Lag B’omer 5775

This week, בעזה”י, will be the Yom Tov of Lag B’omer. The Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch explains that the reason why it’s a celebration is because it was the day that the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. My Rebbi, the Rosh Yeshiva R’ Chaim Stein zt”l, explained that included in this is also a positive aspect.

It is well known that the reason why these great Torah scholars deserved to be punished was because they did not treat each other with the proper respect. Although we do not understand why such a severe punishment was meted out for what would seem so trivial, it would be logical to conclude that until the sin was rectified the punishment would continue. Therefore, if we are told they stopped dying on Lag B’omer it would prove that they repented properly. The fact that they did a complete teshuva and started acting properly to one another on Lag B’omer is what we celebrate.

A hint to this can be found in the gematria of “lev tov”, a good heart. The numerical value of the word lev is 32. This hints at the first thirty two days of the omer, when the students interacted with each other with just their lev, heart. The numerical value of tov is 17. This hints to the remaining seventeen days after Lag B’omer when they interacted with to each other with the added component of “tov”. Proper respect is reached when one can interact with a “lev tov”, a good heart.

We can gain a tremendous source of encouragement from Rabbi Akiva, if we stop to ponder how, although his entire life’s work was wiped out, he did not stop and “retire in misery”. He had the courage and fortitude, even at his advanced age, to start all over. The Oral law is based on what he taught to his five great disciples. Thus, it was through his strength of character that the continuity of Torah was preserved. We too should not give up when things seem to be failing, because you never know what can happen from a seemingly small undertaking.

It is well known that Lag B’omer is the Yartzheit of the tanna R’ Shimon bar Yochai, known as Rashb”i (which is the acronym of R’ Shimon bar Yochai).  Why do we mark the death of such a great person with celebration? Should it not be a day of mourning?

Interestingly enough, it was the request of the holy Rashb”i himself. On the day he was going to die, Rashb”i gathered his disciples and informed them what was going to happen. He then instructed them not to mark the day with sadness and mourning because he was given permission to reveal to them the mystical portions of the Torah. Since these great secrets would be revealed, it should be marked every year with happiness and joy. These teachings eventually became the writings of the Zohar and are known as Kabalah.

Ultimately, the revelation and teaching of Torah supersedes any sadness that we may have, and therefore it is proper to be marked with joy and happiness.

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