You are here: Kabbalah Library Home / Michael Laitman / Books / A Guide to the Hidden Wisdom of Kabbalah / I. Kabbalah Facts and Fallacies. 5. Kabbalah—Its History and VIPs / Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai)
Michael Laitman, PhD

Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai)

The Book of Zohar (The Book of Radiance), the next major work in Kabbalah and perhaps the most famous, was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, “the Rashbi,” around the year 150 C.E. Rashbi was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva (40 C.E.–135 C.E.), famed first and foremost for his emphases on the rule, “Love thy friend as thyself.”

Rabbi Akiva did not, however, live a similar fate. He and several of his disciples were tortured and killed by the Romans, who felt threatened by his teaching of the Kabbalah. They flayed his skin and stripped his bones with an iron scraper (like today’s currycomb) used for cleaning their horses.

Before that, a plague killed almost all of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students except a handful, among which was Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai. Kabbalists saw this plague as a result of their growing egoism, which led them to unfounded hatred. This was the opposite of their teacher’s rule, “Love thy friend as thyself.”



Academics and Kabbalists differ on the question of where and when The Book of Zohar was written. Kabbalists trace The Zohar back to Rabbi Shimon and the academia to Rabbi Moshe de Leon of thirteenth-century Spain. Baal HaSulam clearly states that The Zohar was written from the highest possible spiritual degree. According to him, only one as high as Rabbi Shimon could have written it, and not a Kabbalist at the degree of Moshe De Leon, even though he is a respected Kabbalist. Baal HaSulam even said that The Zohar was written from such a high degree that it wouldn’t surprise him to discover that Moses himself wrote it.


Following the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples, Rashbi was authorized by Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehuda Ben Baba to teach future generations the Kabbalah as it had been taught to him. It was felt that only those who hadn’t fallen into this unfounded hatred survived and they wrote the next great chapter in Kabbalah, The Book of Zohar.

In the Cave

Rashbi and four others were the only ones to survive the plague and the wrath of the Romans, who killed his teacher. Following the capture and imprisonment of Rabbi Akiva, Rashbi escaped with his son, Rabbi Elazar, to a cave.

After 13 years, they had heard that the Romans were no longer searching for them and they emerged from the cave. Once outside the cave, Rashbi gathered 8 more men, and all 10 (Rashbi, his son, and the men) went to a small cave in Meron, a village in Northern Israel. With the help of his son and the other 8, Rabbi Shimon wrote the pinnacle of Kabbalah books, The Book of Zohar, only to hide it soon after it was written.



The Zohar disappeared for hundreds of years until it was discovered by Arabs, who used its pages as paper to prepare fish for the market. It was later discovered by a hungry Kabbalist.


Rashbi did not write The Zohar himself; he dictated the book to Rabbi Aba, who phrased it in such a way that only those who are worthy of understanding would be able to do so. After its writing, when Rabbi Shimon and his pupils saw that their generation wasn’t ready for its content, they hid it until the time was ripe and the people were ready. Many prominent Kabbalists say that this time is our time, and indeed The Zohar is more in demand today than ever before.

Early Reappearance

The book was discovered earlier, however, purely by accident. It fell into the hands of Kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe De Leon, who kept it and studied it in secret. When he died, his wife sold the book because she had to make ends meet once her husband died, and he probably didn’t tell her about its importance. This is why the writing of The Zohar is often ascribed to Moshe De Leon, even though Moshe De Leon himself ascribed it to Rashbi.

The Zohar states that it is written for a time when chutzpah (impudence) mounts and the face of the generation is as the face of a dog. When prominent Kabbalists such as the Vilna Gaon, Baal HaSulam, and others looked into the future, they declared the present generation as the one that The Zohar referred to. Clearly, they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Back to top
Site location tree