Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rabbi Akiva and his students

Recently, I commented on this this fellow's blog; his entry was:
Posted by Larry Lennhoff at 9:15 AM, Tuesday, July 31, 2007 A quick thought about Rabbi Akiva. It is out of season I know, but it occurred to me that 1000 pairs (couples?) of students died for each additional year Rabbi Akiva stayed away after from Rachel after he became a Talmid Chacham.
My response:
Hi Larry,

Just floated to your blog after seeing a comment you made on Hirhurim.

I gave a drasha on this topic. I think the answer to your question is seen in the Aggadata (TB Nedarim 50a) - when Rabbi Akiva returned after 14 years with his 24000 students, they repudiated Akiva's wife: "So she went to see him, but the disciples wished to repulse her. ‘Make way for her,’ he told them, ‘for my [learning] and yours are hers.’"(translation Soncino)

Hence I think the Gemara is telling us that the nature of the students' sin was related to Akiva's absence from his wife.
See this article for some more sources. Just to expand on the point I made in the Drasha: the fact that the original students - i.e. the ones who died - didn't get to see their Rosh Yeshiva in a human, loving, normal family relationship, they grew to believe that their Torah knowledge was more important than human relations. The fact that they would brush a woman aside - to treat her with disrespect - can be extrapolated to how they must have treated each other.

{2009 Update: Pic of Hadrian and Rabbi Akiva from here.}

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