Rabbi Akiva saved us physically and spiritually

Today we’re blessed with good economic, technological and spiritual growth. Yet we mourn that the Roman Empire occupied us, imprisoned us, and killed us and that the Bar Kochba revolt failed.

Professor Gerald Aranoff

Judaism Ancient bar Kochba coin found
Ancient bar Kochba coin found

Rabbi Akiva exemplified teaching Torah in youth and in old age:

Yevamoth 62b:

“R. Akiba said: Even If one has learned Torah in his youth, he should learn Torah in his old age. Even if he had disciples in his youth, he should also have disciples in his old age. As it says “Sow your seed in the morning, and don’t hold back your hand in the evening, since you don’t know which is going to succeed, the one or the other, or if both are equally good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6).”

The Gamara in Yevamoth 62b then relates the famous legend of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva dying an ugly death during the days of the sefirah, between Passover and Shavuoth,:

“A Tanna taught: All the [twelve thousand pairs of disciples] died between Passover and Pentecost. R. Chama b. Abba said and others say that or, it might be said, R. Hiyya b. Abin said: They all died an ugly death. What [death] was it?-R. Nahman said: Croup אסכרה [Berachoth 8a The worst of them is the croup, and the easiest of them is the kiss].”

Rabbi Akiva saved us physically and spiritually

With the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt about 135 CE, the Roman Empire doubled down on repression.   The Sages at the time wrote :

Yevamoth 62b:

“They said: R. Akiba had twelve thousand pairs of disciples, extending from Gabbatha to Antipatris [two border towns that define the Judean Territory]; and they all died during one period because they did not treat each other with respect. The world was left barren [of Torah] until R. Akiba came to our Rabbis in the South and taught [the Torah] to them. They were R. Meir, R. Judah, R. Jose, R. Simeon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua; and it was these [later disciples who] upheld [the study of] Torah at that time.”

No weddings and no haircuts during sefirah days

The Schulchan Aruch laws during sefirah days;

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 493:1

“It is customary not to marry a woman between Passover and Shavuoth until Lag B'Omer, because at that time the students of Rabbi Akiva died...”

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 493:2

“It is customary not to get a haircut until Lag B'Omer, when they say that they stopped dying...”

My Theory: The Sages were deathly afraid of the Roman censors

I’m reading about the bad situation in Venezuela today.

See https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-liberate-venezuela-11557688819

“Venezuela’s fearsome intelligence service struck another blow against the democratic opposition last week by arresting Edgar Zambrano in Caracas.... Interim President Juan Guaidó remains free, but the regime now holds some 870 political prisoners, according to the Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Foro Penal. Since a failed uprising April 30, Mr. Maduro’s henchmen have doubled down on repression.... Rescuing Venezuela starts with the recognition that the country is occupied. Russian military support is troubling—as is the Venezuelan-Iranian relationship, which I wrote about in November 2014. Tehran has likely planted sleeper cells throughout the country.”

My theory is that the bad situation Venezuela today is similar to the situation Rabbi Akiva and the Sages faced after the Bar Kochba revolt. They faced the fearsome intelligence service of the Roman Empire who captured and jailed so many of our Sages.  We were occupied by The Roman Empire who planted sleeper cells throughout the county.

Our Sages were deathly afraid of the Roman Empire and its supporters.  They could not say the least bad word about them for fear of the censors and traitors.  My theory is that the Sages made up a round number, 24,000, and claimed that God struck them with croup because they didn’t treat each other with respect.  This would please the traitors and secularist that hated the religious for no good reason. In truth the Sages wrote a lie from deathly fear of the censors and traitors.  

Today we’re blessed with good economic, technological and spiritual growth

Yes, we mourn that the Roman Empire occupied us, imprisoned us, and killed us and that the Bar Kochba revolt failed.   Rabbi Akiva and Torah teaching saved us physically and spiritually. We’re alive today and witnessing the ingathering of the exiles and the sustained/strong economic, technological, and spiritual growth in Israel. For this we are immensely grateful to God and declare a holiday and say Hallel.  In Exile spiritual growth is declining to our sorrow.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed argues against falsehoods: /Articles/Article.aspx/23853:

“Some people find it difficult to rejoice on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut because they accept the falsehood that the Zionist movement caused the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot. However, the truth is the exact opposite. Although many disbelievers operated within the framework of the Zionist movement and one of their goals was to secularize the nation, in practice, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the ingathering of the exiles, the Jewish people were saved physically and spiritually. Secularism was caused due to many reasons – mainly because of the difficulty in dealing with enlightenment and modern society. Aliyah (immigration) to Israel was not the source of the problem, but rather, the solution. Consequently, in all Diaspora communities the percentage of assimilation and secularism is immeasurably greater than in Israel. Anyone who refuses to see this, and slanders the State of Israel, is an ingrate – unthankful for the goodness God has bestowed upon us, and unappreciative towards the activists of the Zionist movement over the generations.”

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed argues for having more babies.

“When Israel was about to enter the Land, the Divine instruction was to inherit only the western side of the Jordan, despite the fact that the eastern side of the Jordan River is part of Eretz Yisrael and had already been conquered,  as explained in the Torah portion ‘Massey’. This was because the ‘Dor HaMidbar’ (the Generation of the Desert) despised the Land of Israel and was negligent in the mitzvah of peru u’revu, and consequently, during the forty years of wandering in the desert, they did not continue to multiply and increase as they did in Egypt. This created a situation in which there were not enough people to properly inherit the eastern side of the Jordan as well (see, Ramban, Numbers 21:21). The price paid for not having enough Jews to settle all of the Land of Israel was that our enemies remained, and the Torah’s warning, “If you do not drive out the land’s inhabitants before you, those who remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, causing you troubles in the land that you settle” (Numbers 33:55), came to fruition.”

We have to have larger families. This is Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's plea to us today.