As we all know
we are currently in the mourning period for the loss of Rabbi
Akiva’s 24.000 talmidim who died because they didn’t show “kovod”
(respect) to each other. The question that every year comes up is
“how could these big tzadkim -talmidim of the Rabbi Akiva himself- not
show respect to each other? They were such big Talmidei Chachomim, how could
they have such a big flaw of character?"
The Shem M'Shmuel answers
this question by saying that a person’s hands don’t show kovod to the
feet for moving the hand/body around, similarly the feet don’t show
kovod to the hand for holding/grasping. Kovod comes from
the recognition of "being different”. Rabbi Akiva’s
talmidim were so much into their achdus and the whole idea of Klal Yisroel
being one whole entity that they forgot about the whole thing of “being
different”. Achdus is a very good thing, and I wish that today we would
only have it more, but this unity should never make us lose sight of each and
every Jew’s individual worth and uniqueness.
In the Torah
when we are commanded to count the Omer it says “וספרתם לכם”- meaning that Sefiras Ha'Omer (counting the sefira) is
for each individual, while counting shmita for example is an obligation for
Klal Yisroel as one body carried out by the Beis Din.
The Shem m'Shmuel also brings from the gemorah in Kiddushin (38) that the 33rd
of the Omer (Lag B'Omer) is three days after the man (מן)
started to fall. Three times is what Chazal call a “chazakah” [something that’s “established”]. Until
the Man fell we were eating the food that we’d brought from Mitzrayim- food
tainted with the taste of slavery. Lag B'Omer is the day of the start of our
true freedom and break from the past.
If we take a
look at Sefer Shemos we’ll see it opens with a lot of names of individuals until we reach at the new Paro. The new Paro suddenly refers not to individual
names but only to “עם בני ישראל” -forgetting Yosef, forgetting the
relationship with the individual. This is what Mitzrayim was all about and what
slavery all depends on: on the depersonalization of the individual- because this is what causes a person to lose
respect for another’s worth. Until Lag B'Omer we lived on the “food of
Mitzrayim”, we kept some element of only looking at the group instead
of focusing on the individual person. And this was the mistake even
Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim made. Even though achdus is a very good thing and Rabbi
Akiva’s talmidim only had the very best intentions of wanting to fully see the
Jewish People as a Klal -as one body- we should never lose others’ and our own
Lag B'Omer is the time to break this mindset of Mitzrayim and recognize the
value and uniqueness of each and every single Jew.
May we all always recognize each other’s uniqueness.