Get More Enthusiasm for Your Judaism!
Rabbi Akiva’s teaching is remarkable in how it is contrary to one would expect. Generally the Rabbi’s lesson is positive describing those things which are axiomatic to one’s status as a human being or as a Jew being the source of joy in one’s life. Rabbi Akiva was the scion of converts and did not begin to learn Torah until he was Forty. As an unlettered shepherd The future leader was so hostile to scholars that if he encountered one he would bite him. (see Pesachim 49b, Ketuvoth 62b-63a ). Rabbi Akiva lived during the decline and destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Koziva’s rebellion and died a martyr’s death from torture at the hands of the Romans. In short Rabbi Akiva’s life had war and persecution as its backdrop to his life yet he identified where one could find joy.
Rabbi Akiva teaches a person should bear in mind one bears a Tzelem a form worthy of G-D just not the soul but the physical form too is G-D’s design (see Rabbi Shimshon Rephael Hirsch ZT’L ZY’A Bereshith 1:27 also Magen Avoth (Breslov)). Rashi ZT’L ZY’A commenting on the Mishnah sees Rabbi Akiva’s lesson as a basis for inspiration.
The VaYaged Moshe ZT’L ZY’A observes G-D’s affection for humanity lies in humanity’s ability to reflect G-D’s design / Therefore by remembering one’s being in G-D’s image that one’s behavior should be consistent with G-D’s morals and mores. Such a paradigm is all the more evident when discussing Bene Yisrael. By virtue of receiving the gift of Torah Jewry was given the means to translate the mundane and everyday to acts of profound spirituality and holiness.
Consider Rabbi Akiva who lived in turbulent times mostly surrounding his identity as a Jew yet instead of abandoning Judaism Rabbi Akiva did more than embrace Torah he saw it as his essence as what enables and empowers his own sense of humanity. By looking at who he truly is with nothing more Rabbi Akiva found more than comfort he found joy.
Rabbi Akiva's teaching has a timeless quality as well. The Torah calls upon Bene Yisrael to be holy and to fear G-D (see VaYikrah 19:2, 14) Rashi ZT'L ZY'A in both places understands these concepts as being attitudinal in nature. Similarly Nachmonidies ZT'L ZY'A comments that being holy is going beyond the minimum required by Torah Law. As Nachmonidies observes one could technically observe the commandments but remain motivated by one's desires and lusts. Therefore the Torah calls for one's observance to be colored by an attitude of seeking to emulate G-D by being holy. The question then is where does the inspiration arise to nurture an attitude of holiness? Rabbi Akiva therefore calls attention to what is the underlying basis for the human condition and what tools G-D has bestowed upon Bene Yisrael to fulfill their duty to be holy and to fear G-D. By recognizing that reflecting the D-vine design and receiving the Torah are signs of G-D's cherishing humanity generally and Bene Yisrael specifically should motivate one to strive to fulfill all G-D wishes for that individual living a successful life