Meron - Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Mt. Meron's History
Mt. Meron was, until Israel conquered the Golan Heights in the 1967 war, the highest mountain in Israel. Israel's history, both ancient and modern, is connected to Meron, where some of the north's most important sites are located.
There are several sites on Mt. Meron that visitors come to see. The graves of the famous rabbis, Hillel and Shammai, are located near Meron, and a third century C.E. synagogue is situated near the base of the mountain. Meron is famous, however, as the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Rabbi Shimon was a Midrashic (Jewish commentary) rabbi of the third century C.E. He is frequently quoted in the Talmud (commentaries of Jewish Law) as a revered expert who was highly regarded by the scholars of the day. Rabbi Shimon spoke out against the Roman rulers, and they decreed a death sentence against him. Together with his son, Elazar, Rabbi Bar Yochai fled to a cave in the nearby town of Peki'in, and there they hid for 4 years, nourished, legend tells, by a carob tree that grew at the entrance to the cave.
While in hiding, Jews believe, Rabbi Shimon was visited by God's Divine Inspiration, which taught him the secrets of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah. Kabbalah means " to receive" and one who studies Kabbalah receives the wisdom of the secrets which are hidden in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Understanding these secrets allows one, it is believed, to strengthen one's relationship with God and with one's fellow man.
After the Romans reversed their death decree against him, Rabbi Shimon left his cave and traveled throughout the area, teaching the secrets of Jewish mysticism that he had learned while in hiding. During this time, he wrote the Zohar, The Shining, which is the basis of Kabbalah study until today. When Rabbi Shimon died, he was buried on Mt. Meron, cementing the reputation of the area as that where Kabbalah study was born. When Jews returned to Israel after the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, many Kabbalists made their way to nearby Tzfat because of its proximity to the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon - this is where Tzfat got its name as "City of Kabbalah".
Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon yearly. They come to pray, to beseech his spirit's intervention in the heavens for good health, to make a living, for a good marriage, peace in the home, and a variety of other requests that believers hope can be achieved by asking for the Tzaddik's, Righteous One's, intervention. The anniversary of Rabbi Shimon's death, Lag B'Omer, is an especially auspicious day to visit his grave, and upwards of a quarter of a million people make their way to his gravesite every year during this 24-hour period. Another custom, established by the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, the ARI, in Tzfat in the 16th century, is to bring 3-year-old boys to Mt. Meron for their first haircut.
Few sites have seen the ebb and flow of Jewish history in Israel as Mt. Meron has. A visitor at Rabbi Simon's gravesite today can also see visitors from throughout Israeli society - Sephardic and Ashkanazi Jews, ultra Orthodox and secular, old and young, rich and poor -- they all come, all feeling the pull of the ancient mountain, its history, and its power to heal.