At S’firah, Rabbi Akiva

Is brought to mind:

Illuminator of the Mishnah,

Inspiration to mankind.

His beginning was lowly.

A hired shepherd,

Who couldn’t read

Or write a word.

Down on the Sages,

Whom he’d mock.

Till at a well, one day, he asked,

Who carved this rock?


It was the water

Dripping slowly, but constantly –

This was Akiva’s epiphany.

If the soft water

Could wear away stone,

Perhaps this am ha’aretz

Could be shown

The Torah; perhaps it could enter

His hardened heart.

At 40 years old,

He made a start.


In the back of class

At cheder, learning alef-beis.

With perseverance,

His knowledge began

To explicate.


His boss’ daughter, Rachel,

Had seen something in

This simple shepherd.

There was greatness in him,

But her love for Akiva

Made her wealthy father wroth.

When they married,

He cut her off

In poverty; Rachel even

Had to sell her hair.

But in Akiva, her vision realized

She was happy with her share.


When Moshe Rabbeinu

Ascended on high,

He saw writing

He couldn’t identify:

Symbols HaKadosh Baruch Hu

In the process of writing

Not yet seen, were the Tagin.

 Moshe asked,

“Master of the Universe,

What mean those signs

Atop the letters?”

Hashem told him, “Generations down,

My servant, Akiva, will use these crowns,

Mystic revelations he will find in these,

To expound halachic profundities.”


Hashem transported Moshe

To the future B’nei Brak,

To Akiva’s Academy

Where it came as a shock,

Sitting in the back

Of Akiva’s class,

Moshe found himself at an impasse.

He felt agitated and dismayed,

Couldn’t comprehend

The concepts conveyed,

Inadequate, his knowledge remiss.

Then a student asked:

Master, where did you learn this?

To his talmid, Akiva gave his reply:

“This comes from Moshe

At Sinai.”


At S’firah time,

Were lost to him

24,000 talmidim;

The world had been left desolate,

But Akiva was not near done yet!

Bolstering determination and drive,

He began again, to build

With five.


Two shepherds

Wrought great influence,

Love for people and Torah

Defined their existence.

Moshe, the greatest prophet

The world ever saw;

Akiva, absolute proponent

Of the Oral Law:

One began as royalty

The other, as a nobody;

But, they still give us strength,

Their tenacity

Changed the face of history.

 By Sharon Marcus