By Rabbi Shimon Raichik
Yesterday was Lag B”Omer. The Rebbe once spoke about how we teach children that the Talmidim of Rebbe Akiva stopped passing away is a reason for the celebration of Lag B”Omer. The child will then ask; who is Rebbe Akiva? We will answer that he is the greatest Tanna, so much so that the Mishna follows his opinion. The child may wonder; what is my connection to Rebbe Akiva and his students? We should answer him in the following manner. Don’t think that Rebbe Akiva was raised with a great chinuch! He only began to learn aleph beis at 40 and became the great Rebbe Akiva. So too if you dedicate yourself to the Torah you can be a Talmid of Rebbe Akiva.
When we approach our children to grow in learning and in Yiddishkeit they may feel that it is beyond their abilities. They may doubt they can be able to fulfill the level that is being asked of them to be student of Rebbe Akiva. They may think that such a level is for someone who grew up with a lineage, an education and illustrious parents. Perhaps if I would have grown up in Lubavitch or the Europe of the past, but in this generation, the generation of the iPhone and the internet, what could you possibly expect? Ask my parents or the Rabbi, but not me! To this child and his perspective we relate the story of the great Rebbe Akiva. We tell him that Rebbe Akiva was a child of Gerim, he had no yichus at all! He had no chinuch either or even a means of financial support that would allow him the time to sit and study! Yet he overcame all of these things and nonetheless became the great Rebbe Akiva!
Still yet, the child may persist and say that Rebbe Akiva was that one in a million person that for some miraculous reason achieved this. If he could receive a sign from above, perhaps then, he would also be able to rise to this challenge as well. We answer him with Rebbe Akiva’s story. Do you know what inspired Rebbe Akiva? It was a rock! A rock? Yes, a simple, natural, non miraculous rock. He saw that water drops, consistently falling on a rock wore away its hard surface and made a hole in the rock. He learned a lesson from this natural occurrence to his situation. That he too, if he remains dedicated to the Torah, its ‘waters’ will eventually penetrate and he will be able to learn. He learned all this from nature without a miraculous intervention. So too, we tell the child, you can accomplish to be a student of Rebbe Akiva, it is within your reach.
On Lag B’Omer we also teach our children that it is the Hilula of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai- the Rashbi. We explain that he was on the level of ‘Toraso umnaso- His Torah was his business’. This means that his entire being was 100 percent involved and dedicated to learning the Torah. The child will ask; is this a level that is possible for us in these times? When he hears that it is rare state and uncommon to these times, he will wonder how the Rashbi’s example is relevant to him. We should explain that when Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai learned the Torah, nothing else was happening; he was fully focused on his learning. So too, we need to set aside time to study Torah on the level of Toraso umnaso, where nothing else is going on with our own ‘business’, just the learning of the Torah. We learn this lesson from the example of Rebbe Simon bar Yochai, the Rashbi.
The Gemora says that a Talmid Chacham is called ‘Shabbos’. Our lesson, similar to above is that when we learn, it needs to be on the level of Shabbos. Do we pick up the phone? No! Do we answer e-mail? No! These are the lessons that we learn from Lag B’Omer.
(Based on a Sicha from Shabbos parshas Emor the 17th of Iyar 5733 (1973))