It is no coincidence that so many days of significance fall between
Pesach and Shavu’ot. The Omer, with its anticipation for Matan Torah, the customs of mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim, Yom Hasho’a, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. All these charged days fall between our birth as a people (Pesach) and the day our communal destiny was revealed to us (Shavu’ot). It is a time period when our national identity was – and continues to – formulate, and take shape.
It is easy to get swept up in the lofty ideas and emotional rollercoaster of these days but within them hide a small but profound truth we cannot forget.
The students of Rabbi Akiva, we are told, died in a מגפה as they were not נוהג כבוד זה בזה (did not treat each other with respect). Most people understand the word מגפה to mean disease, when in fact it is used many times in Tanach to describe loosing in battle (e.g. see Shmuel II, 18, 6).
The students of Rabbi Akiva did not die in a pandemic, rather, were killed during the Bar Kochva Revolt. They too, recognized the significance of this time period and, under the guidance of Rabbi Akiva, joined the battle for Jewish Independence, both physical and spiritual. But, they were so caught up in the lofty ideas and endeavours they forgot the most basic of Jewish principles – ואהבת לרעך כמוך and that one must treat their fellow Jew with respect and dignity. That is also (one of) the reasons they failed. No matter the strength of our motivation, the fortitude of our conviction or depth of our ideology, it is worth little without the cliché truth that we must treat those around us with respect and dignity. There is no hope for national success without the existence first of respect for one and other. It is a message as poignant today as it was back then.
Much will be said and experienced during the upcoming weeks. We look forward to it all expectedly, but may the simplest of Jewish truths serve as their foundation, ensuring the continued realization of our national hopes and dreams.