Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
This week we read about the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky (Rov and Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, 1891-1986) quotes a midrash which attributes this mitzvah to the fact that the Jewish people expected that the Torah would be given immediately upon leaving Mitzrayim. When this did not happen, they asked Moshe Rabeinu for an explanation. Moshe told them that Hashem expects a 50-day preparatory period before the Torah would be given. The Jews began counting the days until Matan Torah as they prepared their minds and souls for their encounter with G-D and the receiving of the Torah. To remember this special anticipatory period, the Torah made a mitzvah to remember and capture the excitement we had when we prepared to receive the Torah.
Reb Yaakov z”l connects this idea to another theme of the sefira days, the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) tells us that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students and they all passed away during the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos because they “did not give honor to each other.” Why was this failure visited upon Rabbi Akiva’s students during this time in particular?
Reb Yaakov explains that the sefira period is supposed to take us back to the freshness and excitement we had regarding the gift of Torah. When someone really cherishes an idea and an ideal, they cannot get enough of it. If the students of Rabbi Akiva, who no doubt were very learned, would have been sufficiently excited about learning Torah, they would have given each other respect and gotten along so that they could have gained insight or Torah thought from each other. Once there was competitiveness and disrespect, it showed that they were not relating to Torah learning as the greatest opportunity and exhilarating experience; it was content to be mastered. This was a failure for them and a desecration of the Torah ideal.
In the weeks leading up to Shavuos, we should reflect not only on our commitment to Torah learning and volume of Torah that we learn. We should also reflect on our relationship with Torah, our Ahavas HaTorah. Do we find it exciting? Is it a high priority for us to develop ourselves as people of Torah? These questions are very important because that is what Hashem wants us to develop as a ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש – a nation of priests and a holy nation.