Is Lag BaOmer Really So Important?

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Even though the Ramah (Shulchan Aruch OC 493:2) tstates that on LaG BaOmer we engage slightly in Simcha – joy, commemorating LaG BaOmer is a serious matter. The Mogen Avrohom cites the Kavanos HaArizal that discusses a certain individual who had the habit of reciting Nachem every day. He continued to do so on LaG BaOmer as well. For doing so he was punished. We see, therefore, that one should take the words of the Ramah quite seriously. A number of reasons are cited by Torah authorities for commemorating Lag BaOmer: • It commemorates the students of Rabbi Akiva who ceased dying during this day – although the deaths persisted between Pesach and Shavuos. (Shla Psachim 525). • This day is the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who revealed the inner secrets of the Torah (Chayei Adam Moadim 131:11) • This is the day that Rabbi Akiva granted ordination to his five students – among them Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – they did not die in the plague that struck Rabbi Akiva’s other students (Pri Chadash OC 493) • It also commemorates the Manna which began to fall on this day after the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt (Responsa Chsam Sofer YD #233 “Amnam Yadati”). In this short essay, we will attempt to discuss each of the four reasons mentioned above. The Students of Rabbi Akiva The Talmud (Yevamos 62b) tells us that 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students died on account of the fact that they did not extend honor to one another. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein zatzal asks how it could be that the great students of Rabbi Akiva neglected this most basic of principles? His answer is most illuminating. Our Rabbis teach us that Kinah, Kavod and Taavah – jealousy, the pursuit of honor, and the pursuit of desires take one out of this world. “If so,” Rabbi Akiva’s students reasoned, “how can we accord each other this spiritual poison?” Rabbi Levenstein explains that they were unaware that, in fact, honor is only poisonous when one seeks it – but when one extends it to another it is not poisonous at all. When we build the self-esteem of others, it is actually quite healthy. Rav Levenstein explains that this notion is very subtle and nuanced and it could well be that the notion itself was only revealed in the world at that time. Why then were they punished? They were smart enough to have been able to figure out and contemplate this issue by themselves. Having neglected to delve into this psychological insight was their error. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai Rashbi, whose Yartzeit we commemorate on this day, merited to compose two extraordinary books that form part of the Zohar. They are the Adara Rabbah and the Adarah Zutah. Rav Yoseph Chaim in his Responsa (Rav Pe’alim YD #156) explains why it was that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, above and beyond his masters the Tannaim, merited to write these extraordinary books. He explains that although his teachers and masters were greater than he was, he had the ability of couching these teachings in esoteric terms. Indeed, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was so adept at obscuring the true understanding of these thoughts, that … Continue reading Is Lag BaOmer Really So Important?