As we reach the Lag BaOmer milestone, we are faced with a perplexing question: What is really the sudden cause for celebration at this time? After all, from what we know of our past during the Omer period, 24,000 senior scholars--the students of Rebbe Akiva passed away for not properly respecting each other; even Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the surviving students, eventually passed away on this day; later, the Crusades took their great toll on Ashkenazic Jewry during Sefira; then, the great Posek for Ashkenazim, the Rema passed away on Lag BaOmer, like Rebbe Shimon; and, most recently, much of Hungarian Jewry was hurriedly annihilated during the period from Pesach to Shavuos in 1944--to such an extent that the survivors of Hungarian Jewry who do not know when their relatives or friends were murdered observe the Second Day of Shavuos as their Yahrzeit. So, what is the joy--the songs, the bonfires, the bows and arrows about? Why are weddings allowed, and Tachanun not recited?
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita (following the lines of the Gra's Commentary on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim, 493) teaches we celebrate that in all events, there were those who remained. Indeed, the resemblance in all of the aforementioned tragedies is striking: Rebbe Shimon passed his legacy to his students (it is no coincidence that so many other future generations of Tannaim are buried right around Rebbe Shimon in Meron). Similarly, even after the Crusader massacres killing Rabbeinu Tam and many others in many communities, the Baalei Tosfos flourished for many generations, culminating in the Rosh, and his son, the Tur, as the basis for our Shulchan Aruch; the Rema, rather than being the final word in Halacha for Ashkenazim, became the basis and guide for the scores of future poskim; the remnants of Hungarian Jewry fill the Yeshivas from Bnei Brak to Borough Park.
But it is more than that we are just survivors. It is the fulfillment of the Posuk (Devorim 32:23): 'Chitzai Achaleh Bom'--I will finish my arrows in them--which Chazal (Sotah 9A) explain to mean--my arrows will be finished in them, but they will not be finished. Hashem has guided us through events, times, places and tragedies of immense proportions, while the other 70 nations of the world disappeared from far less calamitous events. Perhaps this is the symbol of the bow and arrow on Lag BaOmer--the arrows are done, but we are not. Why is this so--why has our history--our experience in this world been so different than all other nations?
We suggest that the answer to this, too, brings us to this time of year--it is, once again, not coincidental that all of this is happening as we prepare to receive the Torah--for it **IS THE TORAH** that has made our lives so different and so endurable. It is the Torah, created well before the world as we know it was created, that has given us the 'supernatural' force for us to thrive and survive. At this special time of year, we should especially demonstrate our recognition of the importance of Torah in our lives and in the lives of Klal Yisroel.
PRACTICAL SUGGESTION: For the coming two weeks until Shavuos, in whatever you are learning, whether it is a thought on the Parsha, Daf Yomi, or even a Torah email, think about how important Torah study in our lives. It is not academics, nor a body of knowledge, but the one part of our life that permeates and invigorates us--and the bonfire that warms and enlightens us every day of our lives.
reprinted with permission from Hakhel MIS