Akiva Ben Yosef, a 40 year old man, ignorant in Torah. He is bursting with desire to know the law of Hashem, but it seems as if it's too late. He chances upon an amazing sight. There's a rock with a hole straight through it. How can this be? How can a big rock have a hole going through it? He sees a drop of water fall into the whole. He says to himself: "If a soft drop of water can make a hole in a hard stone, then the soft words of Torah can penetrate a 40 year old ignoramus as myself." This Akiva Ben Yosef realized that it was the constant dripping that eventually makes an impression. Although the hole was formed after thousands of years of chipping away, there was a first drop that hit the rock. This drop seemed to have made no impact on the rock, for no hole was able to be seen. BUT- if the first drop did nothing, then the second drop would be the same as the first drop, which did nothing. Therefore, the first drop did indeed do something, however tiny. These drops of water changed Akiva's life. He realized the significance of the first drop, the one that starts the process. If you make that first 'drop,' you can build upon it. Just as the drop of water created a great hole after constant "perseverance," so too did Akiva Ben Yosef make a great leader after much perseverance. This leader was himself-


It started from one drop, but grew to an enterprise of Torah. He became the greatest sage of the generation. His greatness was foreseen and admired by Moshe Rabbeinu! He amassed a student body of 12,000 learning partners (24,000 students). His success seemed to know no bounds.

As their greatness in Torah knowledge grew and grew, their respect for one another should have equally grown, but it didn't. Certainly, if their honor towards other people were always a problem, they would have died long before. Their problem seemed to have been in their greatness. After they became greater in Torah, Hashem expected them to be so great in their actions towards each other. Since their actions didn't meet their level of learning, they were severely punished. Pesach, the day of celebration of our nationhood, these students started to die. The disease continued for 32 days (KAVOD - honor = 32). On the 33rd day it stopped (the date was the 18th of the month of Iyar - Yud Chet Iyar, whose numerical value is equal to the words ORECH CHAI long life). The great teacher was stripped of his students. He lost it all. 24 years of toiling and succeeding lay dead on the Bait Medrash floor. The dream turned into a nightmare. This should have woke him up and divert him from his goal. If this were me, I'd pack my bags and change jobs, or something. After all, this plan failed. I'd move out of state and change my name. I'd write off the past 24 years as a 'mistake' and it would all be over.


He remembers his humble beginning, starting off with nothing. He was now left with nothing, yet he learned the lesson from the one drop of water. That is all it takes to start. Once again, with nothing, it's time for him to begin. With the threat of "Smicha" dying out, He takes Yehudah Ben Bava and teaches him for Smicha. The drop of water was dropped. The process starts again. Rabbi Akiva takes five remaining students and starts teaching them for Smicha. Rabbi Akiva is killed by the Roman army, but Rabbi Yehudah Ben Bava takes his teacher's place. He gives Smicha to those 5 students who spread Torah throughout the nation. Rabbi Yehuda Ben Bava was killed by the Roman army, but now the process of Smicha continues through the other 5 students.

The Torah we learn today is largely based on the teachings of these 5 rabbis. Everything could have been lost, had it not been for the lesson of the one drop of water. Instead, everything was saved. Instead of giving up, Rabbi Akiva started again. After the destruction came the reconstruction

This is L'ag B'Omer- Don't give up-start again.
This is what has kept us alive as a nation for thousands of years of persecution.
When an American officer walked through the horrors of the concentration camp moments after its' liberation, he was shocked at the atrocities which the victims had undergone. European Jewry disintegrated in the ovens of the camps. Centuries of our heritage ascended the heavens in the smoke of those ovens. A bony figure lay half dead by the feet of the officer. Two eyes looked up at the officer and said: "I'm sorry but can you please find for me a Gomorrah 'Moed Koton?' I have Yahrtzeit for my father in a few days and promised him on the day he was killed to make a Siyum (completion) yearly on that Gemorah."


One of the great students of Rabbi Akiva who wasn't killed off by the disease was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon was known for his teaching and writing of the "Kabbala" (hidden part of Torah). From creation of Adam, till today, there has always been the hidden secrets of the Torah. This knowledge was only known by the greatest Chachomim. Rabbi Shimon taught these secrets and wrote them down for all Chachomim to study (The Chachomim who study the Kabbala are known as "Mekubalim"). The day Rabbi Shimon was going to die, he revealed a great amount of the hidden Torah. The hour was getting late, but he wasn't finished. It was time for the sun to set, but there was lots more he wanted to impart to his students. A miracle occurred and the sun didn't set until he was done! What Minhag do we have that might stem from this? Answer: The same Minhag that stems from this story; While his students were by his deathbed, Rabbi Shimon spoke his last holy words. His soul left his body and a fire broke out around him. The fire burned all night long. In the morning, There was a disagreement as to where his holy body should be buried. In the midst of the dispute, a fire appeared before his coffin and he was lifted into mid-air. The body floated to the cave in Meiron, where it remains till today. Well, have you guessed our Minhag yet?

Answer: We have a Minhag to light bonfires in the honor of Rabbi Shimon.

There's also a Minhag to let a boy's hair grow for the first 3 years and cut it on L'ag B'Omer. The "Payot" are left uncut to educate the child in the mitzvah of "Payot."

1923- Thousands of Jews flocked to the grave of Rabbi Shimon in Meiron. The rejoicing was interrupted, when the report of a 3 year old child who suddenly died, reached the ears of all. The mother's cries were heard by all. It sent shivers down everyone's back. The crowd was pushed aside and the bereaved mother came through with the dead child. She entered the cave where Rabbi Shimon was buried and placed the child on the ground. The mother called out to Hashem; "I have come here to have the hair cut of my only child. When he was born, I made up my mind to bring him here to Meiron for the joyous occasion. Now I have to return without my child. Please do not let me go back without my child. Bring glory to your name and return my child to me in front of the eyes of all to see." She cried out her prayer for the G-d of Rabbi Shimon to hear her. The assembled crowd was startled to hear the mother request such a miracle. A few moments later, as she turned away, the dead body started moving. The boy got up and cried to his mother- "Mommy, Mommy, I'm thirsty - I need water." The crowd all saw the great miracle. Before their eyes, the dead was brought back to life. The sorrow was forgotten and they all celebrated in song and dance as the mother embraced her healthy son once again. The power of Rabbi Shimon is truly awesome. We must realize how holy he was and how holy his Torah is. Those who study the Holy Zohar are known to have supernatural powers. We've heard stories of Tzaddikim throughout the generations who were more angel than man. The stories are endless and true.

© 1998 by R' Matis Friedman, H.A.F.T.R.
R' Matis Friedman's email address is shprophets@aol.com

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