From The Editor – Manuscript Excerpt Of Article On Shavuos From Upcoming Book

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


Moshe Stempel – Shavuos

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