Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
Send a personal prayer to be recited at tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, his grave-site in Miron, as well as to that of his illustrious son Rabbi Elazar, who is buried next to him.
About the Rashbi
The writings of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai
Revelation of the Zohar
Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai in the cave
The message of the dove
Leaving the cave
Rebbe Shimon's demise
Where to bury?
The writings of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai
Many of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai's teachings are found in the Mishnah, and he also authored the "Mechilta" on the book of Exodus and the "Sifri" on the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. However, by far the most famous of his works is the "Zohar Hakadosh", which is universally accepted as having being authored by Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. This was compiled after his thirteen-year stay in the cave, and is explanation on the Five books of the Torah, Also, he compiled the "Rayah Mehemna" (lit. "faithful shepherd", referring to Moses), which is also brought down in the Zohar, as well as the "Sifra Di'Tzniusa", which consist of five chapters, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.
Additionally, he compiled the "Tikuney Zohar", in which seventy Kabbalistic interpretations of the first verse in the Torah "In the beginning G-d created" etc. Finally, the work "Adra Kaddisha Rabba" was compiled by Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai and nine of his disciples. Thus, was done whilst inside a forest, and three of disciples passed away while still inside the forest. The remaining group saw angels coming to carry away their bodies. Upon seeing this Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai began to cry from fear that this was a punishment for having revealed hidden secrets of the Torah. Immediately, a voice came out from heaven and proclaimed fortunate are you, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, and fortunate is your portion and the portion of your disciples, that what has not been revealed (even) to the Heavenly hosts has been revealed to you?
The teachings of the Zohar were originally transmitted orally, and as long as Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai was alive and his Yeshiva was in existence, his teachings were not written down. When Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai passed away, his disciples began to write his teachings, arranging them according to the verses of the Torah. In the book "Sha'are Meron" it is brought down that Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai himself, for fear of his teachings being forgotten, appointed his disciple Rebbe Abba to write the secrets of the Torah, and it was then compiled on all twenty-four books of the Bible, weighing as much as a camel!! However, afterwards much of this was lost, and we have left only on the five books of the Torah.
Revelation of the Zohar
There are two versions as to the revelation of the Zohar in later generations. One version is that the Ramban (Nachmanades) discovered it after arriving in Israel, and thereupon sent it to Katolania, Spain, where it reached his disciple Rebbe Moses Delion. After Rebbe Moses passed away, it was printed.
When the Zohar was first publicized, there was skeptics who questioned its authenticity. However, the clear testimony of Rabbenu Bachya (disciple of the Rashba, of the greatest of the Ramban's disciples), and many other great Rebbes throughout all the generations leaves no room for doubt that this is truly the work of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai.
Another version as to the revelation of the Zohar goes like this. Approximately 800 years ago, the Zohar was hidden in a cave in the village of Meron, and an Arab who found it began selling it to neighboring merchants, to wrap up their merchandise. This came to the notice of one of the Sages there, which searched extensively for all the scattered pieces of this holy work, and thus saved the Zohar for all future generations.
Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai in the cave
The period into which Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai was born was one of persecution of the Jewish Nation. From the time of the destruction of the Second Temple the Romans expended great efforts to force the Jews to betray their faith, the most famous victims being the "Asarah Harugei Malchut", the ten greatest Sages of the time, including the great Rebbe Akiva, Rebbe of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, who were cruelly put to death. However, when Caesar Antoninus Payas became ruler, things eased somewhat. Despite this Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai himself was pursued by the Romans, who even issued a death verdict against him, forcing him to flee and hide in a cave for a thirteen-year period. The event that brought this about is recorded in the Talmud: Three of the great sages, Rebbe Yudah bar Illai, Rebbe Yose and Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai were discussing the achievements of the Roman Empire. Said Rebbe Yudah "How beautiful are the actions of this nation (the Romans), they have built market places, bridges and bathhouses. Rebbe Yose remained silent, but Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai responded: "All that they have built, they have done only for their own benefit. They built market-places for their own good, bathhouses" to beautify themselves and bridges to claim taxes.
Present at this discussion was a bystander by the name of Yehuda ben Geirim. Upon returning home, he related this conversation to his family, and thus word got out coming to the attention of the authorities. The reaction was swift in coming. "Rebbe Yudah, who praised the Romans, will be honored and will be the first speaker in an any public event. Rebbe Yose, who was silent, will be exiled to Tzippori. Rebbe Shimon, who criticized, will be killed".
When Rebbe Shimon found out, he fled, with his son Rabbe Elazor, and hid in a study-hall in a location known only to his wife, who would bring him bread and water every day. However, as the searches increased in intensity, he said to his son, "Women do not have the strength to withstand torture, and our hiding-place might be discovered". They therefore left and hid in a cave in the village of Pekin in the upper Galilee. Miraculously, a carob tree and fountain of water were created, and from these they derived their daily sustenance. This was really a two-fold miracle, because under normal circumstances a carob tree yields fruit only after seventy years. Additionally, every Friday, the tree would change into a date-tree, in honor of Shabbat.
All the thirteen years spent in the cave, they would not wear their clothes, in order not to wear them out. Instead, they would cover themselves with sand until their neck and study Torah. Only when they prayed would they wear their clothes.
For the first twelve years, their whereabouts were unknown to anyone. Twice daily, the prophet Elijah would reveal himself and study Torah with them. It was during this period that Rebbe Shimon reached the pinnacle of his spiritual greatness, and the secrets of the Torah were disclosed to him. These were the secrets that he later transmitted to his disciples, and they were revealed to him with clarity as if they were then being received at Mt. Sinai.
After twelve years the Roman Caesar died, and the decree was abolished. However, no one could inform Rebbe Shimon, whose whereabouts were unknown. Eliyahu, therefore, came and stood at the entrance to the cave and declared, who will inform (Rebbe Shimon) bar Yochai that the Caesar has died and his decrees abolished?? Upon hearing this, Rebbe Shimon and his son exited the cave.
However, upon coming out, they encountered people plaguing and planting. Rebbe Shimon was astonished, and exclaimed "How can people forsake the eternal life (Torah study) and engage in temporary life". And wherever they gazed was immediately burned. A voice came out from heaven: "Did you leave the cave in order to destroy my world "Return to your cave!".
They returned to the cave, and stayed there for another twelve months. Then, Rebbe Shimon turned to his son, saying, "Even the punishment of the wicked in Gehenom is only for twelve months. We have been punished sufficiently". A voice then came out from heaven "Go out from your cave".
They then encountered a hunter, who was hunting birds with a bow and arrow. They noticed that some birds were caught, while others escaped the arrow. When a voice from heaven would say "Dimus, dimus" (freedom), the bird would escape, but when the voice said "Spakula" (captured) the arrow would strike the bird. Said Rebbe Shimon to his son, "even a bird cannot be captured unless it is decreed in heaven, all the more so a person, so why do we need to hide".
According to the Zohar, Rebbe Shimon and his son hid in the Lod desert. This is the version of the Zohar:
Rebbe Shimon and his son fled to the Lod desert and hid in a cave. Miraculously, a carob tree and a fountain were specially created for them, and from these they ate and drank. Twice a day, the prophet Elijah would come to study Torah with them, besides this, nobody knew of their whereabouts.
One day, the Sages in the study hall posed the following question. The curses in Leviticus are referring to the destruction of the first Temple, and those in Deuteronomy to the second Temple. The ones in Leviticus contain also the promises of the Holy One, blessed is He, as is written "I will remember my covenant with Jacob? etc. and as is written "Even with all this, when they are in the land of their enemies I have not been abhorred by them" etc. However, the curses in Deuteronomy contain no such promises" Nobody could give an explanation.
Rebbe Yudah bar I'llai then rose to his feet, saying, "Woe to the loss of (Rebbe Shimon) bar Yochai, and nobody knows his whereabouts, and even he who knows does not have permission to reveal".
The message of the dove
One day, Rebbe Yose the son of Rebbe Yehudah got up in the morning and saw birds flying, and a dove flying behind them. He stood up and said: "Dove, dove, faithful messenger since the days of the great flood! The assembly of Israel is appropriately compared to you. Go and fulfill one errand to (Rebbe Shimon) bar Yochai, wherever he may be". The dove descended and came to Rebbe Yose. He wrote a note, which the dove took into his mouth, flew to Rebbe Shimon and flapped its wings. Rebbe Shimon, upon seeing the note, began to cry, together with his son Rebbe Elazar, saying "I cry because I have separated from my colleagues, and I am crying because the correct explanation has been hidden from them. What will the later generations do?" Towards evening, Rebbe Shimon wrote a note and put it into the mouth of the dove, who returned to Rebbe Yose. Upon seeing the dove, Rebbe Yose, who was still waiting expectantly exclaimed, "Dove, dove, how faithful are you, more than all other birds of the heavens". And he applied to it the verse written in Genesis, "and the dove came to (Noah) toward the evening, and, behold, a torn olive leaf was found in her mouth". He then took the note, and showed it to his colleagues, relating the entire incident. They were exceedingly amazed, and Rebbe Yehudah wept, saying: "Woe unto us. Even though his whereabouts are unknown to us, we still learn from him. Fortunate is the soul of (Rebbe Shimon) bar Yochai, that the Holy One, blessed is He, does for him miracles, he decrees and G-d fulfills. He is going to be the head of the righteous ones sitting in Gan-Eden, and will receive the glory of the Divine Presence, and will say to the other righteous ones "Come, we will prostrate ourselves and kneel down, before G-d our Maker".
Leaving the cave
After they left the cave, Rebbe Elazar once again began punishing people engaging in worldly activities, but Rebbe Shimon healed them, saying to his son: "It is sufficient that you and I are completely immersed in Torah study".
One Friday eve, just before nightfall they saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtles and rushing to his home. Upon seeing this they inquired as to the reason for the myrtles. He explained, "These are in honor of the holy Shabbat, to enjoy their pleasant fragrance". "But why two bundles", they asked. "One corresponding to 'Zachor' and one to 'Shamor' (two expressions used in the Torah regarding Shabbat observance).
Said Rebbe Shimon to his son "Come and see how the Jewish Nation loves G-d's commandments!" Both were overjoyed at having encountered this righteous elder, and no longer did they feel angry about the activities of the people around them.
They arrived home in a terribly weak state, their entire bodies festering with wounds. When Rebbe Shimon's father in-law, the great Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair, heard that they had left the cave, he came to greet them, and brought them to Tiberias, where the hot springs would be beneficial to them. He himself brought them inside the bathhouse, bathing and cleaning them with water and oil. Upon seeing their entire body covered with cracks, due to the sand they had been sitting in for thirteen years, he began to cry, his tears falling of Rebbe Shimon's open wounds and burning them. Rebbe Pinchas exclaimed: "Woe unto me that I see you in such a state". Responded Rebbe Shimon: "Fortunate are you that you have seen me like this, for if not, we would have become so great in Torah".
In fact, the Talmud relates, that prior to Rebbe Shimon's ordeal, when he would ask a question, Rebbe Shimon would give 12 different answers. However, after having been in the cave, when Rebbe Pinchas would raise a question, Rebbe Shimon would present 24 answers!
The hot springs of Tiberias proved beneficial for Rebbe Shimon and his son, and they made a good recovery.
The final incident of this whole saga is related in the Talmud. After having returned, Rebbe Shimon chanced upon Yehudah ben Geirim, whose carelessness had caused all this suffering. Rebbe Shimon exclaimed: "This person still exists in the world!?" He gazed upon Yehudah ben Geirim, who was instantly transformed into a heap of bones.
Rebbe Shimon's demise
The day that Rebbe Shimon passed away from the world, Rebbe Elazar, his son, Rebbe Abba and other disciples came and filled his house. Rebbe Shimon raised his eyes, saw that the room was full and began to weep. "When I was unwell, Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair was with me, surrounded by a fire, allowing nobody to enter without permission. Now, however, I see the fire has ceased, and the house is full". While they were all sitting there, the fire returned, surrounding the house. All the diciples left, leaving only Rebbe Elazar and Rebbe Abba.
Said Rebbe Shimon to Rebbe Elazar: "Go out and see if Rebbe Yitzchak is here. Once, when the Angel of Death was about to take him, I promised that he would not die. Tell him to sit by my side".
Then Rebbe Shimon smiled and rejoiced and asked for the disciples to enter. Rebbe Elazar brought them back in. Rebbe Shimon began praying, and then said "The disciples who compiled the "Iddra" should come". All left, besides Rebbe Elazer, Rebbe Abba, Rebbe Judah, Rebbe Jose and Rebbe Chiya. Then Rebbe Yitzchak entered. Rebbe Shimon greeted him warmly, saying "How beautiful is your portion, how much happiness you are to receive this day".
Then he said "Now is a time of good-will, and I wish to enter the world to come without shame. There are holy concepts that I have not yet revealed, but now I wish to reveal them, as the Shecinah (Divine Presence) is here, and it should not be said that I left the world lacking something. And this is how I will transmit them - Rebbe Abba will write, Rebbe Elazar my son will clarify my words, and the other disciples should contemplate".
Rebbe Abba stood behind Rebbe Shimon, and Rebbe Elazar sat in front. Rebbe Shimon said to his son "Arise, for someone else is sitting in that place". Rebbe Elazar rose, and Rebbe Shimon then began expounding the verse (Psalms 115, 17) "Neither the dead can praise G-d, nor any who descend into silence". He then said "The holy One, blessed is He, desires the honor of the righteous more than his own honor. Now, the desires to honor me, and came with all the righteous from Paradise. Behold, Rebbe Hamnuna Sabba is here, and surrounding him seventy righteous ones, with brilliant crowns. Rebbe Hamnuna has come with great rejoicing to hear what I am now expounding".
The whole day the fire did not leave the house, and no one could approach him, for the fire was surrounding him. Then the fire departed, and the disciples saw Rebbe Shimon lying on his right side, with a smile on his face. Rebbe Elazar stood, raised Rebbe Shimon's hands, kissing them. Others licked the earth under his feet. They attempted to eulogize him, but could not even speak. They began weeping. Rebbe Elazar and Rebbe Abba placed him inside a carriage, and only they were permitted to prepare him for burial.
Where to bury?
The residents of the nearby village contended that Rebbe Shimon be buried in their village. When the people of Meron heard this, they vehemently protested. As the funeral began, the coffin rose into the air, a fire burning in front of it, and made its way to the correct burial place. A voice was heard: "Enter and gather together for the 'Hilulah' of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. May he come in peace and rest in peace".
When they entered the burial cave, a voice came forth: "This is the man who made the earth shake, and made kingdoms tremble. Many accusations have been silenced (in heaven) on this day, in your merit, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. - the one with whom his Master praises himself daily. Fortunate is your position above and below. How many treasure-houses are stored for you. Regarding you it is said (Daniel 12) "And you, depart from the word, rest and stand again to receive your portion at the end of days".