18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Soothing the National Pain    

Soothing the National Pain

Israel has a long list of aches and troubles, from within and from without. Yet, the unity of Lag B’Omer soothes the national pain. That in itself is reason to celebrate.


Lag B’Omer falls this year on Monday night and Tuesday, May 11-12, 2020

The two most significant events of Lag B’omer are the cessation of the plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students and the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. We find an amazing connection between these two seemingly unrelated events.
Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students
The Gemara (tractate of Yevamot 62b) relates that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students, all whom them died in a few short weeks between Pesach and Shavuot because they didn’t properly respect each other.
Why were these gentle Torah scholars punished so harshly? Don’t think for a moment that they verbally abused one another, or that they were guilty of humiliating or slandering one another. Heaven forbid! Rebbe Akiva’s 24,000 students were simply smug toward one another. They didn’t adequately listen to what their fellow student had to say. Each thought that he knew better or was a tiny bit better than his fellow, thinking that his tribe, his clan, his bloodline and his family were a little bit better or more prestigious than that of his study partner.
As soon as one person thinks he’s better than someone else, his heart and mind turn off to that other person. One says to himself, “What can I possibly learn from him? I’m better than he is!” Such an attitude not only stifles Torah growth but personal growth as well. It uproots the entire time-tested system of learning Torah with a chevruta (study partner) and in groups. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains (Likutei Moharan I:34), that every individual has a special talent and strength that no one else has. Therefore, when we learn with others, we receive their special illumination from the way the Torah reflects on their souls. This makes us ever so richer. Rebbe Akiva’s students were therefore punished for not taking advantage of each other to climb higher in the true service of Hashem.
No one can be the best in everything. When I look around the “Chut Shel Chesed” main study hall in Jerusalem, I see one young man who’s has a brilliant analytical mind for in-depth Gemara study. The young man that sits behind him virtually knows Shulchan Aruch by heart and is a walking encyclopedia of Jewish law. Across the aisle is the yeshiva’s Doctor Feelgood who makes everyone laugh and never lets anyone feel sad. He learns with a person who is always tutoring orphans whose lone parent can’t afford remedial learning help. The guy behind him is the best chazzan in the yeshiva, and so forth row by row and aisle by aisle. One can learn just as much from one’s fellow students as one can from the books on the wall.
Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai
Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day in the counting of the Omer, falls on 18th day of Iyar, the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, one of our foremost Mishnaic sages. The Zohar tells us that on the day Rabbi Shimon passed away, a great light of endless joy filled the day, because of the previously hidden Torah wisdom that he revealed to his students. This secret wisdom was written down and recorded in the holy Zohar. The Zohar, the compendium of Jewish esoteric thought that is presented to us via Rebbe Shimon’s inner-dimensional elaborations on Torah, happiness, is a phenomenal reason to rejoice. So much so that the day of Rebbe Shimon’s passing, the sun did not set until Rabbi Shimon had revealed all that he was permitted to. As soon as he was done, the sun set, and his soul returned to its Creator.
The happiness of back then has become a Jewish tradition. Each year, hundreds of thousands of overjoyed Jews make the Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to Rebbe Shimon’s holy gravesite in Miron in the Upper Galilee. There is dancing, singing, and bonfires. Little boys of three get their first haircuts, kippa, and sidecurls (photo, left). Awesome amounts of food and drink are offered to everyone everywhere.
The Tikkun
As it turns out, Lag B’Omer in Miron achieves the tikkun, the exact spiritual correction of the blemish caused by the fact that Rebbe Akiva’s 24,000 students didn’t properly respect one another. In Miron, close to half a million people are trying to touch or at least obtain a glimpse of Rebbe Shimon’s holy gravesite. The pressure of the crowds is tremendous. Yet no one pushes and no one has an angry word. Satmer Chassidim from Mea Shearim dance with soldiers wearing knitted kippas on their heads. Ashkenazim and Sefardim, Chassidim and Lithuanian, even religious and non-religious are forced together in very close quarters. Love, brotherhood, and a wonderful feeling of happiness and friendship prevail.
The tiny Land of Israel has a long list of aches and troubles, from within and from without. Yet, the unity of Lag B’Omer soothes the national pain. That in itself is reason to celebrate.

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