The Torah instructs us to count each day from the second day of Pesach for 49 days until the Holiday of Shavuos. Today is the 28th day of the Omer count, which means the holiday of Shavuos will be in three weeks.
The Sefiras Ha’Omer counting period is observed as a semi-mourning period.
There are a few reasons given for this, most prominent is that 24,000 students of the famous Rebbe Akiva of the Mishna died during this period of time.
The Talmud reveals to us that these great students all passed away with the same ailment because they did not honor each other in a rightful manner.
Commentators explain that this was a subtle fault of theirs; only because they were on an elevated spiritual level were their shortcoming brought under extra scrutiny.
Because of this tragic shortcoming and the subsequent loss, we work on remedying their failing by conducting ourselves in a respectful manner towards others during this time period.
I share a few insightful examples of extra sensitivity:
When Eliyahu, who would later be known as the great Vilna Goan, was yet a six year old child, he went out to play with his friends only to return home a couple of minutes later. His father asked him why he returned so quickly. He replied, “I was playing with my friend on a see-saw and I realized that the only way I went up was by lowering my friend. This goes against all that I have learned!”
We get a glimpse into how the young Eliyahu became the great person who he became. Through his piety, sensitivity and good Middos – character traits – he became a great Tzaddik – righteous Sage. He was not only brilliant in Torah, he excelled in Middos as well.
Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky o.b.m. was a man of sterling character. Once, he was a passenger in a car and while they were going through an intersection he noticed a city bus with its left blinker on wishing to merge into traffic. He motioned to the driver to allow the bus to go first. The driver did as he was instructed. He then turned to Reb Yaacov and asked, “Why did the Rav let the bus to go first? After all, I had the right of way and we are pressed for time to get to our destination.”
Listen to this profound insight Reb Yaacov shared. “Yes, indeed you had the right of way. However, we are just two people in our car. The bus is carrying many people and for this reason they should have the right of way!”
Mind you, aside from the driver of the bus, I assure you no one on the bus noticed the car allowing the bus to go first. So why was it important for Reb Yaacov that the bus go first? The answer is, that character refinement is a personal exercise, it is not contingent on others recognizing what was done for them.
In the 1940’s a Jewish mother of two boys was grappling with which type of school she should enroll her children. She happened to pass a public-school during dismissal and didn’t like the disrespectful way the kids acted towards each other. As she continued on her way, she passed the Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yaacov Yosef /RJJ and was extremely impressed with the calm and respectful manner in which the students behaved at dismissal. She made her decision right then to enroll her boys in the Yeshiva.
The boys who were acting respectful and friendly to each other had no clue that their demeanor would impact a woman whose two sons eventually became great rabbis and teachers and raised beautiful families with hundreds of descendants continuing in their ways.
Tomorrow, Friday May 5th is Pesach Sheini. The Torah tells us that in the first year after the exodus of the Jews, as Passover was approaching, there were those who were ritually impure which precluded them from participating in the Pascal lamb. In their sincere interest to have a part of the Pascal lamb they presented their sentiments to our leader Moshe. Moshe asked G-d, and G-d instructed Moshe to establish a makeup date for those who couldn’t participate in the Pascal lamb on Passover. The date for the second chance is a month after Passover, on the 14th of Iyar.
Is there any significance of the 14th of Iyar in connection to Passover? The Talmud tells us that the Matzah which the Jews baked on the way out of Egypt lasted a month, until the 14th of Iyar, thus there was still a connection to their Pesach exodus.
After that, the Jews asked Moshe for food. G-d responded and began providing the Manna from Heaven for the Jews during their travels, on the 16th of Iyar.