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Who Was Rabbi Akiva?

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Akiva ben Yosef was once an ignorant and illiterate shepherd. So poor and downtrodden a figure was Akiva that his extremely wealthy father-in-law disinherited Akiva’s wife, Rachel, for marrying him.

At the age of forty, Akiva’s life changed. According to legend, while tending his flocks, Akiva noticed a rock with a hole going straight through it. This hole was created by constantly dripping water. Akiva decided then and there to go and study Torah. If dripping water could bore a hole into solid rock, then even he, a forty year old man, could learn Torah through constant effort. He had to start from scratch, for Akiva ben Yosef did not even know the aleph-bet!

Strongly encouraged by Rachel, he went to study Torah for 12 years. When he returned he overheard his wife saying that she would gladly let him learn for another 12 years. And he did. When he finally returned, he had become Rabbi Akiva, the great sage, and had acquired 24,000 students. (The majority of whom died of plague during the period of Sefirat Ha’omer.)

Sadly, Rabbi Akiva was one of 10 sages whom the Romans brutally executed for teaching Judaism. They tortured him by scraping his flesh with a large iron comb. Yet, Rabbi Akiva called out joyfully: “All my life I’ve been waiting to fulfill the concept, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.’ Now I finally have the chance to fulfill those words.” With his last breath, he cried out the words of Shema (Talmud Brachot 61b).

Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva started as a shepherd. He became one of the greatest sages of the Jewish people with enough wisdom to unravel the intricacies of the law, guide the populace and inspire future generations.

This Treat was last posted on May 5, 2009.

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved

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