Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review of Lesson Four (Portraits in Leadership)

Thank you for joining our fourth class of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. We began with Rabbi Akiva’s early years as a shepherd. One day, while walking in the fields, Rabbi Akiva noticed a rock formation that had been created through many years of water droplets falling onto the rock’s surface. Contemplating the scene, he reasoned that if water could have such an impact on the hard rock, then Torah would be able to mold and shape his heart. Rachel, seeing his potential despite his lack of schooling, married him on the condition that he study Torah. Her father considered the match unfitting, and he disowned her.

Their marriage began with great poverty, but Rachel was not dissuaded from encouraging Rabbi Akiva’s studies. He left home for twenty-four years at her urging and returned with twenty-four thousand students. When he returned and saw Rachel pushing toward him in the crowd, he told the students to make way for her because all that he and they possessed was due to her. Rachel’s father annulled his vow, and they lived in great wealth. Rabbi Akiva bought his wife a golden tiara with the image of Jerusalem as a sign of his appreciation for her long years of sacrifice.

Rabbi Akiva’s students perished within a short span of time. Tradition attributes the cause of their death to the fact that they did not show sufficient respect to one another. Despite this crushing loss at an advanced age, Rabbi Akiva nurtured additional students who were key to the survival and preservation of the oral tradition. Rabbi Akiva’s optimism and resilience is also demonstrated in an incident in which he could not find lodging and lost his lamp, his donkey and his rooster while out in the field at night. He remained positive that this was for the best, and in fact, he escaped being captured by robbers as a result of these seemingly unlucky events. In yet another illustration of optimism, Rabbi Akiva laughed when seeing the razed site of the temple, understanding this to be the first stage in its rebuilding and the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies of redemption.

Rabbi Akiva hoped that the Bar Kochba revolt would usher in a better era, but these hopes were unfulfilled. As a result of the failure of the revolt, Roman rule became more oppressive and Torah learning was outlawed. Rabbi Akiva nevertheless continued to teach, seeing this as vital to life itself. The Romans arrested Rabbi Akiva, and after two years of imprisonment, he was cruelly put to death. Rabbi Akiva died with the shema on his lips, seeing his death as an opportunity to give his very life to G-d.

Despite many setbacks, Rabbi Akiva’s perseverance and constant optimism prevailed. Judaism was imperiled, and only one person could save the Torah and Judaism. What can one person accomplish? Perhaps we should ask instead, “what can’t one person accomplish, given sufficient resolve and determination?” Thank you again for joining us, and I hope to see you next week for our next portrait, Rabbi Meir.

1 comment:

  1. Now, I get a glimspe in class of the kind of narsike (sp) that Moses had to put up with in the desert... Oi Vay (said in Jackie Mason voice).

    Your teaching on Rabbi Akiva. His spouse sent him to study the Torah for 12 years. Once he was more studied his family became wealthy regardless of their background. Some students were concerned about 12 years of study away from his family. Not to be socio-centeric, in ancient times absence from family for extended periods of time was not unusual.

    The Roman example is: "The Making of he Roman Army From Republic to Empire" by Dr. Lawrence Keppie, Barnes Noble 1994, page p173 states, I quote: The Roman army of the Empire was a professional force of legionaries, auxiliaries and fleet personel who enlisted for extended periods and who regarded the army as a lifetime's occupation. Enlistment was not 'for the duration' of a particular war, but for 25 years (26 in the navy), and men were sometimes retained even longer." p173

    Josephus the Jewish historian, wrote "If one looks at the Roman military system, one will recognise that the possession of a large empire has come into their hands as the prize of their valor, not as a gift of fortune. For this people does not wait for the outbreak of war to practice with weapons nor do they sit idle in peacetime...rather they seem to have been born with weapons in their hands." IBID, Jacket cover.

    Personally, I have not seen any Romans around but there appear to be some Jews who Torah Study.

    Another source: "HADRIAN'S WALL in the days of the Romans" by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham, Wren's Park Publishing 1984 page 22

    "Auxiliaries served for 25 years" page 22 "When an Auxiliary was released at the end of his service, he was presented with a bronze diploma giving the details of his service and granting him Roman citizenship." page 23, IBID

    Some bronze fragments of this dipolma are found but sadly no Roman citizens. I digress.

    Rabbi Akiva appeared with 24,000 disciples or about four legions in Roman terms. A force to be reckoned with, however, they all died in a plague. Rabbi Akiva remained true to his Faith and the Torah.

    I enjoyed the lesson about Rabbi Akiva because his study of the Torah endured and his oppressors did not, even though, the Roman's appearred to have all the power, and clearly they did not.