"If you follow my statutes … I will send rain in its time… and you will live securely in the Land" (Vayikra 26:3-5).
The Midrash commenting on this pasuk explains that fulfilling the statutes brings a person to the World to Come. The pasuk (Yeshayahu 4:3) states: "Those who remain in Zion and are left in Jerusalem, all who are inscribed for life in Jerusalem shall be called holy." This refers to one who delves into Torah, which is the tree of life as it says: "It is the tree of life for those who cleave to it" (Mishlei 3:18). Rav Elazar commented: The sword and the book were given wrapped together from Heaven. Hashem said: "If you keep what is written in this book, you will be spared from the sword, but if not, you will be killed." This is learned from: "He drove man out and stationed the cherubim east of the Garden of Eden, the fiery ever turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Bereishit 3:24). The way refers to derech eretz and the tree refers to Torah (Vayikra Raba, 35:6).
Let us understand this midrash in the context of Lag Ba’omer. The day’s major personalities are Rabbi Akiva, his students (who fought for Bar Kochba), and another student, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Do we actually strengthen these great chachamim’s legacy on Lag Ba’omer? The many bonfires preoccupy the youth since Pesach. Does gathering woods (some of which is stolen or wasted) strengthen their fear of Heaven? Do they connect more with Rabbi Akiva’s and Rabbi Shimon’s Torah? Do polluting the air and causing injuries add to our spirituality enough to be worth the price?
Rabbi Akiva encouraged his students to fight for Jewish independence in our Land. They were prepared to give their life in the tent of Torah and in keeping the mitzvot, and also in physical battle against those who opposed Israeli independence.
May I be bold enough to make alternative suggestions for next year? The Torah community can spend the night delving into these topics. We should place on a pedestal the great heroes of the past who synthesized fighting for Torah and against our enemies, such as Yehoshua, David Hamelech, Rabbi Akiva, and the followers of each.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught Am Yisrael to delve into a Torah learning of faith and Jewish philosophy. Let us encourage the study of such topics along with learning practical halacha, especially on this special day.
The students of Rabi Akiva died (likely, in battle against the Romans) because they did not give respect to each other, i.e., a lack of derech eretz. During Sefirat Ha’omer, we adopt practices of mourning because of this national spiritual calamity. The sacrifices of Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rachel (who was responsible for his scholarship) was nearly obliterated due to fighting and baseless hatred, which also destroyed the Beit Hamikdash decades earlier. Specifically on this day, it is fitting to open the beit midrash doors to "extinguish the fire of dispute" that still engulfs us. This way we will follow our opening Midrash – we will guard the living Torah and merit the many blessing with which our parasha begins.
Let us all pray that we merit seeing the removal of the reasons for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and see its rebuilding soon in our days.