R. Simeon bar Yochai was sitting with his colleagues R. Judah and R. Jose in Yabne one day. R. Judah notes that the Romans have done many good things during their occupation – building streets, bridges and bath. R. Jose sat silently. But R. Simeon responded in anger that all the Romans built, they built only for themselves or as ways of assigning new taxes on the Judeans. Someone overhears their conversation and it is reported to the Roman authorities who decree that R. Simeon would be put to death for his words. (R. Jose was exiled for being silent and R. Judah who praised the Romans was made the “first speaker” of the yeshiva.)
R. Simeon bar Yochai ran away and, along with his son hid a cave for 12 years. There they were fed miraculously by a carob-tree and a spring of water.
After those 12 years, Elijah came to tell them that the emperor was dead and they were free to leave. But when they emerged R. Simeon grew enraged at the people who were living ordinary lives. Anything they glared at spontaneously burnt to a crisp (I told you, super powers!).
A heavenly voice commanded that they return to the cave for an additional year in punishment.
When they emerged the second time, they were able to return to the world. During all that time, though, father and son did nothing but study – and R. Simeon bar Yochai came out far more knowledgeable. Using his powers for good (except for when he burns up the guy who ratted him out to the Romans! Ouch.)
Jewish tradition (but not scholarship) attributes the writing of the Kabbalistic book “The Zohar” to Simeon bar Yochai – that during his time hidden in the cave, the mysteries were revealed to him.
Another Talmudic story has him exorcising the demon of the emperor’s daughter. But that’s a story for another page!