News From Ramaz
By Rabbi Justin Pines, MS Mashgiach Ruchani
From the Second night of Pesach until Shavuot, we count 7 weeks, 49 days, the Omer. This should be an exciting time. A count up to Matan Torah (the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai). Yet today, the Omer is designated as a time of communal mourning. We don't make weddings, we don't get haircuts, and we don't attend live concerts.
Why are we mourning? The gemara in Yevamot 62b, teaches us that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students, and they all died during the same period of time between Pesach and Shavuot. Why did they die? "שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה" - they did not treat each other with Kavod. Last year, we defined Kavod as coming from the same word for heavy - taking someone seriously - noticing there is a human being made b'ztelem Elokim, in God's image, who is of infinite value, equal value and unique, and treating them accordingly.
Imagine - probably the greatest rabbi of all time, Rabbi Akiva, has 12,000 pairs of students, 24,000 total. These are the best of the best of the best. They study Torah all day and they know their stuff. Yet they all died because they did not treat each other with Kavod. How could they learn all that Torah and forget to treat each other with Kavod?
When I was your age, my cousins and I used to play a video game called Super Mario Bros. The goal of the game is to travel the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser. And every time you made it to the last level of a world, and made it to the top of the castle to rescue the princess, you would enter a room and the princess would not be inside. Instead, there would be a mushroom civilian who says, "Thank You Mario, but our princess is in another castle!" You worked so hard to make it to the top of the castle and be the hero, but you missed the point. The princess isn't here. You're in the wrong castle.
This is the same idea as Rabbi Akiva's students. Do we sometimes obsesses over the wrong things and miss the point? Who cares what you got on your Talmud test. Did you encounter Hashem in the text? Did you learn how to be a better person? A better servant of Hashem?
Who cares if you are the best scorer in basketball. Are you a good teammate? Are people excited to play on your team?
You could know the most Torah, but are you living a life of Torah? You could be the most popular, you could be the best at sports, or singing, or math, but if you are not treating other people with Kavod; if you are not loving others as you would love yourself, as we read in last week's parasha; if you are not treating others as created b'tzelem Elokim, then you missed it. "Thank you, Mario, but the princess is in another castle." Becoming the best version of yourself starts with treating others as the best version of themselves. Don't miss the point. As we paused to count the omer each night, let's take a moment to make sure we are not missing the point - that any true success includes being nice, and treating others with Kavod. Let's use this period of mourning as an opportunity for teshuva.