Sefirat Ha’Omer – Should We Not Celebrate?

On the second night of Pesach, we began counting the Omer. Night after night, for 49 nights, we count down to Shavuot, that great day on which Hashem gave us the Torah.

The days of Sefirat Ha’Omer (counting the Omer) are days of national mourning, as no weddings take place, and we don’t cut our hair, shave, or listen to music. But shouldn’t the days we spend preparing ourselves for the great gift of the Torah – the word of Hashem – be days full of joy and happiness?

So Why Do We Mourn?

It is well known that the 24,000 talmidim (students) of Rabbi Akiva passed away during this time of the year. Why? Because they did not treat each other with proper respect, such as being receptive to their chavruta’s take on Torah matters. As students of the great tanna and tzaddik (righteous person), and the future leaders of the Jewish nation, each one was expected to respect the scholarship of the other. Failure to do so reflected a lack of reverence for the Torah itself, and that is why Hashem took them from the world during the time of year that Klal Yisrael (the Jewish Nation) is busy preparing for Kabbalat HaTorah (the receiving of the Torah).

Celebrating Torah in Its Purest Form

When the dying finally ended on Lag Ba’Omer (the thirty-third day of the Omer), Rabbi Akiva was left with his five most prestigious disciples, who would carry the torch, teaching Torah to the next generation of Jews. The loss of so many talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) surely left an impact on all future generations, and for this we must mourn. But on Lag Ba’Omer, when the dying ceased, we celebrate the renaissance of Torah, Torah studied in its purest form, with proper respect for Torah scholarship.

Lag Ba’Omer – A Day of Newfound Torah Wisdom

Of course, one of these students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose yahrtzeit is on this day. On the day he passed away, he revealed to the world great mystical secrets of the Torah, and the world rejoiced over this newfound wisdom. Thousands of Jews flock to his grave in Meron, Israel, and bonfires are lit all over the world, in celebration of the great “fire” of Torah he brought to the world on this day.

By Rabbi Nechemia Levi

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