Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi) received, through his mentor, Rabbi Akiva, 3,000 years of accumulated spiritual knowledge—all acquired by Kabbalists before him. After he wrote it down, he hid it, as humanity was not yet ready for it. Today, according to prominent Kabbalists such as Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag and The Vilna Gaon (GRA), we are indeed ready for the revelation of The Book of Zohar.
Rashbi, author of The Book of Zohar (The Book of Radiance) was a Tana—a great sage in the early Common Era centuries. He was also Rabbi Akiva’s direct disciple. Numerous legends have been told about Rashbi, who was mentioned repeatedly in the Talmud and in the Midrash, the sacred Hebrew texts of his time.
Rashbi was born and raised in the Galilee. He lived in Sidon (a city in today’s Lebanon) and in Meron (in the north of Israel), and established a seminary in the Western Galilee, not far from Meron.
Even as a child, he was different from other children his age. Questions such as, “What is the purpose of my life?” “Who am I?” and “How is the world built?” haunted him, demanding that he discover the answers.
In those days, life in Galilee was harsh: the Romans who had killed his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, still persecuted Jews and continually invented new laws to punish them. Among these laws was one that prohibited Jews from studying Kabbalah.
But despite the Romans’ prohibition, Rashbi immersed himself in Kabbalah studies and tried to understand its intricacies. He felt that beneath the Biblical stories lay a profound, hidden meaning that held the answers to his persistent questions.
Gradually, Rashbi came to realize that he had to find a teacher who had already traversed the spiritual path, gained experience, and could guide him up the spiritual ladder. This prompted him to join Rabbi Akiva’s group, a decision that would be the turning point in Rashbi’s life.
FROM STUDENT TO FUGITIVE
Rashbi was an avid, devoted student, burning with the desire to discover the Upper Force. . He studied with Rabbi Akiva for thirteen years, and achieved the highest degree on the spiritual ladder.
The Bar-Kokheva revolt against the Roman rule in the land of Israel abruptly ended the great days of Rabbi Akiva’s seminary. Rashbi joined the revolt and became one of its leaders, and after he learned how his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, had been executed, his resistance became even fiercer.
The Talmud says that once, when Rashbi spoke against the Roman rule, someone overheard him and notified the Roman authorities. The Romans tried Rashbi in his absence and sentenced him to death. But to execute Rashbi, they had to seize him first. The Roman emperor sent men to search for him, but to their disappointment, Rashbi seemed to have completely vanished.
THE CAVE AT PIQIIN
According to tradition, Rashbi and his son fled to Piqiin, a village in the north of Israel, where they hid in a cave and delved into the secrets of the wisdom of Kabbalah, where they discovered the entire system of creation.
Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag described Rashbi and his students as the only people who achieved perfection—the 125 spiritual degrees that complete the correction of the soul. When he finished his commentary on The Book of Zohar, Ashlag held a festive meal to celebrate its completion. At that celebration, he stated that “…prior to the days of the Messiah, it was impossible to be awarded all 125 degrees… except for the Rashbi and his contemporaries, the authors of The Book of Zohar. They were awarded all 125 degrees in completeness, even though they lived prior to the days of the Messiah.”
This is why it is often written in The Book of Zohar that there will not be a generation such as Rashbi’s until “the generation of the Messiah King,” (the time when all of humanity is corrected. This is why Rabbi Shimon’s composition made such a mark in the world, since the spiritual secrets in it extend to all 125 degrees.
ONE IN MILLIONS
Rashbi was a unique soul, whose task was to help every creature connect with the Upper Force. This kind of soul comes down into our world and dresses as the greatest Kabbalists. Each time such a soul appears, it promotes humanity to a new spiritual degree and leaves its mark in Kabbalah books, which serve the following generations.
“This composition, called The Book of Zohar, is like Noah’s Ark: there were many kinds, but those kinds and families could not exist unless by entering the ark. …Thus the righteous will enter the secret of the Light of this composition to persist, and thus is the virtue of the composition, that immediately when engaging …it will draw him as a magnet draws the iron. And he will enter it to save his soul and spirit and his correction.”
–The Rav Kook, Ohr Yakar (Bright Light)
The Book of Zohar is undoubtedly one of the world’s most renowned compositions. It has been the topic of thousands of stories, and although it was written almost two thousand years ago, the book is still shrouded in mystery. The fascination around it is so great that even though the book is completely incomprehensible to our generation without proper interpretation, millions of people diligently attempt to probe its secrets.