By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was one of the more prominent sages and personalities of the Talmud, specifically in the Mishna. Within Talmudic texts he is referred to in a number of ways including “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai” and “Rashbi”. In the Mishna he is simply referred to as “Rabbi Shimon”. In fact, any reference to a “Rabbi Shimon” refers to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. While his father’s name, Yochai, is well known, his mother’s name is not. Most sources record his mother’s name as Chami, while others suggest that her name was Sara. Among his many accomplishments, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is accredited with having authored the Zohar, the primary work on kabbala. He was also one of the most prominent students of Rabbi Akiva. It has even been suggested that Rabbi Shimon and his son were the greatest scholars of their generation.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was forced to flee and go into hiding as a result of having criticized the Roman government who were ruling the Land of Israel at the time. He fled with his son and ended up hiding in a cave in the city of Peki’in for thirteen years. According to tradition, a carob tree miraculously emerged at the entrance of the cave as well as a spring of fresh water which allowed Rabbi Shimon and his son to survive. Some sources indicate that Eliyahu Hanavi would also bring them bread and wine from time to time as well as matza and wine for Pesach. We are told that in order not to wear out their clothes they would keep their clothes exclusively for prayer while at all other times they simply immersed themselves in sand up to their necks. Rabbi Shimon and his son spent their days studying Torah. Talmudic scholars point out that all references in the Talmud to “Rabbi Shimon” refer to the period before he went into hiding while references to “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai”, or “Bar Yochai”, refer to him after he had once again emerged from the cave.
According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba’omer although this is disputed by some sources. Similarly, while it is widely accepted that Rabbi Shimon and his son were buried in Meron, which is a tradition that has been in existence for generations, there is a minority view that they were buried in Kfar Chanania. Other sources suggest that no matter where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai may have actually been buried God miraculously transported his body to Meron as a result of the Jewish people having “declared” that he is buried there. His Yartzeit is celebrated with singing, dancing, feasting, and, of course, bonfires.
The reason why the day is called “Lag Ba’omer” not “Lag La’omer” is because “Lag Ba’omer” is the numerical value of “Moshe” which is intended to emphasize the belief that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a reincarnation of Moshe Rabbeinu and reached the same levels of greatness as Moshe did. It is also noted that the Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai always fall on the same day of the week.
Those in Israel who are able to ascend to the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, located in Meron, are encouraged to do so. Once there, one should hold a meal in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and celebrate his life. Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura writes: “On the eighteenth day of Iyar, the day of the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the Rashbi), people from surrounding areas gather and light huge bonfires aside from lighting candles. Many barren women have been helped and the sick have been healed when they made a promise and donation for this holy site.” It is taught that one who has forgotten some of his Torah knowledge should pray at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and then review the material three times. Those who are unable to travel to Meron should at least study the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai throughout the day of Lag Ba’omer.
 Pesachim 51b.
 Pirushim U’psakim Al Hatorah (Rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati), Parshat Shelach, p.34; Yerushalmi, Shabbat 15:3; Midrash Rabba, Parshat Behar 34:16 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 32.
 “Yesh Omrim” cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 32.
 The authorship of the Zohar is the subject of some controversy. Some scholars attribute the Zohar entirely to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai while others argue that it was Rabbi Moses de Leon who wrote it. Yet others suggest that it was started by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai or that it contains the thoughts and teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but was compiled and completed by de Leon. It is simply not possible to accredit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with the complete authorship of the Zohar as the Zohar discusses rabbis who were born after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died. It also discusses certain ritual matters which were only instituted after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died.
 Sukka 45b.
 There is a minority opinion that the cave in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid when fleeing the Romans was located in Lod. Zohar Chadash, Ki Tavo.
 Some say that it was a date tree and others say that it was both. Esther Rabba 3:7; Yerushalmi, Sheviit 9:1 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 44b.
 Sefer Ha’eshel, Reish, 15 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 45b.
 Hagadda Shel Pesach Tzemach Menachem, cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 45c.
 Shabbat 33b.
 Shabbat 33b.
 Minchat Elazar 4:64, cited in Nitei Gavriel Minhagei Lag Ba’omer. There are eminent authorities such as the Chida, the Ben Ish Chai and Rabbi Chaim Vital who are of the opinion that Lag Ba’omer is not the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. They argue that this claim is based on scribal errors. See http://www.shofar.net/site/ARDetile.asp?id=8159 for more. See also Divrei Yitzchak (Kaduri) Shaar Moadim V’zemanim 5.
 Which would be consistent with the “La’omer” formula that most people use to count the omer each night.
 Likutei Sichot Vol. 7 p.337; Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 29; Nitei Gavriel, Pesach Vol 3, p. 268 in the footnote; Shemen Sasson Mechaverecha, cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 29,30.
 Kaf Hachaim, OC 493:26.
 Hilula D’rashbi p.89. Note: There is reason to believe that Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura was referring to the 28th of Iyar Yartzeit celebration for Shmuel Hanavi in Jerusalem and not the 18th of Iyar celebrations in Meron. See: “Darkei Tzion” p.33-34 available at http://www.hebrewbooks.org/9488
 Kohelet Rabba 10:11.
 It is especially good to review the story of Rashbi starting on Shabbat 33b (That is daf “lag”), or other pieces of Gemara which include teachings of Rashbi.