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Dear friends,
 
Shimon Bar Kochba's military victories endowed the People of Israel with nearly 3 years of national independence during 132-135 CE (Common Era); on Lag Ba'Omer we celebrate that Great Hebrew Revolt. The same rebellion, however, also led to the worst massacres of Jews in ancient times, and the Exile of most of our People from almost all of our ancestral Land of Israel. Bar Kochba's war began in the hills of Judea and carried as far afield as Beit She'an in Lower Galilee. It cost Rome and its Empire the utter destruction of 2 Legions out of 12 eventually sent to crush the Jewish rebels in a massive expedition involving huge troop numbers led by Julius Severus, the best Roman general of the time, summoned from as far away as Britannia.
 
The massacre that followed Bar Kochba's final defeat challenged the theology of Chaz"al, those holy Sages who bequeathed the Oral Torah and forged Judaism as we know it today. Unable to accept that the vast catastrophe which befell our People was merely due to military defeat, our Sages explained that what happened was caused by tremendous division amongst the Jews in general, and, in particular, among the students of the greatest Sage at that time of the Oral Torah, Rabbi Akiva:
“It was said that Rabbi Akiba had twelve thousand pairs of disciples, from Gabbatha to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolated…” 
 
The Talmudic text would seem to leave us in despair. The strength of the Jewish people, their education, their transmission, ended with the death of their Masters. But the same text immediately continues with the light of hope:
“…until Rabbi Akiba came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shim’on and Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time.”[1]
 
Our Sages taught us that the Jewish People, though bereft of a national life, could and would be sustained by educating future generations. So long as that education was guaranteed, even after such a genocidal horror, the Jewish future would be secured. Thus, Jewish education is central to the life of the People of Israel. But how could a future possibly be built without transmitting values, content, and ideological commitment unshaped by a shared National purpose...? If the messages that shaped our People could not be maintained or disseminated to successive generations, how could the People continue in the wake of such immense tragedy? Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shim’on and Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua supplied the answers – indeed immediately, amongst the surviving remnants & generations who survived the Roman devastation of our People. Their students guaranteed Judaism's survival and future, and their students' students, and in turn, their students, and so on, right up to the present day: their teachings preserved our values, traditions and the annals of our past history, projected it forwards, molded and maintained a Jewish national consciousness, identity, and solidarity that transcended the borders and physical boundaries of the countries where our People were dispersed to for so many centuries. For that reason, to this day we celebrate Lag Ba'Omer, despite the vast tragedy that followed Bar Kochba's defeat: it leaves us committed to transmit Judaism as the key to the actual life and future hope of our People.
 
May the light of our glorious Lag BaOmer bonfires
illuminate our present and the bright promise of our future;
May this Festival kindle and sustain the spirit of our long national continuity!
 
Lag BaOmer Sameach!
Chazak ve'Ematz!
 
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union
 
 
[1] Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b.