We are now in the period of Sefiras ha’Omer during which we observe certain customs of mourning over the loss of 12,000 pairs of talmidim of Rabbi Akiva.
The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) says that when Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim died, the world was shamem (desolate). Rashi explains that the Torah was forgotten. When Rabbi Akiva began teaching his final five talmidim, the Gemara says Torah was restored to the world.
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, whose yahrtzeit is on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, says that this Gemara teaches us that Torah is unlike any other knowledge or discipline. While there is a yeshiva in existence, the world is full of Torah knowledge. The moment it ceases to exist, the Torah is forgotten from the entire world. When the yeshiva returns, immediately the world is filled with Torah again.
On a similar note, the Torah says, “And these are the progeny of Aharon and Moshe on the day Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai” (Bamidbar 3:1). Yet, the Torah then proceeds to only mention Aharon’s children. Rashi explains that since Moshe taught his nephews Torah, they are considered his sons. But why does the Torah juxtapose the words “And these are the progeny of Ahraon and Moshe” to the words “on the day Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai”? Did they become Moshe’s “sons” in one day?
The Rambam in the beginning of his hakdamah to Yad Hachazaka lists the chain of the mesora beginning with Moshe Rabbenu and culminating with Ravina and Rav Ashi who authored the Talmud Bavli. Aharon’s son, Elazar, is mentioned as one of the mekabelim of the Torah from Moshe Rabbenu. As we mentioned, Torah is unlike other disciplines. Rav Moshe Shmuel (Bamidbar 3:1) explains that one manifestation of this fact is that Torah has the ability to transform a person. Once a person becomes a mekabel and a talmid, he immediately become nishpah from his rebbe’s Torah. Already on that very day, he is considered the son of his rebbe.
The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) quotes Rebbi as saying that the reason he became greater than his peers is because he saw Rabbi Meir’s back. Had he seen Rabbi Meir from the front, he would have become even greater, he said. We see that even just seeing an adam gadol can cause a person to become greater.
As we approach and prepare for Mattan Torah, it is important to realize that the Torah spreads in a manner that is unlike any natural knowledge. We must use this to our advantage. We should all look to gain as much as we can from our rebbeim and gedolim. Additionally, we should appreciate that those who are sitting in yeshiva are preserving the Torah for the rest of the world. By applying these fundamentals, we can hope to be mekabel the Torah properly again this year. Amen.