The Gemara informs us that Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples died during Sefirah from askara, a type of lethal diphtheria or croup. The Maharsha informs us that their deaths were punishment for speaking lashon hara. This fact should jolt us as we realize that even rarefied b’nei yeshiva can stumble in this deadly sin if caught unaware!
Thus, at this time of the year, we should pick up the Chofetz Chaim’s laws on lashon hara and become more knowledgeable about the many intricacies of the directive to guard our tongue. Without properly learning these laws, we might do this ugly sin, chas v’shalom, without even realizing it.
Take for example the Chofetz Chaim’s comments in klal yud #12 where he writes that if someone fails to do you a favor and you share this fact with a friend, you have spoken lashon hara. Similarly, if you go to a town and weren’t greeted warmly and subsequently relate your experience to others, you’re guilty of defaming a whole town. (Thus, we must be very careful about making offhand remarks like “The people in that shul aren’t friendly.”)
In klal tes #5, the Chofetz Chaim charges us not to hesitate to berate our children if we hear them talking badly about people. He writes that neglecting chinuch of this sort is a primary reason why so many adults speak lashon hara.
If children grow up saying whatever they want, it will be very hard for them to restrain themselves when they’re older even if they learn how egregious speaking lashon hara is. So we must cultivate in our children a natural inhibition to speak badly about others just as we condition them from a very young age never to put forbidden food into their mouths.
Another area we should work on during Sefiras HaOmer is talmud Torah. We count the days to Mattan Torah like one might count the days to a vacation or wedding day. Our national treasure is the Torah! But Hashem doesn’t want mere lip service from us. We must examine our daily schedules to see if we spend enough time studying Torah.
The Gemara informs us, “Tchilas dino shel adam eino ela b’divrei Torah – Man’s final judgment will begin with none other than a grilling about the time he spent on Torah study.” In Masechtas Shabbos (31a), the Gemara elaborates that we will be asked by the heavenly tribunal, “K’vata ittim laTorah – Did you fix times for Torah study?”
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 155:1) writes that we should set aside a specific time of the day for learning and not violate this time even if it means losing a substantial profit. The Mishnah Berurah adds if a person must miss his appointed time, he should “pay it back” by learning double the next day!
The Biur Halacha notes that Yoreh De’ah (246:1) instructs us to have two fixed Torah study periods – one during the day and one at night. The Biur Halacha suggests studying right after Shachris and between Mincha and Maariv. Of course, some people must rush out immediately after Shacharis to catch a bus. So perhaps they can learn before Shacharis. (And people who daven Maariv right after Mincha perhaps can learn right after Maariv.)
Whatever our lifestyle, we should carve out two fixed times for Torah study in our daily schedule, even if they’re initially only five minutes each, so that we can answer the question that will determine our eternal fate (after 120 years) with a resounding “Yes!”
The Mishna Berurah writes that if a person only has a limited amount of time to study Torah, he should learn practical halachos so that he’ll know how to live like a proper Jew. Furthermore, anyone who studies halachos every day (Shaarei Teshuvah says one must learn a minimum of two) can be assured of a place in the afterlife.
One should also review the weekly parshah. Not only will it strengthen one’s emunah (writes the Chofetz Chaim in his letters); it will also lengthen one’s life (states the Gemara, Masechtos Brachos). A seder in Mishnayos is also helpful in protecting one from the fires of Gehennom (as stated in the preface to Medrash Talpios).
Finally, one should study Mussar. First, it will assist us in acquiring fear of Heaven, which is our primary purpose in life. Second, as the baalai mussar tell us, studying Mussar will inspire us to find even more time to learn!
When you set up your Torah study sessions, I strongly recommend you seek your wife’s input. That way she’ll get a great cheilik in the mitzvah and you’ll make sure that you don’t set up a time that you will have to habitually break because of her schedule.
The Mishna Berurah cautions us not to consider our fixed study sessions as the only times we study Torah. A Jew must study Torah at every opportunity! But these fixed times are sacrosanct and shouldn’t be violated except in very pressing circumstances.
In the merit of having a regular daily diet of Torah study, may we all merit the blessing of “orech yomim b’yamina b’smola osher v’kavod – long life to the Torah’s right and wealth and honor to Her left!”