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Questions and Answers on Lag BaOmer

Questions and Answers on Lag BaOmer


"שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא וכולם מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה"
Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students and they all died in one season because of their failure to relate to each other respectfully.” (Yevamot 62b)

QUESTION: One reason we celebrate Lag BaOmer is that the epidemic which caused the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples ceased on that day (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 493:5).

Rabbi Akiva described the commandment to “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18) as “a fundamental principle of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). How could his disciples have departed so drastically from his teachings that their interpersonal conduct resulted in an epidemic?

ANSWER: Since every person is unique in his nature and thought processes, he has a unique path in the service of Hashem, in the study of Torah, and in the fulfillment of mitzvot. For example, one individual may be motivated by the love of Hashem, while another is inspired by the awe of Hashem. Similarly, each of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples had his own personal approach to Divine service. Because they were highly developed individuals, each had internalized his own particular approach to the point that it affected every aspect of his personality.

Operating from within his own perspective, each of them perceived any approach different from his own as incomplete and inferior. And because Rabbi Akiva emphasized the commandment to “love your fellow as yourself,” each of his students tried to influence his colleagues to accept his own approach.

Being so intensely involved in their own paths of service, none of them would change. The tension between them escalated as the deep commitment every student felt to his own particular approach hindered a proper show of respect for colleagues who followed different paths.

* * *

The deficiency in their course of action — highlighted by the severe punishment they received — teaches a very important lesson: No matter how deeply one is involved in one’s own service to Hashem, one must always be broadminded enough to appreciate that someone else may have a different approach. Although, from one’s own perspective, the other person’s path may appear inadequate, this perception may stem from one’s own shortcomings rather from the other person.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ב ע' 138)

"היום שלשה ושלשים יום לעומר"
“Today is the thirty third day of the Omer.”

QUESTION: Every night when counting Sefirah we say, “Today is so many days la’omer — of the omer.” Why do we call the 33rd day “Lag BaOmer” and not “Lag LaOmer”?

ANSWER: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a reincarnation of the neshamah of Moshe Rabbeinu. The words "ל"ג בעמר" have the numerical value of 345, which is also the numerical value of משה"."

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ז ע' 337)

* * *

Lag BaOmer is the day on which the famous sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away. He is one of the greatest sages of the Talmud and the author of the holy Zohar.

The name "רבי שמעון בן יוחי" has the same numerical value as the description of Hashem "ידיד נפש אב הרחמן" — “Beloved of [my] soul, Merciful Father.” The numerical value of each is 764. (In the Gemara [Sukkah 45b] the name of Rabbi Shimon’s father is spelled without an "א".)

(עי' זהר שמות ל"ח ע"א "מאן פני האדון הוי', דא רשב"י". ועי' תורת מנחם י"ב תמוז תשי"א)

* * *

King David says of tzaddikim in Psalms (92:14), "שתולים בבית י-ה" — “[they are] planted in the house of Hashem.” The first letters of these words are the acronym of שמעון בר יוחאי.

(דברי יחזקאל)

* * *

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is mentioned very frequently throughout the Talmud. The day of his hilulah — rejoicing on his yahrtzeitLag BaOmer — is the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer. It is of interest to note that the story of his stay in the cave is related in the Gemara (Shabbat) on folio page number thirty-three and that it is the thirty-third time that he in mentioned in the Talmud.

(טעמי המנהגים ע' 272)

"עלית למרום שבית שבי לקחת מתנות באדם"
“You ascended on high, you captured captives you took gifts for man.” (Psalms 68:19)

QUESTION: What gift did Moshe take for man?

ANSWER: When Moshe went up to heaven to take the Torah, the angels opposed him (see Gemara Shabbat 88b). After he succeeded in proving that the Torah is meant for man and not for angels, they still insisted that the esoteric teachings of the Torah (penimiut haTorah) remain with them. The one who revealed the esoteric teachings of Torah was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He authored the Zohar, which is the basis of the Kabbalah.

The word “shevi” (שבי) — “captive” — is an acronym for his name (שמעון בר יוחאי). In speaking of Moshe, King David says, “You ascended on high” and “shavita — you captured — shevi — the captive” — that is, he seized from the angels the neshamah of Shimon bar Yochai, which they wanted to keep in captivity for themselves, and brought it as a gift for man on earth.

(שם הגדולים להחיד"א מערכת גדולים ח"א, י:של"ב, בשם האריז"ל)

"עלה אל הר העברים הזה הר נבו. ומת בהר...והאסף אל עמך כאשר מת אהרן אחיך בהר ההר ויאסף אל עמיו"
“Ascend to this Mount of Abarim, Mount Nebo. And die on the mountain where you will ascend and be gathered to your people, as Aharon your brother died on Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people.” (Devarim 32:49-50)

QUESTION: The words “vehei’aseif el amecha” — “and be gathered to your people” — are redundant since it already says “umut behar” — “and die on the mountain.” Also, the words “vayei’aseif el amav” — “and he was gathered to his people” — are redundant, since it says “meit Aharon” — “Aharon died”?

ANSWER: Rashi says that when Moshe witnessed the death of Aharon, he desired a similar death for himself and said, “Lucky is the one who dies such a death.” What was so special about Aharon’s death?

During the festival of Sukkot there are Ushpizin — guests, who visit the Sukkah. According to Kabbalists (Arizal), Avraham comes on the first day, Yitzchak on the second, Yaakov on the third, Moshe on the fourth, Aharon on the fifth, Yosef on the sixth, and David on the seventh.

Aharon passed away on Rosh Chodesh Av (Bamidbar 33:38), which always occurs on the same day of the week as the fifth day of the festival of Sukkot when Aharon is the “Ushpizin.” Thus, the day of the week Aharon comes as a guest visiting K’lal Yisrael is the same day of the week as his yahrtzeit.

Moshe desired a similar death. Namely, that the fourth day of Sukkot when he visits the Sukkah should be the same day of the week as his yahrtzeit, the seventh day of Adar.

The Yom Tov of Sukkot is known as Chag Ha’asif — the Festival of Ingathering (Shemot 23:16). Hashem said to Moshe, “I am going to grant you your wish. Go up on the mountain and die, Vehei’aseif el amecha” — “and be gathered to your people.” Hashem thus hinted that his yartzeit would be on the same day of the week as his visit to his people in the Chag Ha’asif: “Just as Aharon your brother died on Hor Hahor and vayei’aseif el amav — on the same day of the week as his yartzeit — he comes as a guest to his people during the Chag Ha’asif.”

(טעמי המנהגים בשם ספר שער יששכר, מונקאטש)

* * *

Reb Shimon bar Yochai, possessed Moshe’s neshamah. Therefore, when Moshe visits K’lal Yisrael on the fourth day of Sukkot, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai accompanies him.

It is interesting to note that the fourth day of Sukkot is always on the same day of the week as the Lag BaOmer preceding it.

(שער יששכר)

"ואת שני בניה אשר שם האחד גרשם...ושם האחד אליעזר"
“And her two sons of whom the name of one was Gershom...And the name of one was Eliezer.” (Shemot 18:3-4)

QUESTION: It should have said “vesheim hasheini Eliezer” — “the name of the second was Eliezer”?

ANSWER: In the early days of the Judges an individual known as Michah, who lived in the hills of Ephraim, built a house for the worship of an idol which was known as “pessel michah.” It attracted a thirteen year old Levite from Bethlehem who joined Michah and became an attendant in Michah’s house of worship (see Judges Chapters 17-18). According to the Gemara (Bava Batra 109b) this Levite was Yonatan the son of Gershom, Moshe Rabbeinu’s grandson.

Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, was a reincarnation of Gershom. In order to rectify the iniquity committed by the thirteen year old lad, who served in the house of Michah, Rabbi Elazar was secluded in the cave for a period of thirteen years and engaged in Torah study.

The Torah alludes to this by telling us that Tziporah the wife of Moshe had two sons “of whom the name of one was Gershom...and the name of one was Eliezer.” It specifically does not say “the name of the second,” alluding to the Elazar, who years later, was one with Gershom, that is, possessing the same neshamah.

(סדר הדורות, ועי' ספר הגלגולים סדר הגלגול דף ח', דר"א הי' הנער שהי' משמש את מיכה)

"כדאי הוא ר' שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק"
“Rabbi Shimon is sufficient to be relied upon in a difficult situation.” (Berachot 9a)

QUESTION: What difficult situation is this referring to?

ANSWER: The most difficult situation confronting the Jewish people is galut. For many years we have been yearning and praying fervently to be redeemed. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the holy Zohar, and he has been promised that, “With this sefer the Jewish people will go out of galut(Zohar IV, 124b).

A prerequisite for our going out of galut is the improvement of our spiritual status so that we will be worthy of geulah — redemption. This could be difficult to accomplish, but Rabbi Shimon said that with his merits, he is capable of exempting all people of all generations from judgment (Sukkah 45b).

Our sages are telling us that Rabbi Shimon did not say this presumptuously but meant it earnestly, and we can rely on him that with his merits, especially for revealing the esoteric teachings of the Torah which enables a person to elevate his spiritual status, we will ultimately overcome the “she’at hadechak” — difficult galut — and be redeemed by Mashiach.

(לקוטי שיחות חל"ב ע' 153)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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