Who Was the Rashbi – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
The Rashbi, or Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, was one of the important pupils of Rabbi Akiva and was a legendary figure at the time of the Roman occupation. The Rashbi wrote the Zohar – the main text of the Kabbalah and was an influential figure in the Talmud.
Legend has it that the Rashbi and his son were forced to hide in a cave from the Romans for thirteen years and survived on a diet of mainly intensive study, supplemented by dates and carobs, and a stream (both miracles in that location)
Rashbi & Lag B’Omer
Tradition holds that the Rashbi died on Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day after the start of Pesach/Passover and just before Shavuot – check out Major Jewish Festivals), around the same time when the plague killed more than 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Rashbi himself requested that the day be marked as a day of celebration.
Since the exact burial place of the Rashbi is unknown, there is no actual tomb. Instead, there is a blue-velvet-covered marker (“tziun”) inside the synagogue.
The complex in Meron includes the tombs where the Rashbi and his son, Rabbi Elazar, are buried. It also includes synagogues, living quarters, and courtyards. It was in the 16th century where the original structure was built by Rabbi Avraham Galante of Safed. Living quarters were added many years later for the guests who would come to visit Rashbi’s tomb. The present renovated structure was added during the 19th century.
Many thousands visit his grave on Lag B’Omer to pray, receive the Rashbi’s influence, celebrate family occasions, and dance around bonfires on the site. – the roads are sealed for miles around and in some tradition, three-year-old boys receive their first haircuts here. At this time, a hair-cutting celebration for three-year-old boys known as “upsherin” (in Yiddish) or Halaaka (in Judeo-Arabic) is held. On Lag B’Omer, it is a common custom to cut the hair of three-year-old boys at the Rashbi’s tomb.
The Rashbi’s blue-domed tomb complex is also used as a synagogue.There is a separate entrance for men and women. So as you can see, his grave is a pilgrimage site year round.
The Safed (Zefat) – Meron area has many graves of Talmudic scholars, revered up to this day. The grave of Rashbi is probably the most well-known of them.
A fair warning, though: the complex is run by chaotically by the feuding Haredi groups. Adding to the intense and uneasy atmosphere are the vagrants that wander around the complex – the homeless, people with mental issues, and criminals recently released from prison. To arrive at the tomb, you may have to go through an ordeal of running into beggars.
Getting to the Grave of the Rashbi – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Located inside the village of Meron – near Zefat (Safed) on route 866 near the junction with the 89.
There is wheelchair access from the side (avoiding the stairs.)