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Rabbi Akiva’s happy legacy



Rabbi Akiva is the hero of the Omer, read at this time of year between Pesach and Shavuot. After suffering hardships and setbacks, he kept on pushing to achieve success.

Rabbi Akiva, who began studying Hebrew at the “young” age of 40, lived in 70CE, at the time of the destruction of the second temple. At that time, an enormous number of Jews were massacred, sold as slaves, and sent into exile by the Roman legions.

Rabbi Akiva studied with dedication for 24 years, and produced a mighty Torah educational system with 24 000 students! However in the short span of time between Pesach and Shavuot, his 24 000 students died from a plague.

How could he continue after such a massive blow?

He didn’t despair, and began a new yeshiva with five students. The Torah traditions that we have today are the teachings of those five students.

How did he do it? Where did he find the strength and motivation to persevere after such devastation?

I heard from my rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Azriel Chayim Goldfein, of blessed memory, that the secret to Rabbi Akiva’s positivity lay in his own teachings found in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers.

In chapter three, mishna 18, Rabbi Akiva tells us why we should always be happy, saying we should focus on three principles:

First, all of mankind is beloved by Hashem. All of mankind has been given a tzelem elokim (likeness to Hashem). All humans have a soul which is a part of Hashem, and have been endowed with supernatural creative abilities. We must use our spiritual gifts and respect all humans.

Second, Hashem chose to express in the Torah that the Jewish people are His children. This great expression of love for us teaches us that we have a unique relationship with G-d Almighty. No matter how low we’ve sunk or how challenging life is, we should know that we have a loving father in heaven who is always available for us to turn to.

Third, the Torah we’ve been blessed with is the tool that Hashem used to design the world. This is powerful. It means that if we use that “tool” correctly, we have the ability to redesign ourselves and the world around us in a good and positive way.

Being aware of these three great gifts that every Jewish person possesses gives tremendous motivation and strength to move forward, even when things are challenging. This is a secret to Rabbi Akiva’s constantly positive attitude.

As we continue to pray for Hashem to bless the Jewish people with kindness and compassion, let’s take strength and inspiration from the life of one of our greatest leaders, Rabbi Akiva, to uplift and guide us in navigating through the challenging times we’re experiencing.

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