Rabbi Akiva and Lag Ba'Omer

Who were the students of Rabbi Akiva that we should mourn their deaths so many centuries later?

Yeshiva.co ,

Lag b'Omer bonfire
Lag b'Omer bonfire
Flash 90

These days of the Omer are the days we count between Pesach, the exodus from Egypt, the expectance of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot. The beginning of this period has unique mourning-customs as a commemoration of the death of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. On the day of Lag Ba'Omer we stop these customs seeing as on this day, according to the tradition, Rabbi Akivas student's death had ceased. But what is the greatness of these pupils that we still commemorate them so many years later?

Rabbi Shvat offers that the reason for this is that the 24,000 students didn't die in a disease, rather they were murdered as soldiers of Bar Kochva in the rebellion against the Romans. This assumption has been around for a long period, but is hard to prove since the Romans had censored any mention of this rebellion from the Talmud.

Another question that might pop up when discussing this day of celebration is: why should the fact that these students ceased to die, be a reason to rejoice? The only reason they ceased to die is that there was no one else left to die. That’s a reason to mourn not to celebrate!

This question was asked by 17th century sage, Rabbi Hizkia De Silva, in his book "Pri Chadash" and he replies with a brief answer "due to the additional pupils R' Akiva acquired afterwards, who did not die". Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon explains that after Rabbi Akiva had passed away the world was barren of Torah. By Rabbi Akiva going down south and teaching his five new students, the whole study of the Torah was re-established. Most of the Oral Torah is based on those students and thanks to them we can still study G-Ds commandments. This is the reason we celebrate on Lag baOmer.

A surprising fact regarding Lag Ba'Omern is that the link, we all know, between the day and the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai is not mentioned in Halacah. The Halcha refers to this day only regarding to Rabbi Akiva and his disciples. The connection to Rabbi Shimon is mainly since he was one of the students who continued Rabbi Akivas legacy after the death of his 24,000 disciples. Rabbi Ch. Avihu Schwartz, who was a close student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Hachohen Kook, shared that Rabbi Kook would say that Rabbi Shimon most strongly symbolized the continuation of Rabbi Akiva. Lag Ba’omer allows us to reflect upon and appreciate all of those Jews who, such as Rabbi Akiva and his students, sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Jewish people.

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