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Tuesday, February 27, 2024 - 18 Adar I 5784
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The Great Parade

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, marks the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and is celebrated by Jews the world over with displays of Jewish pride and unity. Whenever Lag B’Omer occurred on a Sunday, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would participate in a grand parade in front of his headquarters in Brooklyn with thousands of Jewish children, a tradition that continues to this day. The purpose of the parade was to unite Jewish children of all stripes and backgrounds, to strengthen observance of Torah and mitzvoth, especially the mitzvah to “Love your fellow Jew as yourself.”

During the omer counting period, we also observe various mourning customs to commemorate a plague that befell the students of Rabbi Akiba in the days of the Mishnah. In these weeks, 24,000 students died, but on Lag B’Omer the deaths stopped.

Why did Rabbi Akiba’s students die so tragically? The Talmud states that they died since they did not treat each other with due respect.

It seems quite odd that the students of Rabbi Akiba should die for this reason, since Rabbi Akiba himself was the author of the statement, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” Is it possible that his students would so thoroughly miss or ignore his message, and treat each other so hatefully that G-d punished them with a plague?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this was not the case. They surely fulfilled the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael on a basic level. However, they did not treat each other with the full measure of respect due to them as Torah scholars. Each one was a scholar in his own right, fully confident in the truth of his own ideas and beliefs, and eager to share his version of the truth with his colleagues. But in their eagerness to share Torah with each other in the “right” way, this may have caused them to show insufficient respect t brought upon them a plague.

On Lag B’Omer the plague ceased. And on this day we join together in unity, with the awareness that it is not enough to simply refrain from hurting our friends. We need to go out of our way to show them special regard and affection.

And to whom do we owe this regard? Not just to people who are outstanding in some way, either in their scholarship or accomplishments. Every Jew deserves this level of respect, because we each possess a soul which is an actual part of G-d. G-d is observing each of us at every moment and making an accounting of all our deeds. If we are that important to G-d, then this must be reflected in the way we treat each other.

And in the merit of our unity and ahavat Yisrael, we hasten the Redemption, when G-d will gather each individual Jew, one by one, and bring us back to our homeland in Jerusalem.


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