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    As we engage in the seasonal mitzvah of counting the sefira, and observe the national period of mourning for the tragic deaths of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva, we should take the time to reflect upon what these experiences are supposed to teach us.

    Firstly, the Gemora informs us that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died from the horrible disease of askara, a type of lethal diphtheria or croup. The Maharsha informs us that this is a punishment for the sin of loshon hora, evil gossip. This should jolt us with the realization that even rarefied b’nei yeshiva, lofty Torah scholars, can succumb to this deadly sin if caught unaware! Thus, at this time of the year, we should be stimulated by our abstention from music etc., to pick up the Chofetz Chaim’s laws on loshon hora and become more aware of the many intricacies of the directive to guard our tongues!

    Without the proper perusal of these laws, it is all too possible that we might engage in this ugly sin, chas v’shalom, without realizing our transgressions. Take for example the Chofetz Chaim’s comments in Klal Yud #12 where he informs us that if someone fails to do you a favor, which is not something terribly bad, and you reveal this to others, it is absolutely considered loshon hora! In the same vein, if you went to a town and you weren’t greeted warmly, and subsequently relate this to your townspeople, you are guilty of defaming a whole town. (This mandates we must be very concerned about making offhand remarks like, “The people in that Shul aren’t friendly.”)

    In Klal 9 #5, the Chofetz Chaim charges us not to hesitate to berate our young children if we hear them talking badly about people. He elaborates that the neglect of this sort of chinuch is a primary reason for the proliferation of this sin in adults. Obviously, if children grow up saying whatever they want even upon maturity, when they later on realize they are engaging in the heinous crime of loshon hora, it is a very hard custom for them to change. It is therefore incumbent upon us as parents to cultivate in our children a natural inhibition to speak badly about others, just like we condition them from a very young age to watch that they don’t put forbidden food into their mouths!

    Regarding to the mitzvah of sefiras ha’omer, the Chinuch explains that we are making a statement, on a national level, that the one commodity Jews counts towards, as one counts excitedly to a vacation or wedding day, is the day of Mattan Torah (Shavuos). This is our public declaration that our number one national treasure and identity is the Torah! However, as in all areas, Hashem doesn’t want mere lip service from us. Thus, the true spirit of sefira is to examine our daily schedules and see if we give enough time to our Torah studies.

    The Gemora informs us, “Tchilas dino shel adam eino ela b’divrei Torah — Man’s final judgment will begin with none other than a grilling about his time spent on Torah study.” In Masechtas Shabbos [31a], the Gemora elaborates that we will be asked by the heavenly tribunal, “K’vata ittim laTorah — Did you fix times for Torah study?!” The Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 155:1) defines this responsibility as putting aside a specific time of the day for learning and to ensure that you will not violate this set time even if it means losing substantial profit. The Mishna Berurah (ibid #4) adds if one must miss his appointed time, he should ‘pay it back’ by learning double the next day!

    The Biur Halacha (ibid) informs us that in Yoreh Daiah (246:1), we are further instructed that one should have a fixed period during both the daytime and nighttime. He suggests therefore having a study period right after the morning prayers and again in the gap between mincha and maariv. Of course this prescription will not fit for everyone, as some people must rush out immediately after shacharis to catch a bus. Perhaps they might make their set time before shacharis, while other people who daven maariv right after mincha might establish their nightly schedule right after maariv.

    Whatever our lifestyle, we should carve out two fixed times for Torah study from our daily life, even if it’s initially only five minutes each, so that we can be certain to be able to answer the question that will determine our eternal fate (after 120 years of good life) with a resounding affirmative!

    The Mishna Berurah offers us the following guidance as to what we should learn. He explains that one who only has a limited amount of time for Torah study should learn practical halochos in order to know how to live like a proper Jew. Additionally, we are guaranteed that one who studies halochos every day (ibid. Shaarei Teshuvah, who states a minimum of two) can be assured of a place in the Afterlife!

    One should also include in his budgeted time a review of the weekly Torah portion. This not only promotes one’s emuna, as assured by the Chofetz Chaim in his letters, but also increase one’s longevity, as stated in the Gemora in Masechtos Brachos. An inclusion of a learning seder in Mishnayos is helpful in protecting one from the fires of Gehennom (stated in the preface to Medrash Talpios).

    Finally, one should include a regimen of Mussar study (Torah ethics and lessons of self-analysis and improvement). First, this will assist us in acquiring the fear of Heaven which is our primary purpose in life. Secondly, as the Baalai Mussar tell us, by including Mussar in our learning, we will make sure that we will find even more time to learn!

    When planning this most important of scheduling, I recommend strongly that one should sit down with one’s wife and have her input in the chosen times. This will give her a great cheilik (portion) in the mitzvah and will insure that you don’t fix a time that you’ll have to habitually break (e.g. before candle lighting on Shabbos or carpool time).

    Finally, the Mishna Berurah cautions that we should not consider our “fixed” times as the only times we have available to study Torah. A Jew must study Torah at all available times! Rather, these fixed times are the ones that are sacred and not to be trespassed upon except in cases of extreme urgency.

    In the merit of having a regular daily diet of Torah study may we all merit the blessing of, “Orech yomim b’yamina b’smola osher v’kavod — Long life to the Torah’s right and wealth and honor to Her left!!”