As a Jewish nation, we climax on Shavuous,a feat only reached through thorough and consistent preparation. The Torah provides a magical message regarding the significance of continuity and wholeness in the time leading up to Matan Torah and the Talmud instructs us about how to succeed in Torah, as can be deduced through the tragic loss of Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim.
We are clearly told to count seven whole weeks between the days of Pesach and Shavous. “And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh week, [namely,] the fiftieth day, [on which] you shall bring a new meal offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:15-16). This counting must be consistent with no stoppages. If one misses the blessing on one night, he may no longer count with a Bracha as there is a lacking in continuity.
The counting, on the one hand is in commemoration of the Karbon Omer brought on the second day of Pesach, but also stands as the time to mark the preparation for the giving of the Torah. This is why the Rav Zt”l notes we don’t say shechyanu on the Omer as it is a mere preparation for Matan Torah. However, it must be a complete and consistent preparation with no gaping holes.
During this same time period, later in history, Rabbi Akiva would lose his 24,000 Talmidim. We must delve into the personality of Rabbi Akiva and the travails and triumphs he experienced with his Talmidim and explain why the deaths took place at a time set aside for the counting of the Omer – a time of joy and exhilaration, time that marks the onset of Matan Torah.
It remains undisputed that the Oral Law, in its entirety, follows the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. The Gemara says Rabbi Yochanan says an anonymous Mishna goes like Rabbi Meir, Tosefta like Rabbi Nechemia, Sifra like Rabbi Yehuda and they “all” are according to Rabbi Akiva (Sanhedrin 86a).
In the area of character, Rabbi Akiva’s prize pupil, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, told his students to learn from his own Middot because his Middot are merely terumot me’trumotav (a scintilla apportionment) compared to Rabbi Akiva. The question now remains as to how the ambassador of the Oral Law can endure such carnage out of the Torah that follows his opinion in every area of the law. Perhaps we can return to the theme of the power of continuity in attempting to address this issue.
The story is told (Kesuvos 62b-63a about Rabbi Akiva that he studied for 12 consecutive years, amassing 12,000 students. As he returned home with his 12,000 students, he heard an old man provoke his wife and say – “How long will you remain a living widow?” to which she replied, if my husband would only listen to me he would devote himself to another twelve years of uninterrupted study.” Upon hearing this, Rabbi Akiva returned to the yeshiva studying for another 12 uninterrupted years at which time he gained 24,000 Talmidim.
I believe within this story lie many lessons. It would be of no surprise if the story is used in Shalom Bayit panels and Middot discussions. However, when analyzing anything relating to Rabbi Akiva surely every nuance relating to the study of Torah must be honed in upon. One can postulate a chakira (question) relating to the study of Rabbi Akiva. Did he study a consecutive 24 years in yeshiva, with no stoppage, for indeed he never entered his physical home or was there indeed a stoppage because he left the physical walls of the yeshiva.
In such a scenario it may be said that he studied two separate blocks of 12 years. I would argue that there was a physical separation from the yeshiva and that is why the Gemara specifically says he had “12,000” pairs of students (Yevamot 62b), as opposed to characterizing them in totality as 24,000. In essence, there was a stoppage in the learning creating two blocks of 12 not a consecutive 24.
The counterargument is of course the Chazon Ish in Emuneh Ubitachon that holds that since Rabbi Akiva never entered his home there was no stoppage (I was alerted to this Chazon Ish by Rav Hershel Schechter shlita who I ha the zechus to escort to Far Rockaway on the LIRR). Perhaps a proof for the Chazon Ish is that they were called pairs. In other words they were equals though it was a 24 year period.
(In a related manner it was said of Rav Chaim of Brisk that he wouldsay when it comes to doing Chesed –that if one who doesn’t know how to close his Gemara when engaging in Chesed then even when his Gemara is open it’s considered closed and for one who knows how to close it and engage in Chesed, even whenits closed its considered open. My relative Rav Avrohom Genechovsky Zt”l added that even when the Gemara is closed to do Chesed one’s mind should still be thinking in Torah and then it’s considered as if the book was never closed.
Therefore, Rabbi Akiva was a manifestation of 2 blocks of 12 years and that was the available potential for him to create. To say that he ha 24,000 equal Talmidim would be incorrect because Rabbi Akiva didn’t have 24 consistent years.
The Talmud says they perished because they didn’t give respect to one another, which could be explained by the fact that there was a lack of equality at the source and perhaps they weren’t able to relate to each other as they were born from 2 separate 12’s.
The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time (Yevamot 62b). In essence, it’s Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, who saved the legacy of Rabbi Akiva.
What did Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai experience differently than the 24,000 Talmidim? Certainly it’s no coincidence that the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is on Lag Baomer (Yeerot Devash) as a Yom Hillulah day of Simcha for Torah. In essence, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai personified the opposite of the tragedy of the 24,000 Talmidim, giving him the ability to offer a respite in the mourning.
The Gemara (Shabbas 33b) relates Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Yose, and Rabbi Simeon [bar Yochai] were sitting. And Judah ben Gerim was sitting near them. Rabbi Judah began and said, “How great are the deeds of this [Roman] nation! They made markets; they made bathhouses; they made bridges.” Rabbi Yose was silent. Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai answered and said, “What they made, they made for themselves.
They made markets so they could set prostitutes there, bathhouses so they could enjoy themselves, bridges to collect a toll.” Judah ben Gerim went and repeated their words which were heard by authorities.[The authorities] said, “Judah who elevated will be elevated, Yose who was silent will be exiled to Sepphoris, and Simeon who disgraced will be killed.” He [Rabbi Simeon] and his son went and hid in the house of study. Every day his wife brought him bread and a jug of water, and they ate.
When the decree was harshened, he said to his son, “Women have a weak constitution; perhaps they will torture her and she will reveal us.” They went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob tree and a well of water were created for them. They used to remove [their clothing] and sit up to their necks in sand.
All day they used to commit traditions to memory, and at the time of prayer they dressed, covered and prayed. And then they took off their clothes so that they would not wear out. They lived in the cave for twelve years. Elijah came and stood at the opening of the cave. Hesaid, “Who will tell the son of Yochai that Caesar is dead and his decree was canceled? They went out. They saw people plowing and planting. He [Rabbi Simeon] said, “They are forsaking eternal life and occupying themselves with temporal life.” Every place they cast their eyes was immediately burned.A heavenly voice came out and said, “Did you come out to destroy my world? Return to your cave!” They returned and lived in the cave for twelve months.
They said, “The sentence of the wicked in Gehinom is twelve months.” A heavenly voice came forth [and said,] “Get out of your cave.”They went out. Everything that Rabbi Eliezer destroyed, Rabbi Simeon repaired. Rabbi Simeon said, “My son, I and you are enough for the world!” When the Sabbath was about to start they saw an old man carrying two bundles of myrtle, running at twilight. They said to him, “Why do you need these?”[He said to them,] “In honor of the Sabbath.”They said to him, ‘‘And isn’t one enough for you?”He said to them, “One is for ‘remember’ (Ex. 20:8), and one is for ‘keep’” (Deut. 5:12). He said [to his son], “See how the commandments are beloved by Israel!” Their minds were at ease.
His son-in-law, Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair, heard and went out to meet him. He took him into a bathhouse. When he was treating his flesh, he saw that there were cracks in his skin. He started crying and his tears flowed and caused him pain. He said to him, “Woe to me that I saw you thus!”He said to him, “Blessed are you that you saw me thus, because had you not seen me thus, you would not have found me thus [learned]. In the beginning, when Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai asked one question, Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair would give twelve answers.
In the end, when Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair would ask a question, Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai would give twenty-four answers. Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai said, “Since a miracle occurred, let me go repair something.” As it says: “…and Jacob arrived whole [to the city of Shechem]” (Gen. 33:18). Rav says, “Whole in his body, whole in his money, and whole in his Torah.” “…and he found favor in the city.” Rav says, “he established coins for them.” And Samuel says, “he established markets for them.” Rabbi Yohanan says, “He established bathhouses for them.”He said, “Is there something that needs repair?”They said to him, “There is a plot of land where there is a question of uncleanliness and it disturbs the priests to go around it.”He said, “Is there a person who knows that there is pure [land] there?”A certain old man said to him, “Here ben Zakkai pulled out lupines for the priestly portion.” He also did as he did: wherever [the ground] was hard, he declared it pure, wherever it was loose, he marked it.
The Gemara must be analyzed to extrapolate why Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s memory lives on with such fortitude and what aspect of Rabbi Akiva was he metaken (did he remedy). Eventually, Rabbi Shimon must enter the cave with his son. The Gemera related that they lived in sand up to their neck and studied for 12 straight years. This is very reminiscent of Rabbi Akiva’s first immersion in Torah when he acquired his first 12,000 students in 12 years of study.
Interestingly, the Gemara notes that at the end of 12 years Elijah came and stood at the opening of the cave. He said, “Who will tell the son of Yochai that Caesar is dead and his decree was canceled? In this scenario, a messenger from G-d was telling them they may leave. This wasn’t a personal decision nor were they acting upon their own intuition. They completed a consecutive 12 year period with no stoppages and only halted based on a heavenly messenger. After leaving the cave, they were unable to understand the need for physicality and were told to return.It seems they made the judgment that another 12 month period was appropriate for Gehinom lasts for 12 months.
In a shiur by Rabbi Goldvicht shlita at Shaaray Tefilah, he noted that in many areas Chazal emphasize the power of 12 (including 12 months in a year, if one lives in a city for 12 months he’s considered as one of the city, Yosef was by Beit Potiphar for a12 months and many more examples). In reality Rabbi Shimon had a consecutive 12 years and then another consecutive 12 months, a time that was complete in totality as the interruptions only came due to external voices. Upon leaving he ultimately learns a powerful lesson. He learns that serving G-d through physicality is the highest apex of service, as he shows great admiration and awe for the old man holding the 2 myrtles for shabbas.
Upon arriving at the end of the story we are told that originally Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked his son-in-law a question and would get 12 answers and now his son-in-law would ask him a question and Rabbi Shimon would offer 24 answers. Why 24?The answer is simple. He answered for the 24,000 Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva that perished. There was no inherent stoppage of Torah learning that took place in the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and thus no unevenness in what he gave over. In fact he was taught the greatest secret of all, that serving G-d through the physical is the ultimate. And that is why he is able to offer a respite on Lag Baomer from the mourning over the 24,000 Talmidim.
His essence was metaken (a remedy) for them. It’s logical that the students of Rabbi Akiva perished in the days between Pesach and Shavous as they had the chesoron (lacking) of shlemos (continuity, wholeness and consistency). They originated from a source of Torah that was uneven and not consecutive. They were not the personification of continuity which is required when we count the Omer. As the Pasuk says, “And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete” (Leviticus 23:15).
In order to attempt to receive the Torah there must be absolute continuity in preparation and action. Matan Torah is personified by “na’aseh v’nishma,” “We will do and we will hear” (Ex. 24:7). There are no stoppages. We must be steadfast in our actions to ensure they make an impression.
The Chazon Ish was once asked how, in his weakened condition, he was able to make it up the steep hill to his house when he went to the shul at the bottom of the hill on Monday and Thursday’s. He answered that he took one step at a time. The person didn’t understand the answer. He asked again, if you’re taking only one step at a time how do you reach the top? The Chazon Ish answered the same. The point is there is no need to jump to achieve everything at once, however one must take a step and then another step, with no large stoppages, to achieve the desired goal. Rabbi Amar, the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, who was recently in Far Rockaway for Shabbas, was asked by a bachur how he could succeed in learning. The Rabbi responded to Chazer! Chazer! And Chazer more (Review!) In other words, review and don’t stop. Don’t put any stoppages in between.
The Rambam (Hilchos Deiot 1:7) says if you want to succeed in inculcating a trait to be part of your essence you must repeat it over and over with no stoppages until it becomes a part of you and then performing actions with that trait becomes habitual. Perhaps in reaching a level of continuity and consistency, we can achieve at a constructive pace and accept the Torah in the fashion that we prepared for it; in wholeness and harmony.
Five Towns Far Rockaway News, May 15, 2013
Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the 48 methods of acquiring the Torah. The first eleven methods were already discussed in previous vaadim.
The twelfth method of acquiring Torah is through carefully choosing one’s friends. A person’s friends have a very significant influence on him. Therefore, it is vital for a person to choose friends with good character traits.
R’ Bamberger once had a roommate who would learn with a chavrusah every day between the hours of 12:15 a.m. – 2:00 a.m. The chavrusah was clearly the most diligent talmid in the yeshivah. However, he married a girl who influenced him to severely limit the amount of learning that he did each day. This story illustrates the extent to which a person is influenced by social factors.
The thirteenth method of acquiring Torah is through testing the students. Preparing for a test sharpens the mind and puts pressure on a person to retain information.
The fourteenth method of acquiring Torah is through having a calm frame of mind. A person can’t learn when his mind is agitated.
R’ Yerucham emphasizes that physical relaxation doesn’t lead to tranquility of the soul. Rather, physical relaxation makes it more difficult to learn. In order for a person to maximize his growth in Torah, he needs to break his desire for creature comforts.
When R’ Moshe Feinstein visited the Lakewood Yeshivah for the first time, he noticed that the boys there leaned on shtenders when they learned. R’ Moshe remarked that he couldn’t conceive that Torah would thrive in such a yeshivah. He explained that a person can only succeed in his learning when he brings himself to the Gemara, not when he brings the Gemara to himself. Indeed, it is well known that R’ Shteinman, shlita would always sit on a chair without a back when he learned.
The fifteenth method of acquiring Torah is through learning the 24 books of Tanach. Indeed, Chumash and Rashi is the foundation for the whole Torah. The commentary of the Ramban has also been referred to as the foundation of faith in G-d.
The sixteenth method of acquiring Torah is through the study of Mishnah. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that R’ Yosef Cairo once experienced a quasi-prophecy when he recited Mishnayos on the night of Shavuos.
As we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos, we should remember that our fate in Torah is decided on Shavuos. Moreover, our success in Torah is what really adds meaning to our lives.
From A Vaad