As I stroke my beard, which is 3 weeks and counting longer then usual, I am reminded of the reason why I am not trimming.
The Talmud tells us that during this period on the Jewish calendar (the days between Pesach and Shavuot), 24,000 of the great disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished in a terrible plague many years ago. As an act of collective mourning for this incredible loss, the custom developed to refrain from haircuts, similar to the way of a person who is in mourning for a relative. A lack of sufficient honor accorded to one another is the underlying spiritual malady the Talmud provides in explanation of their tragic demise. That the Talmud stresses that their deaths occurred during this time period suggests that there is some sort of correlation between the two.
Numerous commentaries explain that it was specifically during this period, the preparatory days leading up to Shavuot, that the people were held to a higher standard in their interpersonal relationships. It is axiomatic in Jewish thought that holidays are not mere commemorations of past events, rather a reenactment of sorts, in the sense that the same spiritual energies which existed at the time of these events are once more emitted and available to be tapped into.
Shavuot commemorates the auspicious moment of the Jewish nation receiving the Torah at Sinai, and as such requires the same conditions that existed then. A sense of togetherness and camaraderie was felt as we stood at Sinai, as indicated by the Passuk in Parshat Yitro which states that " the nation stood together." This peacefulness was not by chance, rather a necessary prerequisite for the giving of the Torah, since it must be received by a nation, not a group of individuals. In addition, proper Middot are essential to completely grasp the Torah. This then explains why it was specifically during this segment of the year that they were held accountable to even higher levels of togetherness, the lack of which was a terrible indictment for people of their stature. In one of this week's Parshiot, Parshat Kedoshim, we have the famous commandment of Veahavta Lerayacha Kamocha, or love your friend like yourself.
Ramban famously comments that taking revenge on another Jew's actions can be compared to someone who was using a hammer and mistakenly hit his finger. Just as it would be silly to pick up the hammer and bang the hand which caused pain to his other hand, so too, when one is able to view the Jewish nation as an entity, to be able to see others as connected to oneself, our actions vis a vis others would be so much more elevated. May we all internalize the concept of Veahavta Lerayacha Kamocha and merit a special Shavuot this year.