The name Rebbi Shimon can be found practically on
every page throughout the entire Talmud. Whenever it mentions the name Rebbi Shimon
without giving us the name of his father, it usually refers to none other than the great Tanna
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai who was born just before the destruction of the Bais
Ha'Mikdosh . For more than thirteen years he studied under Rebbi Akiva, whose twenty
four thousand students died in a terrible plague during the days between Pesach and
Shavuos. It was then that Rebbi Akiva taught the Torah to Rebbi Meir, Rebbi
Yehudah, Rebbi Yossi, Rebbi Shimon and to his son Rebbi Elozor. Even when his Rebbi was
locked up in prison, Rebbi Shimon followed him there to learn Torah.
Actually, Rebbi Shimon received his semicha from the great Rebbi
Yehudah ben Bava who, despite the Roman decree which did not allow rabbinical ordination,
sacrificed his life to ordain these great Torah giants. While Rebbi Yehudah ben Bovo was
riddled to death by more than three hundred arrows, the others all managed to escape. And
so the entire oral Torah that they now taught to all oncoming generations was all handed
down to them by their great teacher Rebbi Akiva.
His most famous work is the Zohar Ha'kodosh (also known by the
name Medrash Yehi Or), a sefer dealing with the deep mystical secrets of kabbalah.
Those who study these works are referred to as the Yodei Che'n which is an
abbreviation for Chochmo Nistoroh -(the hidden wisdom). This sefer remained
hidden for many years and was first made public by Rebbi Moshe de Leon who published it
more than a thousand years later.
He was on the Roman government's "most wanted list" because
of some of his disparaging remarks made about the Roman Empire. The story goes as follows;
(see mesechta Shabbos 33)
The three great sages Rebbi Yehudah, Rebbi Yossi and Rebbi Shimon were
once engrossed in a heated debate. While Rebbi Yehudah credited the Romans for their great
achievements in building roads, bridges and bath-houses, Rebbi Shimon countered that this
was done only for their own self interests and certainly was not done with the Jews in
mind. The bath houses were built for their own enjoyment and the bridges were built to
collect taxes so they could fill their own coffers. Rebbi Yossi sat silently, listening to
the debate but not offering any comment of his own.
A man by the name of Yehuda ben Geirim who sat nearby and heard the entire discussion,
repeated these comments and the word soon spread until it reached the ears of the Roman
authorities who weren't great believers in "freedom of speech." Rebbi Shimon's
remarks were considered outright incitement and treason, and he was immediately condemned
to death. Rebbi Yossi was condemned to be exiled to Zippori for his silence and lack
of defense for the holy Roman Empire. Rebbi Yehudah was
rewarded by being made the speaker of the house for his favorable remarks.
Luckily, Rebbi Shimon was forewarned that the soldiers where on their
way to arrest him, so he quickly hid in the shul's attic. He stayed hidden there with his
son while the police continued their search in vain. Each day his wife would come and
bring them food. As the search for him intensified, he was afraid that they would torture
his wife in order to discover his secret hiding place. He left in the middle of the night
and hid in a cave in the wilderness. A miracle occurred and a carob tree suddenly appeared
and a spring of water burst forth nearby. All day they would learn Torah together
uninterrupted by any disturbances. They only wore their clothes during davening and
covered their bodies in sand during learning in order to conserve them . After having
spent twelve years learning Torah constantly, Eliyahu Hanovi appeared at the
entrance of the cave and notified them that the Roman Emperor had died and therefore all
prisoners were granted an automatic pardon to return home. As they began their walk back
into town, they noticed a farmer plowing and planting a field. "Why is he wasting his
precious time preparing for his needs for this world when he ought to spend his valuable
time making preparations for the world to come," he wondered. He looked at him with
his penetrating holy eyes and the man immediately turned into a heap of bones. Thereupon a
heavenly voice called out . "Do you want to destroy my world? Go back to the cave.
The world is unable to exist with your great holiness." They spent one more year in
the cave totally immersed in Torah. After a year they began their journey back to
civilization. On the way he saw a Jew carrying two bundles of myrtles. When he questioned
him as to their purpose , the man replied that they were for the holy Shabbos. One was in
honor of the word shomor (keep), while the other was in honor of the word zochor
There was great elation in town when the people saw their great Rebbi return. When
Rebbi Pinchos Ben Yoir saw Rebbi Shimon's badly scarred body caused by his many years of
immersion in the sand , he immediately took him to the bath house and began to wash him .
As Rabbi Pinchos' salty tears fell upon his body adding to Rebbi Shimon's pain, Rebbi
Pinchos cried out " Woe be it to me that I see you in such a terrible state".
Whereupon Rebbi Shimon immediately replied, " If I had not been in this state, then I
certainly would not have been able to achieve the
high level of learning that I was able to reach."
It was told that previously when Rebbi Shimon had questioned Rebbi
Pinchos, Rabbi Pinchos would offer him twelve answers for every question asked. Now things
were reversed. For every question Rabbi Pinchos would ask, Rabbi Shimon would offer him
twenty four answers in return.
In order to celebrate this great miracle, he offered to do a good deed
for the towns' people. There was a road under which there had been a lost grave and
therefore the kohanim had to take a long detour in order to cross over to the other
side. The holy Rabbi Shimon was immediately able to discover the unknown burial place and
the problem was corrected.
After leaving the cave, he established a yeshivah in Tekoa where he was
surrounded by many of the great leaders of the generation, amongst whom was none other
then Rabbeinu Hakodosh. .
While Rebbi Yishmael taught that a person must live a normal life by
plowing , planting and reaping, Rebbi Shimon preached that one had the right to totally
immerse himself in Torah and have complete faith and trust that Hashem would take care of
his needs. While some tried to emulate his ways and were successful, most others tried but
failed. Obviously they were unable to reach his great degree of love, fear and faith in
Hashem, for he never wasted a moment. He learned non-stop, not even stopping to
pray. Yet he warned others that could not reach this uninterrupted state of concentration
to be extremely careful to pray properly. (see Shabbos 11 and Berochos 7:)
And so, these two different outlooks on life have remained with us
until the present day. Certainly one must conduct his life with great holiness , trust and
faith in order to be zoche that "his work will be done by others".
The ordinary person will have great difficulty to reach this high plateau.
As he was once in midst of teaching, a former student returned from a
very successful business trip having amassed lots of wealth. He noticed that some of his
students were getting a little edgy and were considering leaving the life of Torah and
going out to seek their fortune as well . He thereupon called out "Valley, Valley , I
command that you fill up with gold coins", whereupon the entire valley suddenly
sparkled with gold coins. He now turned to his students and told them that they could take
all the gold they wanted to. "But remember" he warned them. "It will all be
deducted from your share in the world to come." Not a single student moved from his
place. He had made his point loud and clear!
"One must never partake of a meal that is not a seudas mitzvah,"
was another one of his teachings. (Pesochim 49). "The death plague of askarah comes
on account of bittul Torah-time wasted from Torah. (Shabbos 33:)
When his students asked him , "Why didn't Hashem grant the miracle
of mon (the heavenly bread) just once and let it suffice for all forty
years?," he answered that Hashem wanted them to concentrate their hearts and look up
to Him every single day (Yumoh 76). He put great stress on the important quality of yiras
shomayim - fear of Heaven. (Berochos 33:)
If only all Jews would keep two consecutive Shabbosos then the Moshiach
would come at once, he said.
He taught his students that it is far better to throw oneself into a
fire rather than shame someone in public.
He would always try to find and darshen the reason and logic
behind every verse, even when the posuk did not state any reason.
Miracles always seemed to be happening to him. And so it was when the
Roman Emperor Antuninus proclaimed some terrible decrees against the Jews, it was he that
was chosen to go to Rome to try and get them rescinded. Sure enough, when he arrived in
Rome, the emperor's daughter became very sick and he was miraculously able to cure her. As
an expression of thanks, the emperor tore up the decrees.
While many of the sages believed that the day would come when the Torah will be
forgotten, he believed that this would never happen
since the posuk promises "that it will never be forgotten from your
children and children's children." In fact, you will find this very posuk engraved
upon the stone archway that leads into his cave.
He was buried in the city of Meron just
to the side of his great son Rebbi Elozer (bar Rebbi Shimon).
On the thirty-third day of the Omer, the day of his passing, thousands
upon thousands of people flock to his holy gravesite in Meron
where they sing, dance and study his holy writings.