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Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai—His Life and Works

Rashbi and His Circle

Rashbi and His Circle

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Rashbi and His Circle
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai—His Life and Works

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, often referred to simply as Rashbi (an acronym taken from the initials Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), was one of the great Tannaitic sages who lived during the era of Roman persecution (2nd century CE). He was one of the foremost students of Rabbi Akiva, who had said to him, “It is enough that I and your Creator know of your powers.” Rabbi Shimon was one of the teachers of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, the revered compiler of the six orders of the Mishnah.

Rabbi Shimon was well-versed in performing miracles, and was therefore sent by the leaders of the Jewish people to Rome to attempt to have the ban on Jewish observance officially lifted by the emperor (Antoninus Pius). The Talmud relates that the daughter of the emperor was possessed by a demon, which Rabbi Shimon exorcised. Subsequently, the ban was abrogated. However, around the year 3909 (149 CE) Rabbi Shimon himself was forced to flee from the Roman authorities. A colleague of his, in private conversation, had praised the Romans for initiating and organizing aspects of commercial and social life in Israel; Rabbi Shimon countered that they had done so merely out of self-interest. Word of this discussion reached the Roman authorities, who declared that Rabbi Shimon be put to death. He and his son Rabbi Elazar fled, hiding in a cave for thirteen years, where they studied Torah day and night. Miraculously, they were sustained by the fruit of a carob tree and water from a spring, until the emperor died and their sentence was annulled.Rabbi Shimon is mentioned in every chapter of the Talmud

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. Elazar; his scribe, R. Abba; R. Yehudah; R. Yossi ben Yaakov; R. Yitzchak; R. Chizkiyah; R. Chiya; R. Yossi; and R. Yaakov bar Idi.

Although Rabbi Shimon is best known as the author of the Zohar, he also 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 predicament.”

Moreover, Rabbi Shimon’s views were so well-known by the sages that when the Talmud attributes a statement to Rabbi Shimon without identifying which one is being referred to, it always refers to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, Rabbi Shimon is the author of all statements in Sifri (a halachic midrash), and the author of Mechilta d’Rashbi. Furthermore, Rabbi Shimon has the unique distinction of being mentioned in every chapter of the Talmud.

Click here to send your own personal prayer to his gravesite.

Yerachmiel Tilles is the co-founder of Ascent-of-Safed, and was its educational director for 18 years. He is the creator of and and currently the director of both sites. He is also a well-known storyteller, a columnist for numerous chassidic publications, and a staff rabbi on, as well as and the author of "Saturday Night, Full Moon": Intriguing Stories of Kabbalah Sages, Chasidic Masters and other Jewish Heroes.
Rabbi Moshe Miller was born in South Africa and received his yeshivah education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including an authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He has developed a coaching-type approach to dealing with life's issues based on Chassidism and Kabbalah—a tool for dealing with normal issues that everyone faces as well as issues psychologists usually address, often ineffectively. He also gives free live classes over the Internet.
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Avrum R Kaufmann ST LOUIS PARK May 15, 2014

Rabbi Shimon is mentioned in every tractate of the Talmud, not in every chapter. Reply

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