Two Pairs of 12,000

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30 May 2024
Lag BaOmer

I once escorted Rav Herschel Schechter, shlita, to Far Rockaway in the summer months. We got into a small discussion about Sefiras Haomer, but more specifically Lag B’Omer.

I presented to him an idea based on the Gemara in Yevamos that frames the death of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim as a loss of two pairs of 12,000. I said that perhaps the Gemara is understanding that though Rabbi Akiva made a quick stop to his wife in between his learning, nevertheless it was a break in time.

He noted to me that the Chazon Ish did in fact view this short stop as a break from learning.

If the Gemara is understood as such, then the Gemara’s framing of two sets of talmidim of 12,000 is with precision. There weren’t really 24,000 on an equal plane.

Pushing this further, it may be said that there was a lack of respect for each other amidst the talmidim simply because they weren’t a uniform group based on a continued experience. Unfortunately, this had perilous consequences.

We see a remez, hint, to this being the explanation because Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who again disseminated Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, had an exchange with his son-in-law wherein he gave 24 answers to his questions. This denoting of 24 symbolized a number of continuity, a number that could have been how the number of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim could have been framed, as 24,000.

This could answer the famous question of how the students of Rabbi Akiva could possibly perish based on a lack of respect for each other when their teacher, Rabbi Akiva, stood for love. They lacked cohesion, not love. They were of different periods, not one continuous formation.

The saving grace is Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was part of a cohesive group of a few lasting talmidim of Rabbi Akiva. He exhibited love and caring for the nation of Israel by re-establishing Torah in all places. As we celebrate his yahrzeit, we celebrate a tikkun of the 24,000 talmidim lost who didn’t have the chance to have learned during a continuous 24-year period. Reb Shimon Bar Yochai symbolizes uniformity and consistency, and that Torah can spread with no discord when there is a wholeness in receiving it.