Throughout Sefirat HaOmer, we find ourselves listening to speeches and Shiurim dealing with the topic of Achdut and Ahavat Yisrael. As these are the days when the students of Rabbe Akiva perished for not showing due Kavod to one another, the topic is quite appropriate. However, often the messages we hear are somewhat vague. What exactly does it mean to love every Jew? We try to eradicate the Middah of Sinat Chinam, but is that all we need to do? Is it as simple as saying that we love everyone?
The Torah, in this week’s Parashah, states that a person must fear his mother and father. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) asks “What is fear? Do not sit in his seat, do not talk in his place, and do not argue on his words. What is honor? Serve him food and drink, dress him, and help him in and out.” Rav Yeruchim Levovitz (Daat Torah, Kedoshim) is bothered by the Gemara’s queries of “what is fear” and “what is honor.” Do we not know what the word fear means? The answer seems quite simple: we should feel a sense of awe in their presence.
The Gemara records minor actions which seem to minimize that grandeur of the Mitzvah. Rav Yeruchim writes that this Gemara teaches a major Torah principle. All Mitzvot, even those which we assume to be primarily Mitzvot of the Heart, need to be acted upon. For example, the Mitzvot of having faith in Hashem and of loving Hashem also require action. In general, we must manifest our feelings through concrete actions. So, while the feelings in our heart are a crucial and absolutely vital component to a Mitzvah, they are not enough; they are only the pre-requisites. The action is what is most important. After all, we call positive commandments Mitzvot Aseh and prohibitions Mitzvot Lo Taaseh. It is for this reason, writes Rabbeinu Yeruchim, that the Gemara records actions that we must both perform and refrain from in order to fulfill the Mitzvah.
The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) relates an account where a gentile came before Hillel and requested that he be taught the whole Torah “while standing on one foot.” Hillel, in somewhat of a surprising response, says “What is hated to you, do not do to you friend.” Maharsha asks, why didn’t Hillel simply tell him the Pasuk of “VeAhavta LeRayacha Kamocha,” “love your neighbor as you love yourself?” (VaYikra 18:19) Rabbeinu Yeruchim explains based on the principle above that to love one’s friend is insufficient. Hillel wanted to teach this gentile that as Jews, we act, or in this case, refrain from actions that hurt each other. We see that the Mitzvah of loving our neighbor is not merely to feel the love and to talk about the love we feel towards each other. Ahavat Yisael requires actions and restraint as well.
Rambam (Hilchot Avel 14:1) writes that the Mitzvot of visiting the sick, comforting the mourner, burying the dead, rejoicing at a wedding, and acts of Chesed are all Rabbinic Mitzvot. However, they are actually included in the Mitzvah of loving one’s friend as he loves himself. In fact, Rambam concludes “anything that you would want others to do to you to you is what you should do to others.” Rambam seems to articulate the same principle as Rabbeinu Yeruchim. Ahavat Yisrael and Sinat Chinam are not just vague terms. Rather they require us to be people of action.
Rabi Akiva’s students perished because they did not show Kavod to each other. The Gemara does not state that they didn’t love each other or that they hated each other. The Gemara was precise in its recording of their sin. They did not show Kavod to each other. It could be that inside, they loved each other. However, their love was insufficient as long as it was not manifested through actions.
Sefirat HaOmer is our preparation for receiving the Torah. Until we become people who do for others, we cannot receive the Torah. Derech Eretz Kadmah LeTorah, proper behavior is a prerequisite to Torah observance. The Brisker Rav was once asked why the Torah does not have many commandments regarding Middot? The Brisker Rav answered that the Torah was given to Bnei Adam, people. A person who doesn’t have exemplary Middot, i.e. if he doesn’t do for others, is not a Ben Adam. This is perhaps the reason why many have the custom to study Pirkei Avot during the weeks of Sefirat HaOmer. Pirkei Avot is all about Middot. We must first internalize the messages of Pirkei Avot in order to be ready accept the Torah.
The Ahavat Shalom writes that the Gematria of Ahavah, love, is 13. When two people love each other you have 26, the Gematria of the name of Hashem. In order for the Shechina (Hashem’s presence) to reside in our midst, we must first increase the amount of Ahava, thus increasing the presence of Hashem in the world. The Chafetz Chaim, in his introduction to his work on Lashon Hara, explains that in order for us to be merit the ultimate Geulah, we must first rectify that which caused this Galut. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of hatred, the students of Rabbe Akiva died because they didn’t show Kavod to each other. It will be only through our love, better yet our acts of love, which will ultimately, with the help of Hashem, bring about the ultimate redemption speedily in our days.