Rabbi Yitzchak Feldheim, well-known speaker, shared a fascinating shiur about Lag BaOmer on Monday evening, May 11, which was hosted by Chazaq and TorahAnytime.
Rabbi Feldheim dedicated the shiur in memory of his father who was recently niftar, Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Feldheim. He began with the question of why we celebrate Lag BaOmer. We learn that Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim stopped dying on this day. Only they all perished; so what does it mean that they stopped dying, and why are we celebrating? The shiur detailed various important ideas about Lag BaOmer and concluded with an answer to this question.
Why is a bow the symbol for Lag BaOmer? We see two times when a bow is mentioned in the Torah. One is the rainbow after the Flood and the other is when Hagar is sent away by Sarah and she sits a bowshot away from her son Yishmael who is dying of thirst.
He shared that Hagar appears in two stories in the Chumash. First, we see her when she disrespected Sarah, and Sarah was tough with her. At this point, she ran away. The second time, we see her when Sarah sends her away with Yishmael and she is wandering in the desert and runs out of water. She can’t bear to see her child die, so she leaves him under a bush and sits away from him. Rabbi Feldheim points out that in both these instances, when things grow tense or difficult, Hagar, so to speak, checks out. She can’t deal with the trouble and runs away. We see that Hagar’s flaw is that when pressure and stress come, she can’t deal with it and she leaves.
Rabbi Feldheim explained that a bow is very different from a sword. Eisav’s weapon was a sword while Yishmael’s was a bow. A sword uses direct force while a bow which uses the tension of pulling back, is indirect. It’s a spring or a machine that goes farther than a sword. When the Chumash states that Hagar sat a bowshot away, the bow symbolizes stress or tension.
Yishmael had a mother who could not deal with pressure or stress. So, he wanted to be the opposite. The Chumash says that he became the master of the bow.
Rabbi Feldheim then taught that there are three ways to deal with tension and pressure.
Check out, distract yourself, numb yourself. You are, in a sense, the target.
Be like Yishmael and become the master of the bow, which means you create the tension and the fear. He became the terrorist, the bow. He makes everyone else run away.
The proper way – the way Hashem wants us to react – is to not be a target or a bow, but to be the arrow. It uses the stress from the bow to fly farther. “Hashem says that, in situations of tension and stress, there are things you can accomplish.” Rabbi Feldheim offered the analogy of a violin or guitar. Pulling the strings is what brings out the beautiful music. “The bow is a symbol that you can accomplish unbelievable things with your tzaar.”
He went on to explain that the Flood came on Lag BaOmer. The rainbow was the sign that Hashem would never bring a Flood to destroy the world again. Rabbi Feldheim explained that the rainbow symbolizes division, with all the separate colors. On the second day of Creation, Hashem created division between the higher and lower waters, and this was not good. This is the only day where it doesn’t say, “It was good.” Hashem created this division so we would have the possibility to create perfection. Hashem provided us with that job. During the time of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in his merit there was never a rainbow; there was no division during the time that he was alive.
Rabbi Akiva’s students were divided like the rainbow. They didn’t mesh with each other. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai made the magnificent painting, bringing all the colors together. Kabalah is the tikun for the rainbow.
Rabbi Feldheim then circled back to the original question he posed. Rabbi Akiva labored for 24 years to teach his students, and they all died. He had every reason to check out, so to speak, and give up. Instead, he persevered and started over. He went through tzaar and it launched him and he became an arrow. He took the pain and turmoil and he rebuilt, so that the five students he taught became the great pillars upon which all of Torah was built. We learn from this Lag BaOmer story that turmoil and tzaar is meant to launch us to fly higher – to play music we never played before. The days of the Omer are likened to the colors in the rainbow, all separated – as we now are separated with social distancing. The rainbow is not a good thing. We are all alone. The purpose of all the colors is for us to come together and create an unbelievable painting.
This shiur can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.
By Susie Garber