How do we understand Sefiras HaOmer in simple and practical terms? Many of us struggle with understanding Sefiras HaOmer for a few reasons. One reason for our difficulty in understanding this time period is because besides counting the days towards Shavuos, there is no specific concrete action that one is required to take to sanctify himself or to evoke a spiritual high. Second, the days of Sefirah are tinged with sadness because of the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students and the terrible massacres perpetuated by the Crusades during this time period. Most commentators view these issues as a contradiction, as on the one hand we are anticipating the receiving of the Torah, and on the other hand we are in a state of mourning.
Although much has been said and written to resolve this apparent contradiction, I would like to offer a fresh perspective on this issue. Let us examine a different period of mourning, which is the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha Baav. The Chachamim instituted restrictions during that time period so that we can reflect on our loss of the Bais HaMikdash and the spiritual descent of the Jewish People throughout history. Commencing on the seventeenth of Tammuz, we begin a countdown towards Tisha B’Av. Do we wonder how we can countdown to something tragic, when we are simultaneously attempting to be inspired to become better people and that hopefully HaShem will have compassion on the Jewish People and restore the Bais HaMikdash as in days of yore?
Obviously there is no contradiction in that regard, because the closer we come to Tisha B’Av, the more we are sorrowed that we have not yet reached the level where we can have the Bais HaMikdash restored. In a similar vein, although we are saddened by the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s students, we should certainly be inspired to improve our character and our relationships with fellow Jews, and then we will merit an uplifting Shavuos, when the Jewish People stood at Har Sinai and were united, as one man with one heart.