Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died during the Omer counting period. Why did they die precisely during these days? Is there any connection between the Torah commandments applying to the Omer period and the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students at this time?
When Rabbi Mohilever entered the crowded lecture hall, he looked about at the numerous bareheaded pupils seated before him and began to speak: “I understand that you are proficient in math. Can anybody tell me what the count (“sefirah”) is today?”
Today, we have the good fortune of observing two important landmarks in the midst of the Omer counting, landmarks which reflect national progress on the one hand, and spiritual deficiency on the other - Israel's Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.
Why are the days between Pesach and Shavuot called sefirat haomer instead of sefirah l’kabbalat haTorah? Why is the mitzvah of the omer accorded the special status of a brit? The answer to these questions reveal the true message behind the korban haomer;
We bind the Festival of Freedom, which commemorates our Exodus from Egyptian bondage, with Shavuot, which celebrates our spiritual freedom - receiving the Torah at Sinai. By counting the Omer we declare this period to be a single and complete unit.
The essential message of Passover is that the Almighty dominates and rules over His creation, while Shavuot focuses upon God's role as king. Both these traits find expression in the Omer counting, which is reckoned both according to days and weeks.
The days between Passover and Shavuot are marked by pain; twenty-four thousand of Rabbi Akiva’s students died therein. Consequently, it is customary to observe mourning practices during this period - weddings, haircuts, and dancing are all forbidden.