Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Acharei Mot

The great tragedy of the Bar Kochba Revolt, which we commemorate during the Omer, reminds us that disunity can only weaken the Jewish people. We must guard against this, teaches the Chief Rabbi. 

We have now commenced the Omer. It is a month-long period of national Jewish mourning. We recall at this time the deaths in battle of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, in the year 135 of the Common Era, fighting against the Romans as part of the Bar Kochba Revolt. They were all killed in battle.

I have a question. Sadly as a people we have suffered on so many occasions from national disasters, we have endured so many tragedies. Why do we identify this specific one and we mourn as a people for an entire month?

I’d like to suggest the following answer. The Bar Kochba Revolt took place only 65 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 72. The Gemara in Masechet Gittin tells us that we lost our second temple because of the sin of Sinat Chinam. At the very time when the Romans were posing a threat to us, we were totally disunited. There was causeless hatred within our ranks and that’s why we lost the Temple and we were exiled.

“Causeless hatred was still in their ranks, and that I believe is what we are mourning”

Now, just two generations later, the Gemara in Masechet Yevamot tells us that while the students of Rabbi Akiva were truly outstanding in their levels of learning and devotion, nonetheless Lo chilku kavod zeh la zeh they didn’t treat each other with respect. Sinat Chinam, causeless hatred, was still in their ranks, and that I believe is what we are mourning about.

At this time, two very powerful messages emerge for us. The first is we need to learn from the lessons of history, from our mistakes, from our errors and from our sins. And secondly, we mourn at this time in order to highlight the importance of Jewish unity. We lost our temple and we were defeated in the Bar Kochba revolt because we were split and divided within.

“We simply cannot tolerate a situation of having a divided Jewish people within”

At the very time when we face so many threats from without, we simply cannot tolerate a situation of having a divided Jewish people within. Therefore, at this time, as we approach a week in which we will be marking Yom Hashoah which will then lead into Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, let us as a nation concentrate on forging stronger links within our ranks to guarantee peace and unity within Clal Yisrael. Shabbat Shalom.

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