|The Torah Connection-The Students of Rabbi Akiva|
|Written by Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg|
Rabi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim (twenty-four thousand students) from Gevas until Antiparis, and they all died during one period of time because they did not treat each other with respect.
What’s the Connection?
Seforim (books) state that the twenty-four thousand talmidim of Rabi Akiva are connected to the twenty-four thousand who died in the episode of the daughters of Moav
which are connected to the twenty-four thousand people of Shechem who were killed by Shimon and Levi.
What’s the connection?
Shechem, the prince of the city of Shechem, forced himself on Yaakov’s daughter Dinah.
The sons of Yaakov were distressed with deep indignation. “… he had committed an outrage in Israel … such a thing may not be done.”
how Shimon and Levi went and avenged themselves on the whole town of twenty-four thousand.
Yaakov admonished them.
They answered, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?”
Shechem had denigrated and shamed her in an act of harlotry. The people of the town had acquiesced.
The Bnos Moav
“… and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav. They (the Bnos Moav) invited them … and they (Bnei Yisroel) bowed to their gods. Israel became attached to the Baal Peor …”
Yisroel mentioned here came from Shevet (tribe of) Shimon.
The Baal Peor
The service to Baal Peor was probably the basest and most degrading form of idol worship. It involved performing one of the bodily functions in front of the idol.
A Similar Episode
Here was a maaseh to’eivah and z’nus for which Shimon killed twenty-four thousand at the time of Dinah. Therefore, when they failed their own test of a similar nisayon, the onesh (punishment) was also twenty-four thousand.
It meant that the previous incident of Shechem was not as pure as they had thought but rather as Yaakov had said to them.
“The three avos are in contradistinction to the three major aveiros … Yaakov is opposite killing … for Yaakov is life. Yaakov Avinu lo meis (did not die).”
There are various levels in everything. Chazal tell us that someone who embarrasses someone in public, it’s as if he had killed him. It doesn’t mean that the perpetrator will get the death penalty if he does so. In the same way, showing someone disrespect and lack of honor is also a step in that direction. You have no regard for him. You are removed from him. He is lacking a certain amount of meaning and importance to you. In a sense, to be removed has in it an aspect of the ultimate removal.
Chazal tell us,
“Kol hamechabed es hatorah gufo mechubad al habriyos (Whoever honors the Torah is himself honored by people).”
Elsewhere, Chazal tell us,
“Eizehu mechubad, hamechabed es habriyos (Who is honored, he who honors others).” The two come together when the other person is a talmid chochom (one who knows Torah). If one does not honor such a person, he himself is lacking honor.
There are various strands here that we have been attempting to weave together. Some are more pronounced here. Some are more pronounced there. Shimon and Levi attacked the town of Shechem. Their argument was that “nevolah asa b’Yisroel … cain lo yei’osah … hakezonah ya’aseh es achoseinu?” They avenged the honor of Dinah. At the same time they lowered the prestige of Yaakov – (a) in the eyes of the surrounding peoples, (b) they did not ask Yaakov’s advice.
Yet Yisroel committed harlotry with the daughters of Moav, which in itself lowers prestige
and certainly in the form of service to the baal peor. This lack of kovod extended itself to Rabi Akiva’s talmidim who did not show the proper respect for each other, although for different reasons.
1 Between Pesach and Shavuos. Because of this episode, this period of time (or at least thirty-two days of it) has become a time of mourning – no weddings, no music, no haircuts. The question is why. It happened two thousand years ago. The Churban (destruction of the Temple) affects us to this very day. Therefore, we still mourn to this very day. How does the death of Rabi Akiva’s students still affect us?
The answer usually given is that all the Torah that we now have comes from the five talmidim whom Rabi Akiva taught after the above episode. How much more would we have had if the twenty-four thousand had lived. For all this lost Torah we still mourn.
2 Yevamos 62b
3 Bereishis Rabah 61:3 states that they were guilty of stinginess of spirit – jealousy. How did this happen to talmidei chachomim? The following does not address Rabi Akiva’s talmidim, but may shed some light. See Alei Shur Book 1, p. 42, “A ben Torah (someone who learns Torah) possibly can have a tendency to seek kavod (honor) and specifically because of his pluses. He lives in a spiritual world far from crass desires. His yetzer hora may therefore cloak itself in a spiritual cloak – the desire for honor is more spiritual than the crass desires …” (he, therefore, needs to be more careful in this realm). See Rav Tzadok (Tzidkas Hatzadik ose 117), “One who is free from sins of desire must be more careful to guard himself regarding anger …” See Rav Tzadok Machshavos Chorutz 36, “Desire and conceit are opposing forces.” See Maharal in Ner Mitzvah and Netzach Yisroel chp. 25, “Yisroel can be more stiff-necked and tough because of their chochmah.” These tendencies are not a right to permissiveness, but explanation as to why such things can happen.
4 See Kesuvos 63a. When Rabi Akiva came back to his wife Rochel after learning for twenty-four years with his twenty-four thousand talmidim (presumably the same), Rabi Akiva said, “My Torah and yours belong to her.”
5 Numbers 25:9
6 Genesis 34:25
7 Genesis 34:2
8 To force oneself on even a besulah (non-married). The nations prohibited harlotry after the mabul (flood). Rashi ibid.
9 Ibid 25-31
10 See the commentaries on why the whole town.
11 Ibid :30. This was also one of the reasons why Yaakov did not bless them before his passing (Genesis 49:5-7).
12 Ibid 34:31
13 Numbers 25:1-3
14 Rashi ibid :6
15 Sanhedrin 106a
16 Although idolatry was in and of itself foolish, it would be a mistake to just write off idolatry as being without rhyme or reason. People then were no more foolish than they are today. A stone was the concept of the power of solidity. A tree, the concept of growth of power (as opposed to grass).
What then is the concept of the strange and debasing service of performing bodily functions in front of the Baal Peor? The concept is a very powerful one. It is as if the idol is saying, “Whatever you do, and whatever you are is fine. Perform and give me your basest function and I will readily accept it and you. You’re okay, I’m okay.”
We live in a generation that worships an all-embracing, all encompassing Baal Peor. You do your thing, I’ll do mine – abortions on demand, alternative lifestyles, etc. no problem. The Baal Peor accepts everything and everybody.
17 How come Shimon fell here and not Levi? In fact, through Levi (Pinchas) came the yeshuah. The non-brachah of Yaakov shook up Levi and benefitted them more than any brachah. They changed completely. They were the ones who learned Torah in Mitzrayim. They gave their children bris milah in Mitzrayim. They came to Moshe by the eigel. A complete transformation.
The question now is, why didn’t Yaakov’s rebuke affect Shimon in the same way? See Sefer Mei Hasholuach from the Izbitzer (Rav Tzadok’s rebbi), Book I, p. 33-4 that there are some whose tzidkus is immediately recognized. However, there are others whose actions and being need to be interpreted, defined and clarified. This may be a long time in coming (as an example, Dovid’s position as melech [king] wasn’t clarified to everyone’s satisfaction till the day when Shlomo built the Bais Hamikdash). The Izbitzer adds that when Shimon’s true stature will be clarified, his level will be higher than that of Levi. Seforim state that Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai is from Shimon and that Rabi Akiva was a gilgal (reincarnation) of Shimon himself.
18 Taanis 5b
19 Maharal, Netzach chp 4.
20 This is perhaps another reason why he didn’t want the people of Shechem killed.
21 Avos 4:8
22 Ibid 4:1
23 Rashi, Genesis 34:25
24 See Rav Tzadok, Machshavos Chorutz 36a, “… indulging one’s desires is the opposite of honor … he degrades himself.”