Orthodox Jews do not get married during the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot with the exception of the 33rd day (Log BaOmer). Why is this day different from the other 48 days?
The traditional explanation is that a plague, which had been killing the students of Rabbi Akiba, ended on this day. Yet the mourning continues after Log BaOmer although it is not as deep.
The answer lies in the nature of the plague. Thousands of Jews in Rabbi Akiba’s generation had married non-Jews. This was especially true in areas of the Diaspora that Rabbi Akiba had visited.
Many of these non-Jews did not become Jewish because their Jewish partners did not actively encourage them to convert to Judaism.
Their children did not learn to read Hebrew or to study Torah,
That all changed one day when Rabbi Akiba and many of his students officially welcomed thousands of new Jews into the Jewish people.
That day, 33 days after the first day of Passover, was Log BaOmer. Rabbi Akiba, whose own father Joseph was a convert, thus helped heal the hemorrhaging that had been occurring in the vitality of the Jewish community.
Today we also face a similar problem. We too should actively encourage non-Jews to become Jewish. Log BaOmer would be a good time to honor people who have become Jewish and to plan activities encouraging Jews to promote conversion.
The following Aggadah is an example of the teachings we should share with Jewish people.
Rabbi Akiba was the most famous rabbi of the second century. Of course, when he was a child he was not famous. Indeed, he was not a rabbi.
In fact, he was not getting a Jewish education and he could not even read Hebrew.
One day when Akiba was about 10 or 11 years old, Josh, one of his Jewish friends, asked him why his Roman father Tiberias had so many Gods.
Akiba said that his father had only 3 Gods: Apollo, the son of the God Zeus, Zeus, the father of the Gods, and Athena, Goddess of wisdom. But Tiberias prays only to two of them Apollo the son and Zeus the father.
Josh explained that Jews worship only one God, and they never make statues or pictures to represent the God that they pray to.
Over the next few weeks Akiba asked lots of questions, including some that Josh could not answer, so Josh asked his older sister Sarah to explain Judaism to Akiba.
Everything that Josh and Sarah taught Akiba made a lot of sense to him.
Akiba started asking his father lots of questions, especially about why he worshiped images of God, and why he prayed to both the father Zeus and the son Apollo.
After a few months Akiba’s father decided to study Judaism with a rabbi and on Log BaOmer Tiberias became Jewish taking the Hebrew name of Yosef.
Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishneh Torah; Seder HaDorot states, “Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef received Torah from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, his father, was a righteous convert”.
But by then Akiba was 12 years old and felt he was too old to go to Hebrew school with the little kids. It was only years later when Akiba got married, and his wife Rachel strongly encouraged him, that Akiba learned how to read Hebrew and started to study the Torah.
Rachel his wife, encouraged Akiba to study for many years and become a rabbi.
After many more years he became the Famous Rabbi Akiba and that is why Temple Akiba is named after him.
The lesson is “it is never to late to learn” and “encouraging someone to become Jewish and to study Torah is a great Mitsvah”