"Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim
from Gevas to Antipras and they all died in the same period,
between Pesach and Shavuos, because they didn't treat each
other respectfully. The world was desolate until Rabbi Akiva
came to our teachers in the South and taught it to them.
Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi
Elazar ben Shamua — they are the ones who established
Torah at that time" (Yevomos 62).
Besides the actual punishment that Rabbi Akiva's
talmidim sustained, the world was in terrible danger,
as the gemora says — "the world was desolate
until Rabbi Akiva came to our teachers in the South and
taught it to them."
Rabbi Akiva's talmidim were all on the level of
Tannaim. When they perished, the world was desolate
— and it was all because they didn't treat each other
respectfully, though this too, was obviously only a
shortcoming for people of their caliber, their holiness and
their greatness. The gemora doesn't say that they
chas vesholom caused each other pain or transgressed
the aveiroh of distressing a fellow Jew. For people of
their tremendous stature and holiness, something was missing
in the qualities that are requisite for acquiring Torah.
By failing to treat each other respectfully, by failing to
share each other's burdens, to judge each other favorably, or
to love Hashem and other people, Torah could not remain with
them; it could not be transmitted by them to the world.
Rabbi Akiva's five subsequent talmidim — "our
teachers in the South" — were suitable transmitters of
Torah. Since the traits through which Torah is acquired were
flawed in the original talmidim, Torah could not
remain in the world to be conveyed to future generations
Torah's transmission is conditional on the existence in the
transmitter of the traits through which it is acquired.
Hashem wanted Torah to pass on to future generations through
"our teachers in the South," who possessed all these traits
to perfection and were therefore worthy of continuing the
chain of tradition.
On the one hand, it is a very great merit for individuals to
have been the means of conveying something to future
generations that ought to have been conveyed by thousands. We
should understand that nowadays, in our generation, we also
need people to continue the chain of the Torah tradition. We
are aware of how desolate our world is and how great a merit
it is to be occupied with Torah, to toil and labor over its
study and to make it one's fixed occupation. We must train
ourselves in feeling what a great merit this is.
On the other hand, it involves bearing a threefold
responsibility. First, responsibility for [increasing]
Heaven's glory, through our Torah study being everything that
it should. Second, responsibility towards ourselves, to
fulfill our own potential. And third, responsibility towards
others and to the world at large, especially to our immediate
environment to ensure that it is properly fortified for
This is particularly incumbent upon those who spend their
time within the beis hamedrash, a place where they are
more likely to encounter the means and the traits of Torah's
acquisition and the path to attaining perfection.
We ought to be aware of the following: If a person is charged
with carrying the king's crown, although he is responsible
for doing any task that is entrusted to him, imagine the
responsibility he'll feel if he is given the king's crown to
bear — and not in peace time but during a war when
there are enemies who want to destroy and wreak damage.
Today, every ben Torah whose fixed occupation is Torah
study has been entrusted with a tremendously great task. He
has been given Torah, which is the crown of Hashem the King
of the world, and he is responsible for Heaven's glory. A
person should know that he's been given a job and that he is
expected to protect and to broaden and to strengthen
"From the day that the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed,
all that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has in His world are the
dalet amos of halochoh" (Brochos 8). The
storehouse of yiras Shomayim cannot exist without the
dalet amos of halochoh. This is what "Hashem has in
His world," meaning that all connection to Him, all that He
bestows and His entire relationship with the world, is
[through] the dalet amos of halochoh.
We are thus responsible for ensuring that those dalet
amos are in every way as they are supposed to be, without
any blemish or fault to prevent Hashem's Shechinah
from drawing close and coming to rest.
The posuk says, "For Hashem will judge His people and
will have mercy on His servants, for He will see that the
[enemy's] hand grows ever more [powerful] and that none are
held [in check — otzur] or
strengthened (ozuve)" (Devorim 32:36).
Rashi explains: "Held, means rescued by a savior or a
ruler who holds the people in check. Strengthened,
means by someone who fortifies . . ."
This is the most difficult period, when everyone goes his own
way. While leadership is necessary at all times, it is doubly
important at a time of war and when in danger. Actions need
to be coordinated. If they are not and everyone takes his own
path, it can lead to catastrophe and defeat, chas
The posuk should have used the words, "there is no
ruler or fortifier," referring to the absence
of leaders — we don't have Rav Yisroel Salanter, Rabbi
Akiva Eiger or Rav Chaim Volozhiner because the main point is
that we don't have rulers or fortifiers. Instead, the
posuk says that "none are held [by the ruler]
or strengthened [by the fortifier]" referring to the
objects of the actions rather than those who carry them
The explanation is that even though to an extent, things do
exist that hold people in check — environment and
regulations — they do not receive these measures
properly. Everyone follows his own path, even though it seems
to him to be a good and upright path. As the posuk
says, "Every man's path appears straight in his own eyes"
(Mishlei 21:2) [i.e. he is still striking out on his
own rather than being held].
Whatever a person thinks and wants seems to him correct. The
main difficulty of this period is that "`none are held or
strengthened' — saved by a ruler or strengthened by a
fortifier," the shortcoming being with the recipients of the
action. The understanding and comprehension of how to be
acted upon is lacking.