The importance of observing customs – Our Counting of the Omer

We have the custom of not listening to music during the days of Counting of the Omer. It always occurs to me that while this is an important custom, we might miss the main purpose of these days. We don’t listen to music – because the students of Rabi Akiva sadly died during this period. But after all – they did not die because they listened to music. Rather, we learn that they passed away untimely due to “lack of respect to each other” (What this was, in their own high moral standard, we don’t really know). So it cannot be that just by refraining from listening to the 5th Symphony (which is hard for me…) we already fulfil the purpose of this important time of the year…

Let us look at a (confirmed!) anecdote from the rich life of Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky זצ”ל, whom I had the merit to visit a few times at his humble apartment in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Kanievsky, who was the leader of a large part of Klal Yisrael at the time, had a very impressive appearance. When you saw him, you would immediately sense that this is a very “lofty” person, even if you never heard of him. Rabbi Kanievsky, at the time, over eighty years of age and not in the best health, appeared uninvited at a small Bar Mitzvah celebration in Bnei Brak. The surprised but delighted father of the young boy, at first thought the Revered Rabbi had made a mistake.  He welcomed Rabbi Kanievsky, who wished him Mazal Tov, and said “You may be surprised to see me here. I have a special reason to attend your son’s Bar Mitzvah, and I will tell you and your son the reason right now”. Rabbi Kanievsky continued, “A few years ago, you came with your son to pray in our Synagogue. During that prayer, I noticed that your son, (then an 11 year old boy) was putting a Siddur on the table – upside down. I reprimanded him for doing so.  A few minutes later, I noticed that the mistake was mine…. and the boy did actually put the Siddur down the right way. Now – Insulting a little boy is a serious transgression, and it does not matter at all that he is not yet a Bar Mitzvah.  However, while I of course apologised to him on the spot, at that age, the boy was too young to fully understand the concept of forgiving. And so, I kept the name of this nice boy in my mind and upon hearing that he is Bar Mitzvah tonight, I rushed here to use the first opportunity to ask him for forgiveness”.

I do not want to add anything to the story. I just want to try and use it as a platform from which to relaunch our most important customs in the days of Counting of the Omer.

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld