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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Meaning Sefirat Ha'omer

In God's Image - Respect for Others

Precisely in these days - the days between Pesach and Shavuot - it is fitting to place special emphasis on improving our behavior and displaying respect for others.
Dedicated to the memory of
R. Meir b"r Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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Precisely in these days - the days between Pesach and Shavuot - it is fitting to place special emphasis on improving our behavior and displaying respect for others. For, as the Sages teach us (Yevamot 62b), it was during this period that twenty-four thousand of Rabbi Akiva's students died, the result of their not having shown proper respect for one another. They met a bitter death, diphtheria, a form of death that is worse than any other. It begins in the mouth and finishes in the throat. All this, despite the fact that the days between Pesach and Shavuot are viewed as favorable a period, a time of Divine compassion.

Nevertheless, because of the severity of their behavior, the lives of so many students were lost. Every individual is obligated to show respect for other human beings, to honoring one's fellow and friend. This becomes all the more true when it comes to Torah scholars. They are, on the one hand, most deserving of honor, while at the same time carry a greater obligation to honor others. The Sages of the Talmud teach that the Almighty scrutinizes the actions of his pious ones to the degree of a hairbreadth. Showing respect for other human beings, honoring one's fellow and friend - these are not trivial matters. This sort of behavior is not just some polite outer adorning. It possesses very significant value.

The Talmud relates that when Rabbi Eliezer fell ill, his disciples came to visit him. They said to him, "Rabbi, teach us the correct manner of living so that we merit entering the World to Come." He replied, "Make sure to show respect for others, prevent your sons from excessive review of the scripture, seat them between the knees of Torah scholars, and when you pray, know before whom you stand; follow this advice and you will merit entering the Word to Come" (Berachot 28b). Sensitivity towards others, then, is one of the behavior traits through which a person comes to merit a portion in the World to Come.

In this respect the Sages taught: "One who embarrasses another person in public has no portion in the World to Come." Man was created in the image of God, and may therefore enter the Word to Come. It is because he possesses a lofty and Divine soul that man is granted a portion in the lofty and Divine World to Come. Yet, one who embarrasses another in public abases the Divinity in man. Such a person loses his own Divine image, thereby forfeiting his portion in the World to Come. On the other hand, one who is careful about honoring his fellow, demonstrates that he appreciates and recognizes man's worth and distinction; demonstrates that he is sensitive to the image of God in man. This recognition finds expression in the honor that he displays towards his fellow. It assures him a portion in the World to Come.

The students of Rabbi Akiva did not show respect for one another; they did not display honor towards the Divine image in man; neither did they display honor towards the Torah. Therefore, they met a bitter death: diphtheria - a type of sickness that hints at the underlying reason for their fate. During these days - the days of the counting of the Omer, days of preparation for Shavuot, the Holiday of the giving of the Torah - our efforts must center on the perfection of our character traits, a necessary condition for receiving the Torah. Let us hope and pray that a "spirit of purity rest upon our camp," and that a feeling of unity make itself felt, especially between students of Torah, causing us to search out the good in others and not their shortcomings. Let us, with this newly awakened sense of unity, go forth to receive the Torah.
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Glossary:
Torah - the Five Books of Moses
Talmud - The voluminous embodiment of the Oral Torah. Basis of Jewish law and philosophy.

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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