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The Omer

Thursday, 16th May 2019

Just imagine if we had 24,000 and not just 5 individual students!

The first 33 days of the Omer are observed as a period of mourning. We do not take haircuts, perform weddings, or listen to music. What’s the mourning all about?

Rabbi Akiva, the towering sage of the Mishna, exerted a powerful influence on the Torah scholars of his day, to the point that he had 24,000 disciples. Great as the members of this group was, they had one short-coming: They failed to show proper love and respect for one another. The tragic consequence of this shortcoming was a brief but cataclysmic epidemic that claimed the lives of these students – all 24,000 of them. The period during which the epidemic took place was none other than the first 32 days of the Omer.

To get a better idea of the impact this tragedy had on the Jewish People for posterity, consider the following facts: All of the Torah that we possess and study today, with all of its interpretations, perspectives, dimensions and applications, is all the Torah of Rabbi Akiva. Although the Oral Torah always existed, each Torah personality who immerses himself in Torah adds his own understanding and flavor to Torah, thus enriching the Torah which will be passed on to the next generation. As we shall see, the Torah we have was transmitted to us by Rabbi Akiva via the five students whom he taught after the loss of his first group of disciples.

The Torah we study today is endless. One can study for a lifetime and not “finish” it. But it is not complete. There are whole areas and dimensions of Torah that are not satisfactorily explored; there is much argument and there are many areas of confusion. All of this might well have been different had we received the full breath of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, as assimilated and interpreted by 24,000 disciples, along with their unique perspectives and understanding. The demise of the first group of students essentially resulted in our receiving only a fraction of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah. Instead of its full amplification by 24,000 great human beings, we have only the interpretations of five.

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