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 B’Omer). Why is this day different from the other 48 days?
The traditional explanation is that a plague, which had killed thousands of the students of Rabbi Akiba, ended on this day. But if that were the case why does the mourning and the wedding prohibition continue for another 16 days after Log B’Omer?
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 some 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 B’Omer. 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 B’Omer would be a good time to honor people who have become Jewish and to plan activities encouraging Jews to promote conversion.
The following Agadah 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; and he was not a rabbi. In fact, he was not even learning to read Hebrew in a Jewish school.
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 worshipped images of God, and why he prayed to both the father Zeus and the son Apollo.
After a few months Akiba’s farther decided to study Judaism with a rabbi and on Log B’Omer he became Jewish taking the Hebrew name of Yosef.
Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishneh Torah; Seder HaDorot states that Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef received Torah from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, Akiba’s 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 many Jewish things are 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”.
Another story about Rabbi Akiba.
A young man who was a Philistine from the city of Gaza once went to work for a Jewish man named Joseph. The man’s name was Alexander. He was very curious about Jews because he had never really known a Jewish person before.
Joseph always tried to answer Alexander’s questions and often lent him books about Judaism. Joseph also encouraged Alexander to come with him to Shabbat services.
When Alexander asked questions that Joseph couldn’t answer Joseph encouraged Alexander to meet with a Rabbi.
Joseph was very proud to be Jewish and loved telling non-Jewish people about the meaning of Jewish holidays and the reasons for Jewish customs and ceremonies. One day Alexander told Joseph that he had decided to become Jewish. He had stopped believing in the Philistine religion years ago.
Now he felt that he had found something that was good for him. A few months later Alexander invited Joseph to come and witness his conversion ceremony. Joseph was happy to come.
During his conversion ceremony on Log B’Omer, a person who is becoming Jewish is given a Hebrew name. Joseph was surprised when he heard that Alexander had picked the Hebrew name Joseph because as he told everyone, Joseph had been the one who had most encouraged him to learn about Judaism.
Joseph was filled with joy that his efforts had such a wonderful outcome.
A few years later, Joseph the convert got married. He asked his friend Joseph to be the best man at the wedding. Joseph the convert and his new wife had four children, three daughters and then a son. The son was given the name Akiba ben Joseph the convert.
When Akiba grew up he became a very famous Rabbi. To this day more Jews are named after the great Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph the convert, then Alexander the great.
When one encourages non-Jews to become Jewish one does a Mitsvah that can produce benefits for many generations to come.
Welcoming non-Jews into the Jewish people is a Mitsvah that keeps on giving.