Vol 32.23 - Lag B'Omer              Spanish French Audio  Video

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Talmud Yerushalmi

(5746) Why did all the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva die "in the same period?";
The similarity to the story in Tal. Yerushalmi (Sanh.1:2) of the twenty-four carriages (of students) of Beit Rebbe,
who "all died "in the same period".

The connection to the Hillulah d'Rashbi (the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai)



1. There is a well-known story in the Talmud that R’ Akiva had twenty-four thousand pairs of students…and all of them died in the same period (between Pesach and Shavuot) because they did not act with honor towards each other. And on Lag B’omer-“they stopped dying.”

This story seemingly requires explanation.

It is a simple thing that all of these students, - and such a great number as twenty-four thousand - did not come and become students in one day (period), but rather, over the course of many years.

In other words, when R’ Akiva started to learn with students and his name and Torah teachings became publicized in the world, students began to flock to him and in the course of time his students numbers increased until he had 24,000 students.

In the same vein it is understood that the character of all the students did not change at one time, to a degree where they “did not give honor to each other”, but it progressed from one level to another etc.

It is very puzzling:

Why did they all get punished in one period” – it is extremely difficult to say that in this short timeframe of “one period” (between Pesach and Shavuot) that the culpability of all the 24,000 students was filled at the same time - and so much so that that they were deserving of a death sentence.

Therefore one must say that, in this period, there must have occurred some specific thing, which because of it, caused them “all to die” at this “time”.

2. One could answer, by prefacing a general explanation of why the students of R. Akiva did not “give honor to each other”, because it is puzzling.

The teacher of these students, R’ Akiva, was the Tanna that stressed the greatness of the exemplary quality of Ahavat Yisroel – (as it states:) “v’Ahavta leReiyacha komocha” (You shall love your neighbor as yourself) - R. Akiva says that this a major tenet in the Torah (klal godol baTorah). Therefore, it is very surprising that specifically his students did “not give honor to each other” – contrary to the concept of Ahavat Yisroel (which was a principal and foundational lesson of their teacher’s Torah)?

Yet as is explained in another place, on the contrary, (the reason for their conduct) was specifically since they were students of R’ Akiva, this caused that they did not give honor one to another.

The explanation is:

The sages say that the thoughts of people are not the same. And as is understood, this also applied to the 24,000 students of R’ Akiva. Each one comprehended the Torah of R. Akiva according to his own understanding and manner. And with his reasoning, each student concluded that certainly, the way he understood it, was the true explanation of the words of R. Akiva. Therefore, when the student heard that his colleague learned the words of his teacher in a different way - and incorrectly, according to his opinion - he was not able to give his colleague honor and worthiness - because his colleague was learning the words of his teacher in an incorrect manner!

And it is understood that the act of just giving honor another outwardly - is not fitting for the students of R. Akiva. For certainly they were “men of truth” and acted outwardly as well as inwardly (tocho kebaro). Thus they were incapable of conducting themselves in a manner of “saying one thing and feeling another”

Thus, specifically since they were the “students of R. Akiva”, that is the reason they did not give honor to each other.

(The explanation for this is:)

Each one of the students of R. Akiva was dedicated and committed, with all of his soul, to the teachings of their master. So much so, that they were unable to withstand someone incorrectly interpreting (in their opinion), the teaching of their master (not according to halacha). This was especially so since this (other) person “making the mistake” (to’eh) (of the Torah of R. Akiva) was also (himself) a student of R. Akiva.

Thus it was simple that he was not able to give the other student honor.

Moreover, this conduct has a basis, specifically because of the aforementioned foundational teaching of R. Akiva

who was the author of: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself - this a major tenet in the Torah”

Without this lesson, it is possible that it wouldn’t have bothered them so much if there was a student who did not understand the Torah of their teacher truthfully.

But since their teacher R. Akiva, taught them the quality of fulfilling the Mitzvah of “loving your neighbor as yourself”, it was not sufficient that they themselves struggled and mastered (asu chayil) the teaching of their teacher. Rather, each one endeavored to influence everyone, who was in the category of “neighbor”, and especially the (other) students of their teacher, that they should also understand the Torah of their teacher in the same true manner (as they viewed it). And those who did not accept this (view of theirs) were undeserving of honor (especially honor that was deserving of the students of R. Akiva)

3. Accordingly, we can (also) understand it from the opposite perspective:

Although, it is understood that this is not a proper conduct befitting the students of R. Akiva,

 For although their views are different, it should not detract from the bonds of honor between them. Each one needs to make room also for the opinion of his colleague, [since even this is an opinion in Torah (as it states) “Both of them are the words of the Living G-d”]. Thus, their negative conduct is considered inappropriate, particularly according to the degree of their stature

nevertheless, how is it possible to say that solely due to such a “sin”, they should be punished with such a harsh punishment that “they all died”?

And particularly according to the above, it is understood, that we are not speaking about disparaging another person, G-d forbid (and certainly not an aspect of diminished love, G-d forbid – contrary to their master’s teaching).

Rather it is (just) a lack of feeling true honor (for this is as must befit (K’deboye) the students of R’ Akiva). And, in this itself, it is (just) due to (heated debates of) the “battles of Torah” (Milchamta shel Torah) in which we have faith, that (even though they “become enemies of each other” - ) “they do not stir from there until they come to love each other, as it is written: “Love is at the end”

(Note: The actual verse is “Concerning this it is told in the account of the Wars of the L-rd, "What He gave (vaheiv) at the (Sea of) Reeds (be-sufah) etc. The word “gave” (vaheiv) is similar to the word “love” (aheiv), and the word “Reeds” (be-sufah) is similar to the word “the end” (be-sofah) - meaning that disputes in Torah interpretation — eventually ends in love’)

And one could say that this why the sages used the precise phrase: “they all died in one period”. For this teaches us that their death was not just because of their aforementioned sin, that they “did not give honor to each other” but (also) as a result of the special aspect of this “period”. The time ultimately caused their death.

4.) This could be understood according to another story of the sages, that we find, that cites this same expression “They all died in one period”

It says in the Talmud Yerushalmi: “There was a story that twenty four carriages (kariyot/kronot) of the students of Beit Rebbi, that went to inter-calculate the year in Lod , were affected by an evil eye (Ayin Hara) and “they all died in one period

With this saying of the sages, the (only) reason given for their death (is because there were gathered there so many students, “twenty-four wagons” - therefore) they were affected by an ayin hara.

One could say that from this story we can learn in our case

(which states the same phrase (and situation) - “They all died in one period” –

 that the reason for the death of the students of R’ Akiva in “one period” was because at that time, their numbers reached twenty-four thousand - an exceedingly great number

[and specifically, one that is associated with - the number 24 - which is connected to the attribute of judgment (din).

(which is understood from the Zohar that cites concerning the “twenty-four courts of law”)

and like this aforementioned number cited in the Talmud Yerushalmi which was twenty-four wagons). This caused that they were affected by an ayin harah so much so that “they all died”

And this is not a contradiction to that which is explained in the Talmud Bavli that they died because “they did give honor to each other” – Because both reasons contributed and caused it:

·         That they did not “give honor to each other” was not, in itself, such a great sin that they should be punished because of that with the sentence of death, as mentioned above.

·         Yet because, at that “period” they were affected by an ayin harah, they were also punished for the minor sin “not giving honor to each other”

Perhaps, one could say that this is like we find (in Talmud Menachot 41a) that:

“In a time of wrath they punish’, even one who omits rushing to perform the Mitzvah of Tzitzit (even though one is exempt from purchasing a Taliit just in order to attach Tzitzit to it), and other similar cases.

5. This story concerning the students of R. Akiva who died because they did “not honor each other” is a part of Torah, which comes from the word “lesson”

(so much so, that because of this, the law was enacted that we conduct a measure of mourning in the time of Sefirah)

And it is understood from this, that even though we are speaking of the students of R. Akiva, and their greatness,

and one could say that because of this they were especially particular among themselves on the aspect of “not giving honor to each other”

nevertheless, this is brought down and we learn from this in the Torah that each one of Yisroel has to be complete in their Ahavat Yisroel, even in situations that, due to other factors, would give room to a situation where one would “not give honor to another” (as for example, the situation of the students of R. Akiva.)

 One could say that this is also connected with the (second) reason in the joy of Lag B’Omer - the Hillulah (Day of Joy/Yahrtzeit) of the Rashbi who was one of the ”last” students of R. Akiva (who learned with them after the occurrence of them “all dying”)

One of the aspects that the Sages explain regarding the conduct of Rashbi was his great exertion in the aspect of Ahavat Yisroel. As we find that immediately after leaving the cave he asked: “Is there anything that requires repairing? They said that there is place where there is a doubt of impurity (A grave or human bones having been lost there) and it is painful for the kohanim to circumvent it etc. And Rashbi immediately endeavored and repaired the thing.

This story is wondrous.

After thirteen years in the cave, during which, for such a long period, he was not able to spread Torah publicly, he seemingly should have - at the very start - gathered students and taught them Torah, specifically since Torah study was his occupation.

Yet instead, he endeavored to determine whether there was “something that needed repairing “and he endeavored to fix a place where there was a doubt of impurity that caused pain to the Kohanim.

In other words:

1.      The situation only affected a number of Kohanim that needed to cross this this path.

2.      Even they were able to go in a different way. They just had pain due to the bother of circumventing the path.

Yet nevertheless, Rashbi endeavored and exerted himself to repair the thing and to nullify this pain! So much was the greatness of the Ahavat Yisroel of the Rashbi.

And one could say that this is also the essence of the saying of the Rashbi that: “I could exempt the whole world from judgment”. Because his conduct in the aspect of Ahavat Yisroel (and Achdut (unity of) Yisroel) was at its epitome. So much so that he worried and made known and brought this and set it in Torah - his love and concern (Chibah)

( not just to Bnei Yisroel who are on the level of the “students of R. Akiva” but)

also even to those that need to be exempted from judgment.

And one could say that as the premier student of R. Akiva, he committed himself with all of his soul and might to espouse this great tenet (klal gadol) of his great teacher in the aspect of Ahavat Yisroel (this is a great tenet if the Torah)

For he rectified the aspect that “they did not honor each other” of the earlier students of R. Akiva. And also - in his Avodah and in his Torah he endowed (for a Rav (teacher) is a father) each and every one of Bnei Yisroel with the power to reach the epitome of completeness of Ahavat Yisroel,

And Rabbi Shimon suffices that we can rely upon on him in times of trouble – for in the troubles of this last Galut (for which the cause of Galut is unfounded hatred), it is sufficient to rely on Rashbi that he should exempt the whole world from judgment, and he should hasten the Geulah of all Bnei Yisroel and the Divine Presence (Shechina) which is in Galut - with a complete and true Geulah through our righteous Moshiach, speedily and in our days, mamosh.

(m;Sichas Shabbat Parshat Bechukotai 5744)


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