Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Behar) Rebbe Akiva!

Our Sages tell us that 24,000 students of the famous Rabbi Akiva died in the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. The Talmud tells us that all of the students died from the same ailment and that they died because they did not give the proper respect to each other.

It sounds puzzling to us why these students deserved to die for the seemingly slight flaw of not affording the proper respect to each other.

Commentators explain that Rebbe Akiva was the leading Sage of the Jewish people and was charged with disseminating the pure unadulterated Oral Torah to his students with the same purity that our leader Moshe received it from G-d.

For Rebbe Akiva's students to carry out this mandate their character and scholarship had to be impeccable. The Talmud is telling us that since the student of Rebbe Akiva had a slight flaw in their respect to their peers it jeopardized the continuation of authenticity of the Torah, for they may have disregarded the truthful opinion of their fellow based on a feeling that he was less qualified.

Amazingly, although Rebbe Akiva suffered tremendously with the devastating loss of so many of his dear students, he did not give up and sink into depression. Rather, despite being 92 years old, he gathered his strength and continued to teach Torah, knowing well that he was charged with transmitting the Torah and invested with the ability to secure the unbroken chain of Semicha - ordination.

Rebbe Akiva conferred Semicha on his student Rebbe Yehuda ben Bava.

Rebbe Yehuda then gathered together five great students; Rebbe Meir, Rebbe Yehuda, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, Rebbe Yose and Rebbe Nechemia and taught them Torah and ordained them. All this was performed on the day of Lag B'Omer, which we celebrate today.

In addition, the Talmud tells us that Rebbe Akiva's students stopped dying on Lag B'Omer. So although as a remembrance of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died, we do not cut our hair, listen to music, or perform weddings during the Sefira, they are permitted on Lag B'Omer.

Sadly, the Roman authorities eventually captured Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Yehudah ben Bava and they were martyred by the Romans. (We read about this in our prayers on Yom Kippur and Tisha B'av.)

The Romans, recognizing that the future of the Jewish people is rooted in Torah knowledge, its teachers, study and practice, forbade its study and declared it punishable by death.

Interestingly, Hitler and the Nazis also specifically hunted to capture and kill the 'Talmudlerers', the head teachers and leaders of the Talmud, for he and his wicked predecessors knew that the source of survival of the Jewish people is its qualified teachers.

Lag B'Omer is also the Yahrtzait - the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon BarYachoi. (One of the five students mentioned previously). He was the author of the mystical writings of the Zohar - also known as Kabballa. The day that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died, he revealed the hidden secrets of the Torah to his student Rabbi Abba and to his son Rabbi Elozar. The revelation of the secrets of Torah on Lag B'Omer gives us another reason to rejoice.

The Talmud relates that when our leader Moshe was in heaven learning the Torah from G-d, he was able to peer into the future. When Moshe saw Rebbe Akiva and his scholarship, he asked G-d why He wasn't giving the Torah through Rebbe Akiva, whom he felt was more qualified then himself.

G-d responded that this is My wish that you, Moshe, should be the initial teacher of the Torah to the Jewish people.

Both Moshe and Rebbe Akiva displayed genuine concern to ensure that G-d's Torah remains impeccable and pure. This mandate has been entrusted to every parent and teacher to impart the genuine teachings of the Torah to their children and students so that the truth and the observance of Torah will remain alive!
Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks