By: Steve Kirschenbaum
Lag Ba’omer commemorates two events: Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s Yahrtzeit and the cessation of death among the Talmidei Rebbi Akiva. The story of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai with his son Rebbi Eliezer in the M’arah is found in Maseches Shabbos 33b. They struggled while in the cave; their skin came out, very painfully infected, and their meals were very sparse and simple. The Gemara relates how they remained there for twelve years. Finally, the Caesar from whom they were hiding had passed and so they finally emerged from their cave. When they saw Jews that were busy planting, plowing, and engaged in ordinary activities, they became upset which caused damage as a result. So, they went back into the M’arah for another year.
What’s this about? The Gemara makes it clear that they misbehaved. When they emerged from the cave after twelve years of extraordinary Kedusha and Taharah, they went out and saw things with the wrong perspective; they were mistaken in the way they approached it. This is clear because the Gemara says they returned to the cave and they said the Mishpat for Reshaim in Gehenom is twelve months, so we will be in the cave for twelve months as if going to Gehenom. Meaning, they did something wrong.
The idea being that after attaining the highest level of Kedusha in a cave learning the Toras Hashem with zero Gashmius, one can’t just run out and get involved in the world without some sort of preparation as to how to maintain that consistency and continuity with the changing circumstances. You have to take control and reflect on what’s happening or else chaos can ensue.
Rav Gedalya Schorr in the Or Gedalyahu on Pesach doesn’t mention Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but he says exactly this idea. Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim and jumped 49 Madreigos in one shot. Why did it take 49 days to get to Matan Torah? Rav Schorr explains somebody who jumps many Madreigos is obligated to be Misboded, to contemplate and take control of that which he had achieved very rapidly.
When a person has the opportunity and he takes advantage of the opportunity to jump Madreigos, that change will not last without a certain amount of Hisbodedus, of deliberation. That Hisbodedus enables the person to internalize the growth and make it real, whatever the circumstance. What Rav Schorr says about Klal Yisrael going out of Mitzrayim during the Yimei HaOmer, the same thing is true regarding Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his emergence from the cave. He had made tremendous strides but that can’t be the end. It has to be something that’s calculated, that could be controlled. If you don’t throttle the energy, it short-circuits and nothing is accomplished. That was the idea of the Yemai HaOmer in both instances. To step out and think about where you are before you move forward.
What about Rebbi Akiva and Lag B’omer? Rebbi Akiva had a Yeshiva with 24,000 Talmidim. A big Yeshiva by all accounts; a gigantic Yeshiva within Klal Yisrael and the Talmidim all died during the Yemai HaOmer.
On Lag B’omer, Rebbi Akiva took stock. He said something drastic happened. I can’t just move forward and do it again the same way I did it before. He stopped, thought, and started anew on an entirely different path. His Yeshiva now had 5 Talmidim, a small Yeshiva but the best among Klal Yisrael. With these 5 Talmidim, he not only taught them Torah but he taught them the Middos, the Derech Eretz, the respect that they had to have for each other; this led to them becoming the greatest leaders among Klal Yisrael, the Baalei HaMesorah of the time. They were the leaders of the next generation, the leaders of Shas Bavli. So, Rebbi Akiva also stopped, thought, and took stock.
The Pri Chadash asks a Kasha. If all the Talmidim died by Lag B’omer so what does it mean that B’lag B’omer Pasku LaMus, that they stopped dying on Lag B’omer, they were all no longer alive. What is the Simcha and commemoration of Lag B’omer in this context — the death had to cease at some point? Lag B’omer is the time that Rebbi Akiva stopped and did what the Omer is about. He took a step back, reflected, and contemplated what needs to be done to move forward.
So, the Omer is Yetzias Mitzrayim, it’s Rebbi Akiva, it’s Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, it’s all one message. Like Rebbis Shimon Bar Yochai and Akiva, we have to stop and reflect. To Think about where we are and what we have; we shouldn’t let the potential for change be lost. Take control and think of the best path moving forward. This is a message of Lag B’omer and the Yemai HaSefira.