External physical exile had lasted for 210 years and, with it, an inner spiritual exile had prevailed, marking the assimilation and defilement of the Jewish people's immersion into Egyptian culture. With time passed, the Jewish people began to lose faith, slacking on their own beliefs -- turning to immorality instead of G-d for temporary pleasure and misguidance. But G-d had other plans.
G-d would teach a lesson in reform; a lesson that would forever remain with the Jewish nation as a whole -- always remembered and never forgotten. The Jewish people would not go on to follow in the ways of the Egyptians; rather, they would find within themselves the power to refine the seven traits embedded within their holy souls, with which to move forward. It was G-d who redeemed them in their greatest time of need and G-d who had given them this opportunity of renewal.
Of course, G-d could have brought the Jewish people in His hands straight to the mountain to receive the sacred Torah. Yet, the journey had to be their own. This rebirth had to come from within; it was their road to pave. And so they did. In a mere seven weeks, the Jewish people had gone from the dark dregs of profanity to reaching the highest peek, the last rung on the ladder, the holiest level of spirituality. The 49-day period in which the Jewish people struggled to replenish their souls had proved victorious, a battle waged and won in their own spiritual uprising. On the 50th day, like the angels floating gloriously among the heavens, the Jewish people stood solemnly, prepared to receive the torah on Mt. Sinai.
It is also during this same time period, 1,500 years later, when Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples were subjected to a plague that killed them all, for failing to show proper respect to their fellow students. These soldiers, who pledged to serve at the front lines as a moral force to protect their brothers shared the common goal to reunite the Jewish people in restoring the divine mysticism, now lost among the heaps of rubble brought on by Rome's finest troops.
Prior to the plague, the Romans had succeeded in destroying the Second Temple, killing the thousands who lay in their wake. But in 135 C.E., a courageous military leader named Bar Kochba organized a revolt against the hostile Romans. The revolution proved triumphant and Bar Kochba began to rebuild the Temple. The future held new promise and the Jewish people began to reclaim their independence; their identity reinstated. Bar Kochba became a hero and many thought him to be the "Messiah." However, faith diminished among the Jewish nation when Bar Kochba was murdered for killing a great Rabbi called Rabbi Elazar for supposedly revealing hidden passageways into the city of Betar to the enemy. Responsible for the sudden change of events, were the students of Rabbi Akiva whose lack of solidarity brought new purpose to our Omer -- now a time of mourning for generations.
Yet, in an aim to bring a misplaced nation together again, the students failed by falling short within their own relationships, between each other. When the holy students of Rabbi Akiva became focused on fixing others, they forget to look within themselves. In a tumultuous state, the future of Israel's fate seemed dismal. Would the Messiah come to rescue and redeem the Jewish people?
I can not dismiss these events taking place within the same period of time as mere coincidence; rather, I view the correlation of our Exodus and the death of the 24,000 disciples as a display of divine providence. With Rabbi Akiva's death following the death of his students, the Jewish people were left anxious and unsure, their expectations for better life shattered. This same feeling was felt during the 210 years spent in slavery. Yet the seven weeks of spiritual restoration was merit enough to help lead us to freedom. Rabbi Akiva's students needed to take a step back in time in order to understand that we must each recognize our own imperfections and strive to better ourselves before finding flaw in others.
"What made a hole in this stone?" Rabbi Akiva asked. And he was told, "The water which constantly drips every day." Akiva immediately reflected, "If that which is soft can engrave that which is hard, then the words of Torah which are like steel can certainly penetrate my heart which is but flesh." He immediately turned to Torah for direction (Avos D'Rebbe Nasan). He started from Aleph, the very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and grew to become one of the finest intellectual leaders of the past. Each drop of water, each act of kindness and good deed contributes to our spiritual renewal,our personal growth, and eventually works as a catalyst for the ultimate redemption.
For proper introspection, there is only reflection. We must reflect on where we have been to know where we ought to journey toward. On Passover each year, we relive the Exodus. As we travel from Egypt to Sinai, we delve into the most significant commemoration within our history as a Jewish nation. When on a quest for answers, we must always return -- back to the beginning.
For more on the Omer, join the conversation and community by visiting the Omer liveblog on HuffPost Religion, which features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual renewal between Passover and Shavuot.
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