Rabbi AkivaRabbi Yaacov Haber
Pirkei Avos begins by saying that “Moshe received the Torah
from Sinai and masrah
, transmitted it to Yehoshua”.
Then it says “Yehoshua to the Edlers, the
Elders to the Neviim, and the Neviim mesruah
, transmitted it to the
Anshei Keneset Hagedolah”.
Why is the
, to transmit, mentioned a second time?
I’ve tried to show that there was a dramatic
change in how the Mesorah was transmitted.
It started totally as a top-down process, from the top meaning Shamayim,
to the bottom meaning the earth.
the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, the Chochomim such as Ezra became more
involved in recreating and rediscovering the Mesorah.
As we saw, another juncture happened when they had forgotten
whether to bring the Korbon Pesach on Shabbos.
They asked for someone who could remember the Hallachah, and Hillel came
along and used 7 of the 13 hermeneutical principals to show – through Kal
Vechomer, Gezera Shava, and so on – that it was permitted to bring the Korban
Pesach on Shabbos.
This was an important
change because he showed that when the Hallachah is forgotten, it can be
rediscovered through the 13 hermeneutical methods that are also Hallachah
We’ve seen another juncture after the second Bais Hamikdosh
was destroyed, when Yochonon ben Zakai moved the center of Torah learning to
There we saw the conflict between
Eliezer ben Hurkanis and Yehoshua where there was a conflict between the
Mesorah that Eliezer represented, and the derived law that Yehoshua represented,
and when these two came in conflict, the Chochomim chose to go with the derived
At each of these stages, the Chochomim became more involved,
and the process became more bottom up rather than just top down.
This has the disadvantage of it not being
totally and directly from Shamayim.
as the Chochomim became more involved, it has a different type of Kedushah that
comes from our greater involvement in the process.
Rabbi Eliezer, who advocated pure Mesorah, represents
Gevurah which is like a closed, tight, powerful fist - ztimztum.
Yehoshua, who advocated the more creative
involvement of the Chochomim in rederiving the laws, represents Chesed and
Rachamim, which is like an open and giving hand – hispatchus.
In Kaballah, the combination of Gevurah and
Chesed is Tiferet, which is at the center – and in the end results in Malchus
In all activities in life
it’s important to have this balance of Gevurah and Chesed – such as in
parenting and teaching. This is Kabalah 101.
As we will see, Rabbi Akiva represents this fusion of
Gevurah and Chesed.
There’s so much to
say about Rabbi Akiva.
There is so much
written about him in the Gemorah, more than any of the other Chochomim.
One should make a movie about his life, it
would be so dramatic.
Rabbi Akiva was the son of a Ger, Yoseph.
And his mother was also a Geirus.
His parents were poor and uneducated, and
Akiva also was uneducated.
as a shepherd for a wealthy person Kalva Savuah. Akiva had a wife who,
according to different mesorahs, either died or whom he divorced.
He had a son Yehoshua. Then, when Akiva was
40, Kalvuah’s daughter Rochel, saw something special in Akiva, that he had
tremendous potential, and she suggested that they marry.
The Yerushalmi says that they married
Kalva, when he found out,
fired Akiva and threw Rochel out of the house, and they lived in a barn.
The Gemorah says that after sleeping in the
barn, Rochel would take hay out of her hair.
After they became better off, Akiva brought Rochel an Ir Shel Zahav, a
pin of gold with a representation of Yerushalayim that she could put in her
Rochel suggested that Akiva join a
Cheder to learn, and he and his son began by learning the Aleph Bet.
The Gemorah tells a story that after he learned awhile, he
found a Mase Mitzvah in a field.
picked it up, and carried in 13 mil.
then ran into Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.
Rabbi Eliezer said, you’ve done the wrong thing – a Mase Mitzvah should
be buried where it’s found.
he had a lot more to learn, and he learned at two Yeshivas – Rabbi Eliezer and
Rabbi Gamliel set up a
series of Yeshivas from Akko to Ashkelon, all along the coast.
The Yeshivas of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi
Yehoshua were the two main Yeshivas, and that’s where Akiva learned for the
next 24 years.
The Gemorah says that he
came back to visit Rochel after 12 years, and he overheard Rochel saying that
if she had her wish, Akiva would learn another 12 years.
So he left and learned another 12 years.
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz asks why didn’t he at least say
hello, or stay a week with his wife. He answers that there’s no comparison
between learning 12 years and then another 12 years, compared with learning 24
Akiva learned 13 of those years
under Rabbi Eliezer.
At Rabbi Eliezer’s
Yeshiva, it was all Mesorah – Eliezer would teach what he knew, and there
wasn’t much dialog.
You would sit and
listen to the Mesorah that Eliezer transmitted.
Now lets learn a Mishnah in Pesachim.
It’s a very long Mishnah about whether an
issur Derabonim involving the Korban Pesach – such as cutting off a mum – is
The Mishnah is a dialog
between Eliezer and Yehoshua.
says that it’s a Kal vechomer – if the Korban Pesach can be shechted (an issur
daraiseh) that is, if it can be done on Shabbos, then certainly an issur
derabonim could be done.
that Shechting the Korban Pesach has to be done, so that’s why it is dochech
Shabbos, but cutting off a mum doesn’t have to be done, so it’s not dochech
This argument goes back and forth, and then Akiva steps
He uses logic from Zerikas a dam –
sprinkling the blood – and shechting Carbonos – to prove that Rabbi Yehoshua is
Akiva had spoken up and used logic,
something that would not have been done at Rabbi Eliezer’s Yeshiva.
Then in the Gemorah, Rabbi Eliezer says,
“Because you used a proof from Shechting, you will meet your end through
This response is very
difficult to understand.
It echoes what
Eliezer said when Akiva visits Rabbi Eliezer on his death bed, and Eliezer also
says that Akiva will meet a violent death.
So Rabbi Akiva took the two main drochim – that of Eliezer
who was all Mesorah, Gevurah – and Yehoshua who believed more in deriving the
Hallachah through logic, that represents Rachamim – and combined it into
And it’s this combination that
has become the basis for our learning from that point on.
Rabbi Akiva had 300 main talmidim, and 24,000
Now let’s learn the Gemorah in Menochos.
It says that Moshe went to Shemayim, and saw
Hashem tying crowns onto the letters of the Torah.
Moshe asked what are you doing, and Hashem says,
“These crowns are going to used by another one – Akiva – to derive Hallachahs
Moshe says, I don’t understand,
perhaps you can show me what you mean.
So since there is no time for Hashem, he took Moshe forward in time
where Akiva was teaching laws based on these crowns.
Moshe sat in the 8th
row - some
say the 18th
row - and he couldn’t understand what was being said,
until Akiva said, “These are Halachah meMoshe meSinai.”
The Gemorah then says that Moshe was
Moshe then says to Hashem, since Akiva is so great, why
didn’t you give the Torah through him?
Hashem says, “Be quiet, I know what I’m doing”.
Moshe asks, “What will the schar, reward, be
for such a great man?”
“He will die with iron combs tearing his flesh.”
This is all difficult to understand.
Why was Moshe comforted when Akiva said that
learning from the crows is Hallachah meMoshe meSinai.
And what does this mean if Moshe himself
didn’t understand what Akiva was teaching?
And how is dying a violent death a ‘schar’, a reward, for this teaching.
The Medresh says that Hashem began by creating the world
But the world could not
survive with din – so Hashem then added Rachamim.
Hashem had to begin the transmission of the
Torah through only Mesorah – Gevurah – top to bottom.
But as time progressed, the Chochomim became
more involved, even in deriving the laws through logic.
And this represents Rachamim, bottom to
The important thing to understand
is that this second stage, the greater involvement of Man, is also intended
from the beginning, it is also Hallachah meMoshe meSinai.
Moshe saw this, and that’s why he was
Rav Tzodok asks an interesting question.
Almost all the Yom Tovem have specific
Pesach is on the 14th
of Nisan, Rosh Hashonah is on the 1st
of Tishrei, and so on with Yom
Kippur and Succos.
Then why isn’t there
a specific date specified for Shavuous.
Why doesn’t the Torah say that the Torah was given on the 7th
Rav Tzodok answers because the
Torah wasn’t given on the 7th
of Sivan. The Torah existed before the
creation of the world, and it is continued to be given to his very day.
Chidushim that a young student comes up with
today is part of the ever continuing giving of the Torah.
It’s true that on Shavuous there was a
tremendous Gilui, revelation of Torah, greater than ever took place before or
But the process in an ever
And our involvement,
as Rabbi Akiva showed, enables a different kind, and perhaps even a greater
kind, of Kedushah to emerge, because it comes from our involvement.
And the proof is that we are here, learning Torah.
If we had to depend only on Mesorah, it would
have been almost impossible as we had to survive pogroms and hollaucausts.
It’s through our ever involvement and
re-deriving of the Mesorah that the Mesorah has remained alive and fresh.
Why was Rabbi Akiva’s violent death called a schar, a
reward? Because he was still going
against the grain, he was going against the strict reliance on Mesorah that
Eliezer wanted him to do. And even
though it is necessary, it still comes with a price.