Shabbat Parashat Bo 5773
Ein Ayah: Kri’at Shema for its Own Sake(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:230)
Gemara: When they were taking out Rabbi Akiva for execution, it was time for Kri’at Shema. They were scraping his skin off with sharp metal combs, and he was concentrating on accepting the yoke of the heavenly kingdom with love [by saying Kri’at Shema]. His students said to him: “Our master, this far?” He said to them: “My whole life I was disturbed about this pasuk of ‘with your whole soul,’ i.e., even if He takes your life. I would say: ‘When will the opportunity present itself to me that I should fulfill it.’ Now that I have the opportunity, should I not fulfill it?”
Ein Ayah: The goal of accepting the yoke of the heavenly kingdom daily can be understood as preparatory – one must have the feeling entrenched in his soul so that it will be there when he needs it. If so, if a person’s dedication to Hashem ends up being tested and he clearly passes the test, as Rabbi Akiva did, one would think that there would no longer be a need to perform the act of acceptance.
However, Rabbi Akiva taught us that the goal is not simply preparatory, but it is a wonderful goal in and of its own. When one sincerely accepts Hashem’s dominion until his very last ounce of strength is spent, he sanctifies and elevates himself ever closer to Hashem in an unsurpassed manner. Therefore, it is clear that one who took the opportunity to do this every day and in the most profound manner would seize the opportunity to add to this spiritual elevation by doing so when he acts upon his dedication to Hashem in the ultimate way – with “all his soul” and with love.
Ein Ayah: The Goal of One
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:231)
Gemara: Rabbi Akiva was stretching out the word “echad” (one) until his soul departed in one.
Ein Ayah: There are many extensive, intensive, and detailed mitzvot in the Torah. However, the general rule that emanates from them is that the whole apparatus of laws is designed to ultimately teach that Hashem is one. The reason that a Jew is required to give his life for mitzvot, which includes all the mitzvot at the time of a decree of the enemies, is related to the teaching that Hashem is one. The existence of the Nation of Israel, in its full characteristics and spirit, is important for Hashem because it ensures the idea of knowing Hashem’s oneness in all its purity. The many mitzvot are there to ensure that these characteristics survive unchanged even during difficult times when Jews are in danger of assimilating among the other nations. They must remain recognizable as the blessed offspring of Hashem. Therefore, the individual’s willingness to give his life for the Torah’s values is related to the oneness of HashemAfter the brave act of teaching Torah publicly at a time that the government forbade it and tried to cause the ideal to be forgotten, Rabbi Akiva wanted to end off things in the proper manner. He, therefore, demonstrated that the Torah he had taught, with all its details, was all related to the knowledge of the oneness of Hashem. That is why he elongated the word “echad” and died on that note of oneness.
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Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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