Editor’s Note: This d’var torah was delivered at Darkhei Noam, a Manhattan congregation, on Saturday, April 20.
Today is the 25th day of the Omer [the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot]. One week from tomorrow, we will celebrate the 33rd day, Lag B'omer. Since Pesach, we've been in a period where we observe a set of customs related to mourning. Customs vary across communities, but usually rule out weddings, haircuts, live music, and sometimes new clothes. What exactly are we mourning? The Gemara in Yevamot 62b teaches:
“It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 chevrutot (24,000 students)… All of them died in a single spell.”