The source for Rabbi Shimon’s resting place
Every Lag B’Omer, tens of thousands flock to the kever of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai in Meiron. Anyone that has been there can attest to the overpowering energy that permeates every inch of the mountain. It moves one to return year after year. No words can adequately describe the heartfelt prayers near the kever or the dancing and unsurpassed joy right outside.
Where exactly is Meiron? And what can we daven for?
In the Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah, we find the following story:
There were two siblings, one lived in Meiron and the other in Gush Chalav. A fire broke out in the home of the brother in Meiron. His sister arrived from Gush Chalav, and to the astonishment of the onlookers, she began hugging and kissing him. “My brother was in trouble,” she explained, “and he was saved from it.
Josephus of Rome
In his book, The Wars of the Jews, Josephus mentions the town of Meiron as a village in Upper Galilee. He writes the name in Greek, Μηρώ, which is pronounced Miro. Two sentences later, he also mentions the town of Gush Chalav.
Nowadays, we know where Meiron is and not far from there (about 3 miles) is Gush Chalav. But how do we know this is the original Meiron and the original Gush Chalav?
In the sefer Eitz Chaim, R’ Chaim Vital writes regarding the custom of his holy teacher, the Arizal:
I saw my master, may his memory be a blessing, go [to the gravesite of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son R’ Elazar] every year for eight years. He went with his wife and family and stayed there for those three days. I also was told by R’ Yochanan Sagis that the year before I came to the Arizal, he went there to cut his son’s hair with a feast and joy during those days.
I was also told by R’ A. Halevi that he used to say “Nachem” during the brachah of Bonei Yerushalayim. When he finished his prayers, the Arizal told him that R’ Shimon Bar Yochai told him to relay that ‘due to the fact that he said Nachem on the day of my joy, therefore he will need to be comforted soon,’ and within a month his oldest son died and he had to be comforted.
R’ Chaim Vital concludes:
We see from all of this that there is a source for this pilgrimage.
From the above, it appears that the Arizal himself could be a source for the fact that R’ Shimon is buried in Meiron.
In Shaar Hagilgulim (another authoritative source for the teachings of the Arizal), however, we find the following sentence: “In the village of Meiron, R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son R’ Elazar are buried, as the world says.”
If the source is not the Arizal himself but rather “what the world says,” it would behoove us to take a historical look at what people wrote about their travels to Meiron pre-Arizal. And let us see what “the world,” or at least some of it, has to say about this place.
R’ Yaakov Ben R’ Nesanel HaCohen – 800 Years ago
A traveler from Ashkenaz by the name of R’ Yaakov HaCohen wrote about his travels to Eretz Yisrael. He describes entering Me’aras Hamachpelah in Chevron. From this, we can clearly deduce that we are dealing with a time prior to 1187 since the Jews were prohibited from entering Me’aras Hamachpelah starting in that year. He writes the following:
In Meiron, R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son [are interred]. Both graves are in his study hall (beis medrash) which is still standing.
In Kfar Chananya, his synagogue is carved out of a mountain and it has only one built wall.
R’ Binyamin of Tudela – 800 years ago
R’ Binyamin writes that he was in Teveria and then went to the grave of Shimon Hatzaddik (which is surprising since Shimon Hatzaddik’s gravesite is in Yerushalayim). He continues:
From there I traveled a day’s travel to Gush Chalav where there are about twenty Jews. From there about six parsa is Meiron. There are the graves of Hillel and Shammai and twenty graves of their disciples and the graves of R’ Binyamin Bar Yefes and R’ Yehudah ben Beseira.
Most surprisingly, he does not even mention R’ Shimon Bar Yochai in Meiron!
R’ Yaakov from Paris – 750 Years ago
This account is from someone by the name of R’ Yaakov who was sent by R’ Yechiel of Paris to bring him detailed information about all of the holy sites in Eretz Yisrael:
…Kfar Chanan. And buried there is R’ Yaakov from Kfar Chanan and his son R’ Elazar who is R’ Elazar ben Yaakov Kav V’naki, and approximately sixty cubits between them. There is R’ Chalafta and his wife and his son R’ Yosi, one next to the other and their disciples close to them.
And thereupon the mountain is a cemetery, and there lies R’ Zecharia ben Hakatzav. There on the bottom is a cave and in it are twenty-five disciples. There are another two caves close by, one is open and one is closed. And there is the synagogue of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai.
From there it is about two parsa to Meiron. On the way, close to Kfar Tanchum about a half parsa, is the gravesite of Nachum Ish Gamzu. Upon it there is a beautiful marker; the opening to the cave is closed and a spring of water flows before it. There are those who believe that he is buried in Kfar Rafadia, and some believe that it is Kfar D’min Parud.
In Meiron there is a cave for Shamai, Hillel and their students totaling thirty-two. Jews gather there on Pesach Sheini and pray and recite Psalms. When they find water in the cave everyone becomes very happy for it is a sign that it will be a blessed year. Many times they do not initially find water there but in the middle of their praying the water suddenly arrives. There is the gravesite of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and on it is a beautiful marker and next to it is his son R’ Elazar. It is said that there was the school of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai. There is also buried R’ Yosi ben Kisma between the vineyards. There is also a tzaddik buried there and it is said to be someone by the name of R’ Yehudah. R’ Nachman Chatofa and R’ Yochanan HaSandlar are also interred there. There stands the synagogue of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, which is a beautiful building. There was also a hollow stone which is said to have been an altar and the blood poured out through a hole in the stone.
From Meiron to Gush Chalav is around one parsa. There are the tombs of the children of Sancheirev king of Ashur, Adrammelech and Sarezer, who killed their father and came to Eretz Yisrael and converted. Near them is Shmaya and Avtalyon who were their descendants. Also, there are R’ Meir Katzun and his wife. There is a synagogue of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai which is a beautiful building that has an outer wall with steps leading down to a cave with many burial chambers.
Here we see the strength of davening in Meiron!
The Unknown Ish Candia – 550 Years ago
The following is a report from someone who traveled from the island of Candia, today Crete, an island near mainland Greece. His diaries were published by an individual by the name of R’ Daniel. There he writes:
Around twelve miles from Teveria is a place called Mironi. There is a cave where ten holy tzaddikim are buried, including Hillel and Shammai. A little further down is another cave where R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son are interred. In the same place, there is also a synagogue from R’ Shimon Bar Yochai. There is no natural well water, making it impossible to live there. However, when the Jews come three times to visit the graves of these aforementioned tzaddikim, mainly R’ Shimon Bar Yochai, they pray and beseech with their tefillos, selichos and supplications to Hashem to send them water so that they will be able to stay there a few days, and it starts raining right away! The Arabs then fill up their pits and vessels with water and bring the Jews to drink and they eat all kingly delicacies.
Again, we see from here the great power of davening in Meiron!
R’ Yitzchak Alefandra from Malaga – 550 Years ago
The following report was written just a short time before the Arizal:
From there we went up to the city of Tzfas, which is the same Tzfas mentioned in the Book of Shoftim. It is said that it is a city of refuge (Ir Miklat) and all of the Sages choose to be buried there. Within the techum Shabbos (2,000 cubits) from Tzfas there is the village of Ein Al-Zeitin where R’ Yehudah Ben Ilai is buried in the Jewish cemetery. Close to that is a village called Meiron which is where Hillel and Shammai are buried, as well as R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son R’ Elazar, and many other Sages.
From R’ Yitzchak’s travelogue we learn some very interesting facts. He writes about Tzfas the cemetery and that this is the Tzfas mentioned in Shoftim. In Shoftim (1,17) we find that “Yehudah went with his brother Shimon and smote the Canaanites dwelling in Tzfas.” That whole chapter discusses all of the places the tribe of Yehudah conquered. It would seem that the cities belonging to Yehudah would be more toward central Eretz Yisrael and not the north where our Meiron is located.
R’ Moshe Basula – 500 Years ago
The great Gaon R’ Moshe Basula was born in Pesaro, Italy in 1480. He eventually became the dayan of his city. He traveled to Eretz Yisrael and arrived in Tzfas during Cheshvan in 1522. From there he made his way to Meiron:
On Thursday, the twenty-third of the month, I rode to Meiron about a half-day journey from Tzfas. Halfway along is a village called Kiyomiah. Next to this village is the gravesite of the son of R’ Yosi D’min Yokeress who was punished by his father for giving out figs before they were ripe (as is mentioned in Tractate Taanis 24a), and the Ishmaelites call it Almenush. Meiron is a rich and good place with good spring water, and no Jews live there. There I saw the cave of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai and his son; it is locked with no way to enter.
What can we find in Gush Chalav?
We read earlier of R’ Yaakov the emissary of R’ Yechiel and his travels to Gush Chalav:
From Meiron to Gush Chalav is around one parsa. There are the tombs of the children of Sancheirev king of Ashur, Adrammelech and Sarezer, who killed their father and came to Eretz Yisrael and converted. Near them is Shmaya and Avtalyon who were their descendants. Also, there are R’ Meir Katzun and his wife. There is a synagogue of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai which is a beautiful building that has an outer wall with steps leading down to a cave with many burial chambers.”
In the sefer Gelilos Eretz Yisrael, we find an interesting sentence:
In Gush Chalav is the resting place of R’ Yitzchak Gush Chalav, Shmaya and Avtalyon, after which is R’ Meir Baal Haness.
In the sefer Yichus Hatzaddikim, we read:
Gush Chalav. Below the village are the graves of Shmaya and Avtalyon upon which are marble beams. There is the tomb of R’ Meir Baal Haness, and Adrammelech and Sarezer, the children of Sancheirev. There we also find a house of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai.
In his monumental sefer, Seder Hadoros, R’ Yechiel Halperin writes:
In Gush Chalav are buried Avtalyon, Shmaya, R’ Yitzchak of Gush Chalav and R’ Meir Baal Haness – and I do not know who these two are.
What?! The Seder Hadoros didn’t know who R’ Meir Baal Haness is? Impossible!
We just quoted three historians placing R’ Meir Baal Haness in Gush Chalav, but isn’t he in Teveria?
R’ Asher Zelig Miller expounds in his amazing article “Al Seder Hadoros Mekorosov Umehadurosav.” He explains how R’ Meir Baal Haness suddenly relocated to Gush Chalav. There is a common misconception. The Tanna R’ Meir of the Talmud is indeed the one buried in Teveria but there is another R’ Meir Baal Haness who is in Gush Chalav. This is according to the sefer Yichus Hatzaddikim quoted earlier. For this reason, when writing about R’ Meir in Teveria, he quotes some lines from R’ Meir in the Gemara but by R’ Meir Baal Haness in Gush Chalav he does not cite any quotations at all.
Now, the obvious question is, aren’t R’ Meir from the Gemara and R’ Meir Baal Haness one and the same? Surprisingly, R’ Meir from the Gemara only received his “last name” some 200 years ago! According to R’ Miller, the earliest source referring to him as “Baal Haness” is the sefer Kesser Shem Tov printed in 1794. R’ Miller also found a letter written fifty years earlier where he is also named R’ Meir Baal Haness. Before that time, however, there is no such add-on to R’ Meir’s name. If you were to approach someone 300 years ago and ask him about R’ Meir Baal Haness, they would have no clue what you are talking about!
So, who can we find in Gush Chalav?
- In Gelilos Eretz Yisrael we have: R’ Yitzchak Gush Chalav, Shmaya, Avtalyon and R’ Meir Baal Haness.
- In Yichus Hatzaddikim we have: Shmaya, Avtalyon, Adrammelech, Sarezer, R’ Meir Baal Haness and a shul of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai.
- And according to R’ Yaakov, the emissary of R’ Yechiel: Shmaya, Avtalyon, Adrammelech, Sarezer and R’ Meir Katzun.
Who is R’ Meir Katzun? Some people decided that it is R’ Meir Baal Ha’Akdamos. This is incorrect, however.
Now check out the map and you should be able to recognize all of the places mentioned.