abound throughout the Mishnah, Gemorrah, and Midrashim, while the Zohar, the primary
source text of Kabbalah, is built around Rabbi Shimon's revelations to his inner
circle of disciples. During the hours before his passing, on Lag b'Omer,
he disclosed the "most sublime" secrets of Torah (see quote below), in order to
ensure that the day would always be an occasion for great joy, untouched by sadness
because of the Omer period and mourning for him. The seminal importance
of the Zohar in Jewish thought and the annual pilgrimage to Meron are testimonies
to his success.
Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!
last year's Lag
for more Kabbalah
insights on Lag b'Omer
A special Lag
b'Omer in Meron miracle story.