Keeping Hope Alive


the-fire-still-burnsBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
People expect to find quick and easy solutions to problems. They think that success can be won by sitting back and taking the easy way out. But it doesn’t work. There are no shortcuts. You can’t just sit down lackadaisically in front of a Gemara and expect to become a talmid chochom. You can’t accomplish something worthwhile unless you invest everything you are capable of into the challenge. Successful people have invariably worked long and hard and merited huge doses of siyata diShmaya to reach their pinnacle. Nobody who has made it in life has done so by being lazy.

That is the message of this week’s parsha of Bechukosai. The words, “Im bechukosai teileichu,” are illuminated by the immortal, oft-quoted words of Rashi: “Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah – That you shall study the words of the Torah with intensity.” Hashem tells us that if we want to earn his blessings, we have to work hard to study the Torah and follow its mitzvos.

When it comes to learning Torah, there are certainly no shortcuts to the goal of understanding G-d’s word. It takes intense effort and all-consuming involvement until the Torah touches your soul and enables you to become a true shomer Torah umitzvos and to merit the brachos hakesuvos baTorah.

This week, we celebrated Lag Ba’omer. In Eretz Yisroel, hundreds of thousands traveled to the kever of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron to daven at that holy site together with so many other good Jews. Those who didn’t make the trek built a neighborhood fire, which they danced around as they sang songs dedicated to Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabi Akiva. The festivities injected a spiritual energy into the day.

Lag Ba’omer interrupted our mourning period. We took haircuts, shaved, trimmed our beards and allowed music to pump into our psyches once again. It’s almost as if, on a certain level, the mourning of the Sefirah period is over.

Why is it that the customs of mourning in commemoration of the passing of the talmidim of Rabi Akiva have so taken over Sefirah? Why is it that Lag Ba’omer has become a day widely celebrated, though it is in no sense a holiday?

Rabi Akiva was the greatest sage of his generation. It is said that he was the shoresh of Torah Shebaal Peh. The line of transmission of the Torah from Sinai to future generations ran through him and his students. When his 24,000 students were wiped out, it was a major cause of depression. How would the chain continue? Who would provide the light of Torah to future generations? How could they ever be replaced? How could a grieving people on the run from Roman persecution be consoled on the loss of so many great men so crucial to the spiritual survival of the nation?

The urge to say it’s all over must have been overwhelming. The less faithful and more pessimistic among them must have been ready to give up. But Rabi Akiva recovered from his devastating loss to transmit the Torah through a new group of five students. It was on Lag Ba’omer that Rabi Akiva began teaching Torah to these new talmidim. The seeds he planted that day, which ultimately produced the massive rejuvenation of Torah, are what we celebrate on Lag Ba’omer.

On this day we commemorate the renewal. We celebrate the determination. We cheer the cessation of the plague. We foresee the future bright with hope and determination.

As the centuries pass, and as the Romans of every period seek our destruction and annihilation, we look towards Rabi Akiva and Rabi Shimon bar Yochai for inspiration. We note how they looked the enemy in the face and persevered, thus ensuring that our nation and our Torah are alive and flourishing to this very day. In the wake of a tragedy which would have felled lesser people, Rabi Akiva strengthened himself and set about ensuring that the chain remains unbroken.

As the golus continues and our situation becomes more and more precarious, as enemies surround us within and without, we must not weaken in our devotion to Torah. Noting how many giants our people have lost over the past decade, we hear voices stating that we can never recoup the losses. We are doomed to mediocrity, they proclaim.

Lag Ba’omer rejects that hopelessness. It stands as a beacon and proclaims to one and all to never give up hope, to never allow the chain of greatness to break. The fires of Lag Ba’omer burn bright and call out to us that the future will burn brightly, the mesorah will continue uninterrupted, and our people can and will be great once again. Never give up and never despair.

The more our exile is prolonged, the more we turn to days like Lag Ba’omer for inspiration and encouragement, and the more popular their observance becomes.

But it is not enough to just light a fire; it is not enough to sing and dance. We have to be prepared to work as hard as Rabi Akiva did. We have to be prepared for the deprivation suffered by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabi Elazar. We have to be ameilim baTorah if we want to merit the blessings of rebirth and redemption.

Those fires have to burn through our surface laziness and morose feelings and spark within our souls a flame of holiness and dedication to the mesorah and to Torah. That way we will merit the realization of the prophecies discussed in the works of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, b’meheirah b’yomeinu. Amein. 

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  1. Beautiful thought Reb Pinny!

    When klal Yisroel looks back at our mesorah of putting our children first, and value them as our most precious asset, the torch will go on. As soon as we put other assets ahead of our children, both the Torah and the Mesorah chas v’shalom weaken.