Behukotai-Everybody counts

The last couple of weeks, and in general this whole period of time between Pesach and Shavuot deserve a good examination.  Last week, we commemorated the passing of R’ Meir (on Pesach Sheini, the 15 of Iyar), and the week we commemorated the passing of R’ Shimon (yesterday, the 18 of Iyar).  Both were very important sages and both were students of R’ Akiva, the “father” of the Talmud.  Only five of R’ Akiva’s twenty-four thousand students survived a plague that struck at the time, and we are left to wonder why this occurred. What terrible sin did these very accomplished and lofty souls commit that they all deserved to die?  The rabbis tell us that it was because they did not conduct themselves with respect toward one another; they did not recognize or give credence to the other person’s spiritual approach.

The problem with this explanation is that it was R’ Akiva who taught them the principle of love of a fellow Jew.  He was famous for declaring that, “Love of a fellow Jew is a great general principle of the Torah.”  And we can be certain that his students did not ignore R’ Akiva’s teachings; quite the opposite, they certainly sought to apply his teaching to the utmost.  So, what was their failing, causing them to die because they “failed to respect one another?”

One idea is that they picked up on another trait of R’ Akiva – a trait that served R’ Akiva in good stead, but which was not appropriate for his students.  It is known that R’ Akiva very much wished to die al kiddush Hashem.  He wished to die in a manner that sanctified the name of God – and as a matter of fact, that is what happened.  He passed away as he was saying the kriat shema, uttering the word echad (“one”) as the Romans flayed his skin and tortured him. His manner of death certainly created a stir and an inspiration, but nevertheless we could ask, why was R’ Akiva so focused upon how he would die?  Couldn’t he just accept that he would die in any way that the One above would decree for him?  This certainly did not need to exclude al kiddush Hashem. However, why did it have to be obligatory?  In fact, a previous Jewish personality, our forefather Avraham Avinu, was ready to die in any manner that God decreed, including al kiddush Hashem, and because of that, he was rescued by God on more than one occasion, and lived to a ripe old age.  This is actually more exemplary than seeking a particular form of death.

Of course, the students of R’ Akiva did not necessarily seek to die in the same manner as R’ Akiva.  However, they possibly absorbed part of his attitude, which was his determination to serve the One above in a “particular” manner.  That is, they were prepared to fully dedicate themselves to serving God in one particular manner, whether it was love of God, or fear of God, or praise of God, etc, and they could not see themselves (or anyone else) serving God in any other way.  Each student was highly motivated and highly accomplished in his chosen path of avodat Hashem, and unfortunately only in that path.  They refined and perfected themselves in one particular path – and perhaps that was their downfall.

We Jews serve God in many ways, and all of us carry a little bit of the spiritual genes of all other Jews in our blood.  When we choose only one of those paths to the exclusion of all others, perhaps we end up excluding other Jews from our purview as well.  It is important to choose a particular path of serving God and to perfect it to the utmost, but at the same time we need to be cognizant of and give recognition to all other legitimate paths as well.  Perhaps this is the clue that his students failed to pick up from R’ Akiva; they saw his fiery desire to give up his life in sanctification of God’s name, and they sought to apply it to their avoda as well.  They thought that the “only” way to serve God was through their own individual approach. But, in inadvertently excluded the other students from their consideration, they stood alone rather than stand all together.  And it’s when we stand alone that we are in danger.  United we stand, divided, we fall. The more spiritually accomplished we are, the more stringently we are judged, and perhaps these students of R’ Akiva should have been more all-inclusive in their behavior.

So, how do we fix that?  What do we do now to ensure that we, the descendents of R’ Akiva and the Jews of his day, maintain proper respect for one another?  Perhaps that is why we count the omer at this time.  When counting the omer, we mention that on this particular night, we wish to rectify one sephira, or soul-attribute, not alone, but within another sephira or soul attribute.  We do not focus on only one attribute, but we focus on the inter-inclusion of the attributes together. In this way, we guarantee that our outward focus also includes others who worship God differently than ourselves.  We seek to include all of them together, even while we place emphasis upon our own particular style, and this is what brings the rectification, and ultimately, the geula (“redemption”).

For a longer more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 1,3,32, 37

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