Motti Wilhelm

What would Rabbi Akiva say?

Tisha B'Av 2023 at the Kotel (YouTube)
Tisha B'Av 2023 at the Kotel (Western Wall YouTube Channel)

The week of Tisha B’Av is always filled with sorrow, reflection and hope. Given all that’s been happening, this year it was uniquely so.

Within Chabad, much of the discourse was about “What would Rabbi Akiva say?”.

The first century Mishnaic scholar, Rabbi Akiva had the unique ability to see how tomorrow’s outcome informs today’s input. As such he was able to differentiate between a setback and step-back ahead of a future leap.

He embraced a Halachik outlook which favored short term losses for larger long term gains.

A “picture of the future” guided him from illiteracy to heading a Torah academy of 24,000: It was when he saw a rock pierced by a steady drip of water, he visualized how through consistent application Torah will enter his heart.

With a clear view of the end, he was able to be “comforter in chief”. When others would cry, Rabbi Akivah was able to laugh.

Once, when he and his colleagues were ascending to Jerusalem, they saw a fox emerging from the site of the Holy of Holies. While his colleagues began weeping, Rabbi Akiva laughed.

The colleagues wept over the desecration of all that is holy. Rabbi Akivah laughed, for by witnessing the fulfillment of the prophetic words “Zion will be plowed like a field”, he felt ensured that the promise “elderly men and women will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem” would follow.

Upon sharing his perspective his colleagues replied: “Akiva you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us“.

There is a well known saying “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end”. Rabbi Akiva always saw the end and thus he was able to ensure us, everything will be okay.

How would Rabbi Akiva see current events in the context of the future? I know he would be laughing, perceiving the positive and I am so trying to hear him.

One thing we know for sure. Rabbi Akiva would remind us, as he always did “To love your fellow as yourself” is is a fundamental  principle of the Torah.

(For a full exposition on Rabbi Akiva’s Halachic, Aggadic and personal perspective see Likkutei Sichot Volume 19 Nachamu and Of Tears and Laughter) 

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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