Click on Sons of Yaakov for a general introduction to the lives of these individuals who constituted the original Jewish People.
Shimon is the second son of Yaakov and Leah. His mother, who is less-loved than her sister and co-wife, Rachel*, feels the sting of that fact throughout her life, as is seen in the names that she gives her sons. In the case of Shimon, Leah is quite explicit. She thanks HaShem in a bitter-sweet way, saying “...because HaShem understood that I am the hated one [the Hebrew word ‘shoma,’ that means both ‘to hear’ and ‘to understand’ is used] he gave me another son as well, and she called his name ‘Shimon’.” (Bereshit 29:33)
The name Shimon is linked to that of his brother Levi in Sefer Bereshit. The two of them were a combustible mix. We see this in their revenge against Prince Schem ben Chamor and his entire city for the Prince’s rape of Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov and Leah. When the residents of that city had approached Yaakov regarding a possible merger, they had been told by Shimon and Levi that their proposal would only be accepted if the male population would be circumcised, a condition that they accepted. On the third day following the circumcision procedure, when the pain is greatest, and the patient is most helpless, the Chumash tells us that Shimon and Levi killed the entire male population. The midrash commenting on the Scriptural expression, “...Shimon and Levi ‘ish charbo...,’ each man with his sword,...’ adds that they were both age thirteen when they performed this act of revenge for Dinah.
Sefer Bereshit provides part of the dialogue that followed between their father and them, “And Yaakov said to Shimon and Levi, ‘You have caused me great harm... I am but few in number. If they should band together and attack me, I will be annihilated – I and my household.’ And they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot!?’ ” (Bereshit 34: 30-31)
We find in “Birchot Yaakov” (The “Blessings” of Jacob), “Shimon and Levi are brothers, weaponry is a stolen (from Esav) craft...Cursed be their anger, for it is intense...and I will disperse them in Israel.” (Bereshit 49:5,7) Part of the dispersal of Shimon was the fact that most of the poor, the scribes and the teachers of little children came from that Tribe, and all the Tribes required that their children be educated. Later in history, many of the great Tannaim and Amoraim also took the name “Shimon,” such as “Shimon HaTzaddik,” Shimon the Righteous, Shimon ben Shetach, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (“Resh Lakish”), etc.
In Egypt, when
viceroy, Shimon was separated by Yoseph, apparently to be his slave, in
repayment for Shimon’s throwing him into the pit at the time that he was
sold by the brothers. Shimon said, “Who will attempt to take me prisoner?”
When Yoseph sent some Egyptian soldiers to do that, Shimon just shouted at
them and they fell down and broke their teeth. Then Yoseph indicated that
his son Menashe should take Shimon into custody; Menashe struck him once and
placed him in chains in the jail. But as soon as the brothers departed,
Yoseph took Shimon out, fed him, gave him what to drink, allowed him to be
washed and anointed with oil.
According to Rashi, citing Sanhedrin 82a, this is a reference to the incident that occurred in the Wilderness involving Zimri ben Solu, the Head of the Tribe of Shimon at that time, who was killed by Pinchas while he was committing an immoral act with Cozbi bas Tzur, a Midianite Princess.
In Parashat VeZot HaBerachah, where Moshe blesses the other Tribes, Moshe omits mention of the Tribe of Shimon. His Tribe did not receive a contiguous share of the Land, although they were given various cities in Eretz Yisrael (See below), but shared in the portions of the Tribes who were their hosts.
As they were extremely close in life, Shimon and Levi were buried near each other in the City of Matzada, which was given to the Tribe of Shimon.
*The Torah will later forbid the marrying of two sisters at the same time.