I once heard Rav Mordechai Willig say that when it comes to Sefirat HaOmeir, “The Minhag is to fight.” We are all taught from when we are young children that the reason for this period of mourning is on account of the 22,000 students of Rabi Akiva SheLo Nahagu Kavod Zeh BaZeh, who did not afford proper respect one to the other. Apparently, these Talmidei Chachamim had different approaches to life, to learning, and to other areas of life, and they could not tolerate one another.
This Minhag of discord during the days of Sefirah applies to how the days are observed as well. In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 493), Rama writes that there are actually two different Minhagim when it comes to which thirty-three days one should count as days of Aveilut. He records both the practice of beginning with day one and continuing through Lag BaOmeir, and beginning with Rosh Chodesh Iyar and continuing until three days before Shavuot. We can’t even agree about how to commemorate those who couldn’t agree! In Parashat Emor, however, we are given some insight into at least one Mitzvah which is intended to relieve some of the discord.
Towards the end of this Parashah, we are introduced to the Lechem HaPanim, the showbreads which were to be placed on the Shulchan every Erev Shabbat and left there for the entire week. The Gemara in Chagigah (26b) relates that when the Olei Regel, those who came up to Yerushalayim for the Shalosh Regalim, would come to the Beit HaMikdash, the Kohanim would lift these breads to show the people the miracle of the Lechem HaPanim; specifically, that the bread would stay warm and fresh the entire week. As they would lift the breads, they would tell the people, “Re’u Chibatchem Lifnei HaMakom… KeSiduro Kach Siluko,” “See how much God loves you… Just as they [the breads] are placed down [on the table], so they are removed [warm and fresh]" (ad loc.).
The question that remains is why this was the specific miracle that was shown to the people when they came to the Beit HaMikdash. After all, there were many miracles that occurred there every day!
Rav Tzadok HaKohein MiLublin writes that the twelve Chalot of the Lechem HaPanim were meant to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and freshness of those rolls was representative of Hashem’s equal love and appreciation for each and every one of the Shevatim.
Rav Baruch Simon, in his Sefer Imrei Baruch, quotes Rav Fischel Avraham Mael who brings down the Minhag (quoted in the Shulchan Aruch) to always have twelve windows in a Shul, representing the twelve Shevatim. He explains that we use the imagery of a window to represent each Sheivet in a Shul because each Sheivet has its own window in heaven, according to its abilities and strengths. He writes that when we Daven, twelve ministering angels come down and bring the Tefilah of each Sheivet through its own unique window in Shamayim.
Why is it so important to emphasize that Hashem appreciates the Avodat Hashem of all twelve Shevatim both at the time of Aliyah LeRegel and when a person enters a Shul? It is because specifically at these times we join together with other Jews that may be very different from ourselves and each needs acceptance. When Bnei Yisrael would come for Aliyah LeRegel, there would be hundreds of thousands of Jews, and many different kinds of Jews would be represented. Even when one enters his or her own Shul, there are many people with different approaches to Avodat Hashem. It is at these times that we often feel the urge to judge those who don’t look or speak or act as we do. We are therefore reminded, “Re’u Chibatchem Lifnei HaMakom… KeSiduro Kach Siluko;” see that HaKadosh Baruch Hu appreciates every genuine approach to connecting with Him. Overcome that desire to judge and instead embrace these experiences as opportunities to learn from one another.
Although the days of Sefirah present us with a myriad of opportunities for discord, they also offer us a unique opportunity to appreciate the diversity within our people. They remind us that as much as we dedicate ourselves to Torah and Mitzvot - and we should - we have to make an even greater effort not to argue about our differences, and not to allow those different paths to become symbols of strife. Just the opposite; we must come to seize these opportunities to broaden our horizons and to learn from the beautiful array of approaches that Yahadut has to offer.