10 Facts about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
During the years he hid in a cave, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai wrote down the esoteric teachings of the Torah. The Zohar was passed down secretly from generation to generation, until about 700 years ago, it was revealed to the world
1. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (popularly known as Rashbi) was the student of Rabbi Akiva. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair and the teacher of Rabbi Judah Hanasi, who redacted the Mishnah.
2. As a young man, Rashbi was one of the sages in Keren B’Yavneh [where the Jews’ central authority was established after the destruction of Jerusalem]. The Talmud relates that his question about if the evening prayers are obligatory, caused a storm to erupt, after which the Nasi Rabbi Gamaliel deposed Rabbi Yehoshua from the hall where the sages convened.
3. Rashbi fiercely opposed Roman rule in Israel. When the Romans heard about it, they sentenced him to death. Rabbi Shimon was forced to flee and hide in a cave for 13 years with his son Rabbi Elazar.
4. A number of miracles occurred to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the cave. A carob tree suddenly grew at the entrance, and a spring bubbled up. Rabbi Shimon and his son were sustained by them during their years in the cave.
5. During the years he hid in a cave, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote down the esoteric teachings of the Torah. The Zohar was passed down secretly from generation to generation, until about 700 years ago, it was revealed to the world.
6. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s system of Jewish law centers on a person’s thoughts ("a deed is judged by the thought behind it"), or its inherent quality (as opposed to its outer, visible aspect). He therefore exempted from punishment any violation of Shabbat and financial damages that were unintentional. He considered a person’s thoughts and inner self as the main thing in a person’s life, and many of his opinions, rulings and instructions reflect his system of thought.
7. Rabbi Shimon was one of the most prominent students of Rabbi Akiva (who coined the saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself — this is a great Torah principle"), Rashbi’s teachings also put great importance on a person's character and the interpersonal commandments. For example, he said "It is better for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace and not shame another in public."
8. A famous piyyut was written in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai — “Bar Yochai Nimshacta Ashreicha” which contains statements by Rashbi and from Midrashim. One of the praises of him mentioned in the Piyyut “[G-d’s command] ‘Let us make man’ was said for your sake.”
9. In Meron, the site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave, a great celebration is held every year on the 33rd day of the Omer in honor of the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s death. Hundreds of thousands visit his tomb on that day.
10. It is customary to bring three year old children to Meron and give them their first haircut (the “chalaka”), since Rabbi Chaim Vital, a disciple of the Ari, said that this is what his teacher did for his son.