Every Jew corresponds to a letter in Torah. Just as there are different levels of understanding within every dot of Torah – pshat, remez, derush, and sod – so too, within every Jew there is what you see on the surface, but then there are deeper and deeper levels, down to the level of sod, that hidden nekudah of chein.
R’ Akiva’s students died because they related to each other based on what they saw on the surface. By that I don’t mean that students of R’ Akiva judged one another based on the color of their suit or tie or what model car they drove – that may be true of us, but I can’t image that it was true of them. What I mean is that even if your friend doesn’t understand a Rashba as well as you do, that is also just a superficial judgment, and you can still be guilty of “lo nahagu kavod” for thinking any less of him (and I don’t pretend to be anything less than a doresh v’aino me’kayeim here). Even if your friend doesn’t know what a Rashba is, there is still a nekduah of chein that only your friend has that you need to love him for.
This was the great revelation of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. We all know that RaShB’Y was a master of the hidden aspects of Torah, the sod. RaShB”Y was also a master of the sod within every Jew as well. Just as he looked beyond the surface meaning of Torah and penetrated to its most mystical depths, so too, he didn’t just look at the surface of a Jew, but was able to penetrate to the depths and find at the nekudas chein.
R’ Moshe Wolfson in his Emunas Itecha explains that the punishment of R’ Akiva’s students stopped on Lag b’Omer, the day we celebrate the life of RaShB”Y, because RaShB”Y was the tikun of “lo nahagu kavod zeh ba’zeh.” Lag b'Omer is a chag of ahavas Yisrael, when we learn to appreciate the sod that makes every individual special.