There's a certain tradition that in the time of Sefira that they perished by a plague; now I'll explain this to you. The Jewish nation is a nation that blames itself for everything. Whatever happens they say it's our fault, and that's a virtue, even if it's not, because if you blame yourself you look for faults, and once you'll look for faults, you'll discover them and you'll become perfect. The people who don't look for faults and don't blame themselves, are full of sins and full of imperfections. It's only when people look.... if you look for Chometz you might find, if you don't look...You have Chometz stacked away, everybody has some Chometz like that, a bottle of whiskey here… if you don't look, you'll have Chometz in your possession. A Jew always looks for Chometz all year around and therefore he discovers wrong things of which he rids himself.
There's a plague, and so the disciples of Rabbi Akiva said chotonu, it's our fault, we weren't polite enough to our comrades; we mistreated them. How do we know it's true? Did there come a prophet or a bas kol from heaven and say you wicked fellows, you were so rude to each other, that's why I am sending a plague on you? No such thing; it was a plague! Plagues come because of germs, plagues come because of other reasons, but they didn't say that; they said it's our fault.
Now what happened? It could be that in their fire of discussing Torah one said to the other one, you ignoramus how could you say such a thing? You hear it every day! But there they were such great men that they blamed themselves.
Now we don't have any bas kol that tells us that's the reason, they themselves told us that. They searched in their hearts and they couldn't find anything, if they could find other sins they would've told us for these sins we are being punished, but they couldn't find anything! So finally they said because lo nuhagu kovod zeh l'zeh, it's probably because we weren't polite enough to each other.
That's a monument, that's a testimony to the greatness of the old generations. They blamed themselves, and therefore today every Sefira we think about it, and we decide we are going to be more and more polite to each other; that's how we should learn.
What do we do however? We are as rough and rude to each other as possible! Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors are rough and rude to each other! Everybody is rude to some extent; they shouldn't be, but they are.These rude people are sitting and saying, talmidei Rabbi Akiva oh, they deserve what they got.
And so let's learn from them, and let's understand that we are a thousand times worse. What's considered impoliteness among them, would be among us the best etiquette.
This is a unique method of assigning the offerings, and it is found nowhere else. This method of lots symbolizes a choice by Hashem and not by men, as if to say: Israel is chosen by Hashem as a holy offering, whereas the nations (symbolized by the goat of Azazel) are rejected by Hashem. Instead of being offered to Hashem, the goat of Azazel is sent away for destruction in the wilderness (16:22). All this is to be achieved not by the choice (i.e. power) of men but by Hashem's choice which the lots symbolize. Azazel literally means: "the strong one shall depart" (as in Iyov 14:11 - "as the waters depart from the sea," where Azel is used in the sense of "coming to an end." Also in Dvarim 32:36 - "When He sees that the power is gone," where Azlas denotes "failing" or "coming to an end").
Thus the nations crumble away and disappear, one after the other; but Hashemhas chosen His people Israel forever. Both goats are offerings to Hashem, in two different ways; one atones by our coming closer to Hashem, and the second atones by our going further away from the nations.
Good Shabbos to all!