Rabbi Akiva

Rabbi Akiva (c. 50-135 CE) started life as a poor illiterate shepherd. When he reached adulthood he was hired by Kalba Savua, one of the richest men in Jerusalem. He fell in love with the boss’s daughter Rachel, who agreed to marry), him on condition that he learn Torah. When they married over her father’s opposition, Rachel was disinherited. Akiva began to learn to read at age 40 together with his young son. At first his progress was slow and he nearly gave up. Then one day he sat down to rest near a waterfall. Watching the stream splash over the rocks, he observed how the water had cut a channel through the stone’ If soft water could wear down stone, he concluded, his own peverance would eventually be rewarded. (Avot Rabbi Natan, ch. 6). In time Akiva became one of the leading rabbis of his age.
Rachel endured years of poverty and deprivation to enable Akiva to study. Years later Kalba Savua saw that Akiva had become a great scholar, and restored Rachel’s inheritance.
It is said that in the world to come each person will be asked if he set aside time to study Torah. If he answers that he was too poor, the angel will reply that no one was poorer than Akiva, yet Akiva studied. If he answers that he was too rich, he had too many business commitments, the angel will reply, that in his later years Rabbi Akiva was  very wealthy yet he studied. The only acceptable excuse will be that he lacked his wife’s support.
The verse on the hill to the right of the car park is Leviticus 19:18, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Rabbi Akiva was a disciple of the school of Hillel, which emphasised kindness and compassion.
Rabbi Akiva studied for 22 years with Rabbi Nachum Ish Garnzu, who taught that since everything in the world is from Gd it must therefore be good. Thus one must never lose faith, despite apparent misfortune.
Once Akiva and three other rabbis saw a fox running through the Temple ruins. The others began to lament the destruction of the Temple, now home to wild animals, bur Rabbi Akiva laughed. He said that not only Gd had promised to destroy The Temple but also promised to rebuild it. The fox is proof that God kept his first promise. Gd will certainly keep his second promise and the Temple will be rebuilt. The rabbis answered, ‘Akiva, you have comforted us.’ (Makot 24b)
Rabbi Akiva was a mystic. The Talmud mentions four rabbis who dared to enter the grove of mystical knowledge. One died, one went mad, and one lost his faith; only Rabbi ,Akiva entered and left the grove unharmed. (Hagigah 74b)
During the revolt of 132 Rabbi Akiva proclaimed Bar Kochba messiah and fully supported the rebellion. When Rome crushed the revolt and instituted religious oppression, Torah study and observance became capital crimes. Despite the decrees Rabbi Akiva continued to teach in public. The inscription on his grave tells the following story. Papus, a fellow Jew, saw him teaching and asked, Akiva, aren’t you afraid of the Romans? Akiva answered, I will tell you a parable. A fox was walking by the river and saw fish fleeing from place to place. He said to them, why are you running away? They said, we are trying to flee fishermen’s net. The fox said, come onto the shore and live with me as our fathers did in the past. The fish replied, it is said that you are the most clever of the animals. You are not clever but stupid. Lf we are afraid in the place where we live, then in the place of our death even more so….Torah is our life; if we leave it we will surely die. (Brachot 61b)
Shortly afterwards Rabbi Akiva and Papus were arrested. When they met in jail Akiva asked Papus, “Why are you here?” He responded, ‘You should be happy, Akiva; you were arrested for observing Torah, while I was arrested for something foolish.’
As the Romans publicly tortured him, Rabbi Aklva recited ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One.’ His students asked, ‘Must we show this much devotion to God? He replied, ‘You shall love God with ail your soul’ (Deuteronomy 5:5) means even if God takes your soul.” (ibid.)
Rabbi Akiva became an example to Jews throughout the ages who preferred death to transgressing the Torah.
Map: 22
Location: Drive up Alhadef Street tum left onto Yebuda Hanasi Street, then left onto Trumpeldor Street. When Trumpeldor Street turns right, continue on Derech Hagevura. At the intersection a sign points to the grave.
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