May 20, 2016
This Dvar Torah from Rav Yosef Rimon, Rav in Alon Shvut, Rebbe in Yeshivat Har Etzion, founder of JobKatif, is an innovative and beautiful explanation of the significance of Lag B'Omer (Wednesday night-Thursday). Enjoy!!
Why do we rejoice on Lag Ba’Omer? On this day, the transmission of our Torah tradition (“masoret”) was renewed in Am Yisrael after the demise of Rabbi Akiva’s students.
If we examine the personalities of Rabbi Akiva‘s five newest students, we will be able to delve into the character of the renewed Torah on Lag Ba’Omer. Each of Rabbi Akiva’s new students were figures of immense stature and strengths – yet each had distinct traits as well. They were dubbed “our sages from the south.”
Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai was among the greatest of our sages. However, he was different from his fellow students. For example, he held opposing views to Rabbi Yehuda in matters of principle – Halachic questions and political positions regarding the Romans which had great impact on the Jews at that time.
Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai was known as one of the Hassidim among the Tannaim. The Gemara in Baba Kama states that when a story of a Hassid was related it referred to either Rabbi Yehuda ben Baba or Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai. In many Halachic disputes among the Tannaim, the ruling follows his position. He was such a great and holy sage that it was said that each Erev Shabbat he resembled “a divine angel.” He was the foremost speaker wherever he appeared and among the nation’s giants who led the national rebirth after the demise of Rabbi Akiva’s students. At the same time, he opposed Rabbi Shimon frequently on Halachic and political matters.
Rabbi Meir was another Tanna with rare powers. The Gemara in Eiruvin tells us that it is clear to Hashem that no one compares to Rabbi Meir in his generation. In addition, his learning approach was special and different from his peers. The Gemara explains that the reason Halacha was not ruled according to his opinions is that his fellow sages could not grasp his thinking. And why was he named Rabbi Meir? Because he enlightened other sages in matters of Halacha. He also learned Torah in a manner not accepted by his colleagues – he learned Torah from “Acher” (the other), Elisha ben Avuya, even though the great majority of our sages found this inappropriate. Despite his unique views, he stated that he would never oppose the rulings of his fellow Rabbis.
Rabbi Yossi was a great sage, yet he also distinguished himself in the realm of human relations. The Gemara in Shabbat relates that Rabbi Yossi would join the Cohanim for their priestly benediction – even though he was not a Cohen – just to cause his friends to rejoice. This was highly unusual and obviously caused Halachic disputes. Like Rabbi Meir, he stated that he would never oppose the rulings of his fellow Rabbis.
Rabbi Elazar be Shamua differed with his peers on many topics. However, in Pirkei Avot 4, 12 he states: The dignity of your student should be as precious to you as your own; the dignity of your colleague, as your awe of your master; and your awe of your master as your awe of Heaven. Rabbi Elazar also extolled peace, saying “Great is peace, which our prophets implanted in the minds of human beings.” (Sifre, Naso, 42).
These five students of Rabbi Akiva were blessed with outstanding qualities, very different from each other. And yet, they showed each other mutual respect. Thus, these students generated a renewed Torah, correcting the Torah of the first students who were punished. Not only do they show each other respect – they do so despite their differences. They were able to show respect to those very differences!
Midrash Raba (Kohelet, 11, 6) tells us that the students of Rabbi Akiva perished because they were jealous of each other’s Torah. The Responsa Tashbetz explains that their lack of respect for each other caused a Chilul Hashem and a desecration of the Torah, since people would say “how unfortunate for those who learn Torah.”
Therefore, we see that on Lag Ba’Omer, not only was the study of Torah renewed following the death of the students, but the Torah itself was renewed. This Torah proclaims that varying opinions and powerful differences can co-exist in a spirit of friendship, love and mutual appreciation. This is the Torah of Lag Ba’Omer. This is the reason we rejoice on Lag Ba’Omer. It is possible that for this very reason, it is their Torah that survives for the generations; a Torah based on loving kindness, and mutual appreciation and admiration is the Torah for the generations.
We can thus learn how the counting of the Omer is a time of preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot. During the first period of the counting we observe certain customs of mourning. We grasp the grave implications of the absence of mutual respect. During the second period – from Lag Ba’Omer until Shavuot – we go into high gear of preparations for receiving the Torah by learning Torah intensively, out of joy and appreciation for our fellow Jews varying viewpoints, as different as they may be. This is Torah “for the sake of heaven” (l’shaym shamayim). This is Torah for the generations.
P.S. We are looking for sponsors for Shavuos night shiurim (in memory of a loved one, for a yahrtzeit, etc.), and volunteers to help with the preparation and serving of refreshments on Shavuos night. If interested and able, please contact Rabbi Marcus at firstname.lastname@example.org or the shul office as soon as possible.
Thanks so much and good Shabbos!