Roy Neuberger - May. 17, 2019

As I write, hundreds of rockets have been falling on Israel. Our own grandchildren returned after Shabbos to their home near Ashkelon to the sound of air-raid sirens.


This follows the shooting in a California Shul.


Sefira (Sefiras Ha Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuos) is a very serious time of the year.


“Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students – from Gevat to Antipatros – and all of them died in one period because they did not treat each other respectfully. We learned in a Braisa: they all died between Pesach and Shavuos.” (Yevamos 62a)


“This tragedy was repeated on a large scale in Germany during the Omer period of the year 4856 (1096). As the First Crusade set off, entire communities were destroyed, adults and children were massacred and scholars were burned at the stake. These tragedies were repeated …on an even larger scale in the years 5408-5409 (1648-9) during the riots fomented in Poland by Bogdan Chmielnicki, may his name and memory be erased.” (Book of Our Heritage)


Last week, I mentioned a remarkable comment from Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, which I would like to amplify. “The availus of the Three Weeks … is mourning the Churban Habayis, but losing twenty-four thousand of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim is an even greater catastrophe … even though it is not mentioned in the Mishna or Gemora.”


This catastrophe, according to Rabbi Heinemann, “affects us to this very day…. [Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim were] all Tannaim. If they would have remained alive, the … next generation would have been filled with twenty-four thousand roshei yeshiva instead of the five who emerged as Rabbi Akiva’s eventual talmidim. It could be that there would never have been reform or conservative movements because Klal Yisroel would have been filled with talmidei chachamim. The biggest availus (mourning) is the Torah lost to Klal Yisroel from this generation.”


What caused this catastrophe? “There was a subtle lack of kovod (honor and respect) for one another which was enough for Hashem to require beginning anew the mission of giving the Torah to the next generation with absolute purity. This is similar to an angle which slants at an eighth of a degree, which is hardly [noticeable]. However, after a foot, these lines develop visible differences.” (Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Halachos of Sefiras Haomer and Shavuos)


My friends, our spiritual and physical existence depends upon extreme care in the personal honor we extend to one another. Subtle interactions can affect our personal and national redemption. I would like to suggest a few examples:


  • * When you enter a shul for the first time, do you first inquire whether your seat is someone's regular place to sit?
  • * Are you careful not to disturb your neighbor's prayer? Maybe you are too loud.
  • * Do you greet another Jew with “Shalom Aleichem” and a smile?


We have entered the Month of Iyar. The letters of its name are the first letters of the following sentence in the Torah: “Ani Hashem Rofecha … I am Hashem your healer.” (Exodus 15:26) This is a month of attack and also a month of healing. The seeds of both redemption and tragedy are here. The Days of Sefira combine unparalleled national tragedy with spiritual elevation. We are approaching L’ag B’Omer, the day of healing.


May we arrive at Hashem’s doorstep “k’ish echad b’lev echad… as one man with one heart” and merit that the Shechina – the Presence of G-ddwells with us eternally!


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