So I keep thinking about the students of Rabbi Akiva who died during the Sefira period, and I again wonder what it is that they did that caused this tragedy. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) merely states that they didn’t respect each other, but this is a very vague and general criticism of their behavior. The Maharsha (Ibid) learns that they didn’t respect each other regarding Torah study. The punishment, however, doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Although they were obviously held to a very high standard, their death seems to be disproportionate to the crime. It would also seem that their behavior was not just a onetime offense, but rather was an ongoing epidemic. What, then, catalyzed this catastrophic decree on 24,000 of the most-prized students of Rabbi Akiva?
When we look at Parashas Acharei Mos, we see that the Torah mentions again the death of Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon, who entered without permission into the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the Holy of Holies. The Torah states that the sons was that they offered a strange fire, and also that they entered in a state of intoxication. The Medrash, however, goes further and enumerates other misdemeanors that they committed, such as not marrying, not having children, rendering halachic decision before Moshe their teacher and not taking counsel from one another. This last explanation requires understanding. Why did this inaction on their part cause their deaths?
To answer this question, we must understand the importance of taking counsel. Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 11:14) בְּאֵין תַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִפָּל עָם וּתְשׁוּעָה בְּרֹב יוֹעֵץ , without strategies a nation will fall, but salvation [lies] in much counsel. This pithy statement reveals our nations’ rise and fall. When people are willing to submit themselves to others who are older and wiser, then the nation can build and grow on the foundations of our forefathers. It is said (Tehillim 2:2) יִתְיַצְּבוּ מַלְכֵי אֶרֶץ וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ יָחַד עַל יְהוָה וְעַל מְשִׁיחוֹ, the kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, against HaShem and against His anointed. The Radak writes that the word נוֹסְדוּ, translated as conspire, is derived from the word יסוד, which means foundation. Taking counsel for an action, writes the Radak is like providing a foundation for a building. When one takes counsel with other, he can be assured of success. As the saying goes, “if there is no foundation, there is no building.” When Nadav and Avihu decided to go it alone, they forfeited the guarantee of success that would have accompanied them on their mission. Similarly, when the students of Rabbi Akiva failed to take counsel with their colleagues on various matters, they caused the foundations to weaken and this led to their untimely deaths.
Throughout the Sefira period we invoke the seven Sefiros ofחסד, גבורה etc, each Sefira corresponding to different character trait that man possesses. As we slowly work our way up to מלכות, kingship, we recognize the need for a יסוד a foundation, upon which the kingship will rest. To crown our fellow man and ultimately to crown HaShem, we need to have a strong foundation. We need to act kindly towards each other, strengthen each other, blend in with each other, recognize the eternity of a fellow Jew and glorify each other. Then we can reach the foundation of our heritage which is the prelude to kingship.
HaShem should grant us the wisdom to take counsel from each other and take counsel from His Holy Torah, and then we will merit joy and celebration, with the arrival of Moshiach, Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Have a STRONG COUNSEL Shabbos!
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Acharei-Mos 5776
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