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.
During 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 -
The Most Popular Lag B'Omer Song
composed by Rabbi Shimon Lavia
Lyrics translated by Rabbi Avraham Sutton
This hymn extols the virtues
of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the holy Zohar. It relates how he achieved
greatness in each of the 10 sefirot. Each stanza corresponds to a different one
of the sefirot (indicated here by the small bolded words that precede each stanza
(malchut, yesod, etc.). The composer spelled out his name in the first letters
of the Hebrew stanzas.
Refrain: Bar Yochai -- fortunate are
you, anointed with joyous oil (wisdom), over and above your companions.
Bar Yochai -- You were anointed with the holy oil that flows down from the transcendent
[source of mercy]. [Like the Cohen Gadol], you wore a holy crown that set you
aside from other men, an aura of splendor bound eternally upon your head. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- It was a comely dwelling that you found, on the day you ran away
and escaped from the Romans. [For thirteen years] you stood in the sand of the
rocky cave -- there you merited to your crown of splendor and radiance. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- Your students are like the [strong and beautiful] beams of acacia
wood [used to hold up the Mishkan]. When they learn HaShem's Torah, they become
ignited with the wondrous burning light [of its secrets]. Behold, these secrets
were revealed to you by your teachers. [Moshe and Eliyahu]. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- [While still alive] you ascended to the Field of Apples (Garden
of Eden) to gather remedies [for the souls of your people]. Secrets of the Torah
whose fragrances are sweeter than blossoms and flowers. For you alone the entire
creation of Man was worthwhile. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- You girded yourself with strength and attained total self-mastery
in order to fight the battle of the Torah of [black fire on white] fire in the
gates [where the judges sat]. You unsheathed its sword and brandished it against
the enemies [of your people]. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- You ascended to a palace of pure light marble stones. Even there
you [hardened your face like the lion, and] stood unmoved before the constellation
of Leo. Crowned in glory, you ascended beyond the Great Bear [to perceive wonders
that no mortal ever grasped]. You saw, but who could see you?! (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- When you reached the Holy of Holies [of the Supernal Mikdash, you
grasped the secret of] the Green Line (the thread of measured light through which
G-d created the world and) through which He continually renews the works of creation
daily. [The works of creation are known as] the Seven Weeks (Forty-Nine Gates
of Understanding). In order to go beyond this and grasp the secret of Fifty, you
bound [your thought to] the letter Shin [on both sides of the Head-Tefilin]. (Refrain).
Bar Yochai -- You perceived the inner radiance of the letter Yud, the ineffable
wisdom of the Torah that preceded creation. [You mastered] the Thirty-Two Paths
[that flow from the Yud, the essence of the Torah which is called] the First Teruma.
Then, like the Cherubim [on high], you were anointed with the splendor of [G-d's]
radiant light. (Refrain).
Crown Bar Yochai
-- When you reached the highest level of the mysterious hidden light, you feared
to gaze due to the enormity of its radiance. It [is the most hidden level of G-d's
Will and Purpose which] is called No-thing, concerning which [Hashem] said, "No
man can see Me [and remain physically alive]." (Refrain).
-- Fortunate is the mother who bore you, fortunate is the nation that imbibes
your teachings! And fortunate are those who grasp the secrets [you revealed]!
They don the Breastplate of your perfections and lights.
Bar Yochai -- fortunate are you, anointed with joyous oil (wisdom), over and above
Rabbi Shimon Lavia left Spain as a child during the expulsion
in 1492. His family settled in North Africa, where he grew up to be a renowned
scholar and Kabbalist. He set out for Israel in 1549, but when he stopped in Tripoli
along the way and saw the ignorance and lack of Torah observance among the Jews
who lived there, he decided to remain in order to teach, which he did with great
success. Today, he is best known as the composer of the popular Bar Yochai hymn
sung on Lag B'Omer, and by many Jews on Shabbat too.
Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!
The ASCENT staff
last year's Lag b'Omer
for more Kabbalah
insights on Lag b'Omer