Although the Omer period is not intrinsically a period of mourning, events that took place during this period transformed it from a period of celebration to one where we observe certain rituals of mourning. What happened? The Talmud (Yebamot 27b) records that during the Bar-Kochba revolt, 24,000 students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva died between Pesach and Shavuot (the Omer period). If this alone were not reason enough to mourn, the Talmud provides a reason for their death: “They died, because they did not treat each other with respect.”
Internal strife has long been the Jewish people’s worst enemy. Sinat Hinam – baseless hatred – destroyed the 2nd Temple, and up until today, extreme political and religious divisiveness continues to plague the Jewish people wherever we are – in the State of Israel as well as the diaspora.
The Classic Sephardic worldview has always been to shun divisions in favor of unity. The current political factions and modern-day denominations (Orthodox, Reform, etc.) were never a part of the classic Sephardic community, and its leaders so often spoke out against this dangerous trend.
In this spirit, here is a Sephardic Lag B’Omer message from a classic Sephardic scholar, leader, visionary and spokesman, Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel z”l, who served as the Rishon L’Sion & Chief Sephardic Rabbi of the Land of Israel under the British Mandate (1939-1948), and then in the early years of the State of Israel (1948-1953), until his passing in 1953.
Rav Uziel believed that rabbis should lead by example, especially when it came to Jewish unity:
“We must remove this divisiveness that plagues us, and instead make our work as a community a reflection of peace and love. But who will stand and lead this change amongst us? This specific task belongs to the “Faithful in Israel,” our rabbinic and spiritual leaders. This belongs to them, because the Torah is not an alienating force; rather it is a force that brings people closer together. The true announcement of the redemption and the coming of the Messiah will only happen when the hearts of parents are drawn closer to their children, and the hearts of children are drawn closer to their parents. It is about time that the “Faithful in Israel”(rabbis and spiritual leaders) unite forces in their sacred work, and unite the entire Nation of Israel around them. Such unity, of spiritual leaders working together, unifying our people as one, will serve as our greatest source of comfort and strength.”
Two weeks before he passed away, Rav Uziel wrote a Spiritual Will to the Jewish People, and concluded it with these words: “Preserve with absolute care the peace of our nation and of our state — “And you shall love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19) — because disputes and divisiveness are our most dangerous enemies…they are like moths on Beit Ya’akov, causing our bones to rot. By contrast, peace and unity are the eternal foundations for the national sustenance of Beit Yisrael. Therefore remove all causes of divisiveness and disputes from our camp and our state, and place in their stead all factors that will lead to peace and unity amongst us.”
Isn’t that a Judaism you’d want to be a part of?