The Gemorah in Mesechta Yevamos relates that R’ Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim and they all perished within a short time. The beraisa points out that this transpired between Pesach and Shavuos.

The Shulchan Aruch paskens that the custom is to refrain from haircutting and various other minhogim of aveilus during this time frame, until Lag Ba’omer, on account of this tragedy. The Rema points out that following Lag Ba’omer, all is permitted. The Pri Chodosh wonders why after Lag Ba’omer all is permitted? What is the cause for simchah? It cannot be because the talmidim stopped dying. There were none left to die!

The Chida explains that the simcha of Lag Ba’omer is unrelated to the respite in the dying of the talmidim, based on the following gemorah. The gemorah says that R’ Akiva arrived in the south of Eretz Yisroel and formed a new group of talmidim and taught them Torah. This reestablishment of talmidei R’ Akiva is the cause for great simcha on Lag Ba’omer.
Granted, it was special that R’ Akiva was able to gather a new group of talmidim on this day, but the celebration of Lag Ba’omer throughout the ages, year after year seems somewhat excessive. What does the Chida mean?

Let us attempt to understand the depth of the Chida’s words by reviewing R’ Akiva’s life story.

He began his Torah quest at the age of forty. With tremendous toil and effort, he was able to achieve mastery of the Torah to a level that baffled even the likes of Moshe Rabeinu. He established a tremendous yeshiva consisting of twenty-four thousand talmidim, all of great stature. Then, unexpectedly, and swiftly, in a matter of several weeks, his entire student body perished tragically. His yeshiva was decimated! Done! Can one fathom the tremendous pain and agony that R’ Akiva endured? It takes much less to shatter and demoralize a person. One would imagine that R’ Akiva would have been cast into the throes of depression and despair. No way could he possibly possess the emotional fortitude to rebuild and begin from scratch, certainly not at his advanced age.

However, determined, and strong, he immediately traveled southward and gathered together a new group of talmidim and relentlessly and with great determination rebuilt-student by student. This became the foundation of the Torah and mesorah that we cling to today in the year-5781. Thus, Torah she’ba’al peh was preserved in its entirety for posterity.

This is what we celebrate on Lag Ba’omer according to the words of the Chida. R’ Akiva is eternal testimony that hope is never lost even in the bleakest of moments.
The fruits of R’ Akiva’s persistence and resolve is the legacy of R’ Shimon bar Yochai, R’ Akiva’s greatest talmid.

The mantra of Lag Ba’omer is, “Never give up- even in the most trying of times”.

When is a shofar forbidden forever?

It is forbidden to have any benefit from an object that was used for avodah zorah. If the item is owned by a non-Jew, he may nullify its function as an avodah zorah and it would then be permissible to benefit from it. If it was used as a sacrifice to the avodah zorah, however, it remains forbidden forever--regardless of the non-Jew’s intentions. Therefore, a shofar from an animal that a non-Jew sacrificed for avodah zorah is not valid for the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar. Since it will always remain forbidden, it is treated as non-existent with respect to tekiyas shofar. If a non-Jew offered just the horn itself for avodah zorah, its future use for tekiyas shofar would depend on whether this was the accepted form of service to that particular avodah zorah. If it was, the shofar is forbidden forever. If not, the non-Jew can nullify its function for avodah zorah and it can be used for tekiyas shofar.

[שו"ע תקפו, ד, משנ"ב יט, ושעה"צ לו]

Does a person “enjoy” blowing the shofar?

A person who makes a neder forbidding himself from deriving any enjoyment from a shofar may still listen to another person blow the shofar for the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar. Since the fulfillment of a mitzvah is not classified as a form of personal benefit or enjoyment, listening to the shofar is not a violation of his neder. Nonetheless, Shulchon Aruch rules that he should not be the one to blow the shofar. This is because the blower may experience auxiliary enjoyment (beyond the fulfillment of the mitzvah) from blowing the shofar. This benefit would not be covered by the mitzvah waiver. If, however, there is no other person available to blow the shofar, he is permitted to blow the exact number of sounds that are necessary to fulfill the mitzvah. In this case, we are not concerned with any possible auxiliary benefit.

[שו"ע תקפ"ו, ה, ומשנ"ב כב ושעה"צ לז]

Can a neder take effect on an action?

If a person makes a neder not to listen to a shofar, he may not listen to it even for the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Since the neder did not focus on enjoying the shofar, the rule that mitzvos are not a form of enjoyment is not applicable in this case. For such a neder to take effect mid’oraisa, some Rishonim hold that one must specify that he is forbidding himself from the shofar altogether, not only from listening to the shofar. They explain that nedarim only take effect on actual items and not on actions. Others say that as long as an object was mentioned in the neder (e.g. listening to the shofar), it takes effect min haTorahMid’rabonon, all opinions agree that the neder takes effect.

[שו"ע תקפ"ו, ה, ומשנ"ב כד]     
  • Chazal state that one who borrows another person’s objects without permission is a thief. Mitzvah objects, however, are an exception. It can be assumed that the owner would grant permission for someone to use his item for the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

  • A person who listened to tekiyos from a stolen shofar has fulfilled his obligation. This is because the primary aspect of the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar is listening to the sounds of the shofar. Sounds themselves cannot be stolen. L’chatchilah, though, it is forbidden to blow from a stolen shofar.

  • A shofar that was used for avodah zorah is disqualified from the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar. Since it is destined to be destroyed, it is as if that shofar does not exist. If the shofar is owned by a non-Jew, it may--b’dieved--be used for the mitzvah in certain circumstances.

  • Can one tekiya have two different sounds?

  • Must a shofar be free of holes?

  • Which materials may be used to plug the hole of a shofar?
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this email is for learning purposes only. Please review the Mishna Berura and Biurim U'Musafim before making a halachic decision. Hebrew words are occasionally transliterated to enable a smoother reading of the text. Common Ashkenazi pronunciation is generally used in these cases.
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