Arie E. Pelta
Arie E. Pelta

Lag BaOmer and Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students (part 1 of 4)

Why did 24,000 Torah Scholars die?

Lag BaOmer is a Holy day with the potential of blessing. During the era of Rabbi Akiva, a major plague stopped on this day. This is also the day that Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) died. According to one opinion, the 33rd day of the Omer is the day that the manna מן (spiritual food) in the desert, started to fall from heaven. This day connects the Shimon from the time of Shechem, Nasi Shimon (leader of his tribe) in the desert, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Yosef.

The first mention in the Tanach, of 24,000 people dying is by the story of Shechem. Yakov returned to Eretz Yisrael after being away for 36 years. He settled on land near the city of Shechem, that he legally bought. Of note, Shechem was Avraham’s first stop in Eretz Yisrael.

בראשית יב:ו

וַיַּֽעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם עַ֖ד אֵל֣וֹן מוֹרֶ֑ה וְהַכְּנַֽעֲנִ֖י אָ֥ז בָּאָֽרֶץ:

And Avram passed through the land, until the place of Shechem, until the plain of Moreh, and the Canaanites were then in the land (Bereishis 12:6).

            בראשית לג:יח

וַיָּבֹא֩ יַֽעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם עִ֣יר שְׁכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן בְּבֹא֖וֹ מִפַּדַּ֣ן אֲרָ֑ם וַיִּ֖חַן אֶת פְּנֵ֥י הָעִֽיר:

And Yakov came safely [to] the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan aram, and he encamped before the city (Bereishis 33:18).

After a short time, tragedy struck; his daughter Dina was kidnapped and subsequently raped by a man from the local city, who was also named Shechem.

In retribution, Dina’s brothers, Shimon and Levi killed Shechem and massacred the entire city which had a population of 24,000 people.  Currently, this Holy city is called Nablus by the Arabs and it is still plagued with terrorists. For some nebulous reason, Yakov was very upset with the actions of Shimon and Levi.  Superficially, he was scared of retaliation; being that the Jewish nation at the time only consisted of 13 men (Binyamin was not born yet).  Three weeks after this event, Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers (Tosafos).

Maybe Yakov was concerned about killing the progenitor of Moshiach? Moshe was forbidden to wage war with Amon and Moav for the fear of killing the family of Na’ama (mother of King Rechavam) and Rus, the mother of Moshiach ben Dovid. So too, Moshiach ben Yosef has origins from gentiles; specifically Shechem.

Shechem – The Grandfather of Moshiach

Shimon eventually married his half-sister Dinah, after he freed her from captivity. They had a daughter named Osnat, who for unknown reasons was sent away to Egypt.  She had in her possession proof of her genealogy from Yakov.  She ended up being adopted by Potifar in Egypt and was known as his daughter.  Later on, Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt and ended up marrying Osnat, the daughter of Potifar. She gave birth to his two sons Efrayim and Menashe.  Efrayim was known as the main son of Yosef.  Later on his descendant, Yehoshua became the leader who actually brought the Jewish nation into Eretz Yisrael.  We are waiting for the ultimate redemption to liberate all of the Land of Israel and to build the Beis HaMikdash.  This will be accomplished in the era of Moshiach Ben Yosef, whose origin began in the city of Shechem.

In Shechem There is Thirty-Six

There is a concept that there are always 36 Tzadikim in the world. This idea is connected to Shechem.

תלמוד בבלי, סוכה, דף לה עמוד ב

והא אמר אביי לא פחות עלמא מתלתין ושיתא צדיקי דמקבלי אפי שכינה בכל יום שנאמר (ישעיהו ל, יח) אשרי כל חוכי לו ל”ו בגימטריא תלתין ושיתא הוו .

But didn’t Abaye say: The world has no fewer than 36 Tzadikim in each generation who greet the Divine Presence every day, as it is stated: “Happy are all they that wait for Him (Lo) (Yishayahu 30:18)? The numerical value of “lo” (Him), is 36. (Talmud Bavli, Succah 45b)

Yosef was given the land of Shechem as an inheritance, by Yakov and he was also sold into slavery when he was near Shechem with his brothers (in Dosan). Yosef is eventually returned to the place that he is inherently connected with. Therefore, Yosef’s bones were removed from Egypt and eventually buried in Shechem by Yehoshua from the tribe of Efrayim.

תלמוד בבלי סוטה יג עמוד ב

מאי שנא בשכם? אמר רב חמא בר חנינא: משכם גנבוהו ולשכם נחזיר אבידתו.

The Gemara asks: What is different about Shechem that they specifically chose to bury Yosef there? Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chanina says, that the Jewish people said: His brothers kidnapped him from Shechem and to Shechem we should return his lost body (Talmud Bavli, Sota 13b).

Thirty-six is the Kabalistic number representing the final arrival and the redemption of Moshiach ben Yosef. This thought is hinted to by first letters of the words, in the second sentence of the Shema prayer.

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד = בשכם ל”ו

Blessed is the Honorable Name, His Kingdom for Ever And ever =

In Shechem, there are 36!

This cryptic phrase is not mentioned in the Torah. For this reason, this sentence is never uttered out loud in prayer, but it’s rather whispered; as if this phrase contains a secret.  When Yakov was on his deathbed, he attempted to reveal to his twelve sons and two grandsons (Efrayim/Menashe) when Moshiach ben Yosef and The Final Redemption would materialize.

בראשית נט:א

וַיִּקְרָ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב אֶל בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙ וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּאַֽחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽים:

Yakov called for his sons and said, “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days (Bereishis 59:1).

Suddenly, he lost his divine inspiration רוח הקודש. He verbally suspected that one of his descendants that was present at his bedside was not spiritually worthy to receive this Holy information.  In response, they all stated in unison, “Listen Israel (Yakov), Adonay is our G-d, Adonay is One!” שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד.

Satisfied with this statement, Yaakov himself replied, “Blessed is the Honor of His Kingdom forever and ever” ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד.  In this way, he cryptically revealed to his descendants, that the secret of the Moshiach who brings the Redemption, is found in Shechem.

Yakov told his children at his deathbed when Moshiach would arrive:

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד = בשכם לו

The first letters spell out the message: “In Shechem, 36”.

“ברוך שם” represents our belief that G-d orchestrates the events of history. This verse alludes to the day when G-d will stop working “undercover” and reveal Himself to humanity in an obvious manner.

The number “36” represents the final redemption.גאולה The Holy first “light” of creation known as the “Primordial light of creation”  or Ohr HaTikun, only shone for a total of 36 hours. Adam and Chava then performed the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge and this light was hidden (Ohr HaGanuz). This light will be revealed to Tzadikim, in Eretz Yisrael, as the light of The Redemption at the time of the Geulah.

There are ten “Sefiros” or powers that describe the spiritual chain that connects G-d and our physical world. Each of the ten Sefiros has a subset of another ten Sefiros of their own. During our current exile, we can only connect with the lower six of the ten Sefiros.  This means that in our times we can only relate to six spiritual powers that have another six branches, in other words (6×6 = 36) we are supposed to relate to thirty-six Sefiros. This represents our potential to fulfill the ultimate purpose of The Creation that started with Adam and Chava in Gan Eden.

For this reason, we light a told of 36 candles on the eight days of Chanukah.  Yosef is inherently connected with Shechem because he was sold into slavery there and through his wife Osnat.  Parshas VaYeshev (the story of Shechem) is always read around Chanukah time.  In addition, the same parsha describes the origins of Moshiach ben Dovid with the story of Yehuda and Tamar.

Jews are not living in the city of Shechem today. We are not in physical possession of the holy city. The Arabs are in control of Shechem. Similar to the time of Yakov when Shechem violated Dina, they have the merit of Bris Milah. When this merit has expired, Moshiach ben Yosef can come and liberate the city.

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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