Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, often referred to simply as Rashbi (an acronym taken from the initials Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), was one of the great Mishnaic sages who lived during the era of Roman persecution (2nd century CE). He was one of the foremost students of Rabbi Akiva, who had said to him, “It is enough that I and your Creator know of your powers.” Rabbi Shimon was one of the teachers of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, the revered compiler of the six orders of the Mishnah.
Rabbi Shimon was well-versed in performing miracles, and was therefore sent by the leaders of the Jewish people to Rome to attempt to have the ban on Jewish observance officially lifted by the emperor (Antoninus Pius). The Talmud relates that the daughter of the emperor was possessed by a demon, which Rabbi Shimon exorcised. Subsequently, the ban was abrogated.
However, around the year 3909 (149 CE) Rabbi Shimon himself was forced to flee from the Roman authorities. A colleague of his, in private conversation, had praised the Romans for initiating and organizing aspects of commercial and social life in Israel; Rabbi Shimon countered that they had done so merely out of self-interest. Word of this discussion reached the Roman authorities, who declared that Rabbi Shimon be put to death. He and his son Rabbi Elazar fled, hiding in a cave in Peki'in for thirteen years, where they studied Torah day and night. Miraculously, they were sustained by the fruit of a carob tree and water from a spring, until the emperor died and their sentence was annulled.
During his stay in the cave, Rabbi Shimon apparently wrote the main body of the Zohar, described as “the First Mishnah.” One of his foremost disciples, Rabbi Abba, recorded the bulk of his teachings.
Although Rabbi Shimon is best known as the author of the Zohar, he also holds an important place in the revealed aspects of Torah, the Talmud and associated works. Even when the halachic ruling is not according to his opinion, the Talmud declares, “[The opinion of] Rabbi Shimon can be relied upon in a predicament.”
Moreover, Rabbi Shimon’s views were so well-known by the sages that when the Talmud attributes a statement to Rabbi Shimon without identifying which one is being referred to, it always refers to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Rabbi Shimon is the author of all statements in Sifri (a halachic midrash), and the author of Mechilta d’Rashbi. Furthermore, Rabbi Shimon has the unique distinction of being mentioned in every chapter of the Talmud.