Love & Respect
honor of Rabbi Eli Stern
A bright light of confusion
surrounds the day we call Lag B'omer [day 33 of the
Omer], one marked by incredible festivities, cessation of
Sefira mourning and a general transcendent sense. Ask one
Jew what it is and even he might give you two opinions.
According to Pri Megadim
something is special about the day even as we are not
sure exactly what it is. If he's not sure, them I'm not
either. Two basic schools of thought (there are more) posit
that the Lag B'omer specialness emanates from
a. ... the fact that the
stopped dying on this day
b. ... something related to
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
i. He died on this day/ ii. He revealed the secrets
of Kabbalah on this day
Each approach has its problems (all thoroughly
explicated by the poskim). Consider: If Rabbi Akiva's
students stopped dying on Lag B'omer because there was no
one left, is that really a reason to celebrate?
Alternatively, if they were dying throughout the omer
period, save for a special Lag B'omer hiatus, then it merely
begs the question, why did they stop dying on this day
- which brings us to our second reason.
A celebration of one's
yahrtzeit (anniversary of one's death), particularly that of
a tzaddik [like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai]
is a decidedly unconventional means of commemoration.
recommends that one should fast on yahrtzeit. (Ironically,
Lag B'omer is also the day of Ramo's yahrtzeit). Thus
and others discourage a celebration. At this point, any
Chassidic reader will scoff at this decidedly cold and
cursory analysis - can ½ million Jews flocking to Meron for
music, merriment, fire making and chalaka be wrong
(or without basis)? I would probably go myself.
Amidst the confusion, here's a thought to ponder. According
to the Talmudic version (Yevamos 62b) 12,000 pairs of
students died during the omer period because shelo nahagu
kavod zeh bazeh (lit. they did not act with respect
towards each other). Without question, we are analyzing
great men of spirit possessing a subtle flaw. On their level
though, the Talmud presents a short but stark condemnation
by linking their deaths (or perhaps more precisely, their
lost opportunity to transmit Torah to the next generation),
to this very character weakness.
A classic question: How
could it be that the students of
great purveyor of the message v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha
- zeh klal gadol batorah; (Love your neighbor as
yourself - this is the great rule of the Torah) be deficient
precisely in the area their Rebbe mastered; by extension we
must ask the obvious and painful question: does this not
reflect negatively upon the Master himself?
It is a famous question with many answers. A famous and cute
approach teaches that Rabbi Akiva began peddling the message
as a result
of this dark period. For so many reasons, it is difficult to
hear this answer.
distinguish between respect and love. One may
love someone without respecting him - creating a
noxious and suffocating admixture. Consider the parent
a. .. who cherishes music and desperately wants the
child to feel the same pleasure - forcing him to play piano.
(that the child may be tone deaf is a technical detail.)
b. .. who so much wants the child to be successful that he
demands that his (attention deficit disorder) child sit
through the most rigorous academic courses shuttling him
from tutor to test
Love without respect is like hugging the child
without giving him room to breathe. It is a smothering,
suffocating and identity-less existence.
Precisely because Rabbi Akiva's students had deep
love for the other, they demanded that their colleague/study
partners tow their line. Their boundless love was divorced
from the necessary respect that each talmid had his own
unique approach and connection with Hashem created.
Now consider Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who walks out of the
cave. After 12 years of hiding out from the Romans wih his
son Rav Elazar, for the sin of teaching Torah, Eliyahu
informs him that the coast is clear (the emperor is dead).
As they walk out, he sees a simple farmer doing his thing.
So they emerged. Seeing a man plowing and sowing,
they exclaimed, 'They forsake life eternal and engage in
life temporal!' Whatever they cast their eyes upon was
immediately burnt up.
Rabbi Shimon is incensed - Why ?
For Rabbi Shimon [cf. Brachos 35b] every moment of
this-worldly focus is vacuous. His pithy comment of
manichin chayei olam v'oskim b'chayei sha'a (they
forsake life eternal and engage in life temporal) is an
expression of utter disdain. Looking in the farmer's
direction, (in Talmudic lexicon) Rabbi Shimon burns him
with his eyes. The scene repeats itself a few times.
Finally, a heavenly voice excoriates Rabbi Shimon:
Have you emerged from the cave to destroy My
world? Return to your cave.
They go back into the cave and learn for another
So they returned and dwelt there twelve months,
saying, 'The punishment of the wicked in Gehennom is
[limited to] twelve months.
It is hard to imagine that this will solve the
problem - but it does. When he returns, wherever the son (Rav
Elazar is still inciting away, but Rabbi Shimon is healing.
Then a turning point:
On the eve of the Sabbath before sunset they saw
an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at
twilight. 'What are these for?' they asked him. 'They are in
honor of the Sabbath,' he replied.'But one should suffice
you'?- One is for Zachor-Remember and the other for Shamor-Observe.
Said he to his son, 'See how precious are the commandments
to Israel.' Thereafter their minds were at peace.
Unquestionably, Rabbi Shimon deeply loved all Jews. When he
emerges from the cave for the 1st time, he can see nothing
but his own approach; his love compels him to mandate that
approach for all. Such an intense light will burn others.
When he returned from the cave the second time, he had
mastered the art of loving and
Thus Rabbi Shimon develops the ability to find beauty in
others' distinct, down to earth, and simpler approach to
By so doing, he achieves a corrective for all that we mourn
in the Omer.
It was that light, a soft and bright one, which
Rabbi Shimon was now able to share with the world. It is a
light to bask in without without being burnt. With Rabbi
Shimon's emergence the terribly sad saga of the omer
is corrected. Remarkably, he - along with the rest of Rabbi
Akiva's second set of students become the essential
transmitters of our Torah.
May that lesson of love and respect mark the essence
of all of our relationships
1. Shulchan Aruch - Mishbetzos Zahav 493:1
2. The concept of playing with bow and arrow might be
connected to this as well for the Talmud teaches that in the
days of Rabbi Shimon B. Yochai no (rain)bow appeared for his
greatness was enough to save the world from destruction.
However the day he died, a rainbow appeared.