Our Torah portion talks of the fifty days between Passover and Shavuot commonly known as Sefirat Ha’Omer. From a biblical perspective, these days relate to the barley offering brought on the second day of Passover and the wheat brought on the festival of Shavuot. These are days of hope and prayer that the produce from the ground grows fruitfully and plentifully.
In addition, this period of time certainly has something to do with the counting of time from Passover, the holiday marking our physical exodus from Egypt, to Shavuot, the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah.
So great is the anticipation of Shavuot that we count joyously one day after the other for seven full weeks hoping to reach higher and higher as we approach that moment in history when the Torah was given. It is fitting that we count up to forty-nine. This is because the number seven in Judaism symbolizes completion, wholeness and spirituality, for it is the number of Shabbat. Forty-nine is seven sets of seven, therefore the Omer period is the ultimate completion of the completion, the holiest of the holiest.
As time progressed in the history of our people, these joyous days turned into sad ones. It was between Passover and Shavuot that the students of Rabbi Akiva died. According to tradition, death came because these learned men were involved in endless dispute. The relationships between these individuals who carried the potential for such greatness broke down resulting in backbiting and a totally ruptured community.
My son Rabbi Dr. Dov Weiss points out that perhaps it is not a coincidence that Rabbi Akiva’s students died during the very days when we count toward the giving of the Torah. No doubt the rabbis led the way in the count toward Shavuot, as rabbis are the teachers par excellence of Torah. Yet, it is these same rabbis who became involved in deep conflict. Rather than these days being joyous they became days of mourning.
Too often Torah scholars become so engrossed in the understanding of Torah that they begin to believe their approach is the only correct one. They often cannot see the truth in any other view. In our communities we too very often see how rabbis and community leaders fail to see any truth in someone else’s view even if it legitimate, creating havoc and endless strife.
It has been suggested that different views are recorded in the Talmud to remind us that while one should continue to focus and deepen his or her view of Torah, it should not lead to tunnel vision. Different outlooks should respect one another. Sefirat Ha’Omer reminds us that we should intensely journey toward Torah, but while we do so we should not possess tunnel vision; we should open the windows and let the winds enter our minds, our bodies and our souls.
About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.
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