Akiva Nechamtanu – The Explanation

Akiva Nechamtanu.

People have asked me what the meaning is behind the name of this blog. It stems from a tale at the very end of Masechet Makkot. The story goes that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Eliezer ben Azaryah, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva were walking together in Jerusalem. When the group made it to Temple Mount, they saw a fox scurry out of the exact location of where the Kodesh HaKodashim once stood. Three of the rabbis began to cry, while Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. The teary triumvirate looked at Rabbi Akiva and asked what it was that he found to be funny about a fox running through the ruins of the holiest site in our tradition! Rabbi Akiva turned the tables and asked his three companions why they were crying, and they responded that their sadness stemmed from the verse in the Torah which states that any “Zar” or outsider who enters this holy place will be put to death (Bamidbar 1:51). Now, not only is the building no longer standing, but there are animals living there! Rabbi Akiva responded that for this exact reason did he laugh, and supports this claim with a plethora of evidence from the Neviim. He brings the verse from Yeshayahu (8:2) which connects the testimony of two prophets, one from Uriyah and one from Zechariah. Uriyah states (found in Michah 3:12) that Jerusalem will be plowed as a field and desolate, while the nevuah of Zechariah 8:4 says that old men and women will yet sit in Jerusalem. Rabbi Akiva mentions that the prophecy of Uriah was from the time of the first Temple, while Zechariah’s was from the second Temple, and the latter would only be fulfilled after the former took place. Now that this first prophecy had come true, with Har Habit reduced to rubble, Rabbi Akiva knew that, one day, the grandeur would be restored, and all would be right in the world. His colleagues respond “Akiva Nechamtanu, Akiva Nechamtanu”, “Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva, you have comforted us.”

There are two reasons why the above account is my favorite story found in the Talmud to date. The first reason is because it shows me the immense strength of Rabbi Akiva. These four Torah giants are walking together and see the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash. Imagine the trauma, the memories, the raw emotion. It renders three of them to break down crying. Only Rabbi Akiva had the foresight to muster up the ability to laugh, to realize that yes, it may be painful at this moment, but we will yet have our day. There will be a time when this place is once again hallowed with a holy temple, where Jews of all stripes will come together. To keep that in mind in such a dark time is truly remarkable.

The second reason may be a little more obvious. My Hebrew name is Akiva. Rabbi Akiva has served as a sort of personal hero to me since the time I first learned of him. I am named for my maternal grandfather, William Radman z”l (Akiva ben Yehoshua), whose 31st yahrzeit happens to be today. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of him over the last few years. He is someone who I never merited to meet, yet heard so much about from my mother (A”H) and my aunt (tibadel lechaim tom ve’aruchim). I cherish the pictures I have of him, and the remarks he gave at my parents’ wedding which were recorded on video. It’s hard to miss someone who you’ve never met before, someone you never got to know first hand.

I find it very appropriate that his yahrzeit falls in the time period leading up to Tisha B’av, a time when world Jewry is thrust into mourning. We grieve for the losses of our two holy Temples, among a myriad of other heinous events that historically occurred on this day, and every year we come up with the same quandary. The churban happened so long ago: how is it possible to properly feel this sense of loss when we never knew what we had in the first place? It’s the feeling that grips me when I think about the 9th of Av and when I think about my grandfather. I feel the sense of loss, even though I don’t know exactly what I’m missing out on.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

May we merit to see Tisha B’Av become a day of celebration, complete with the building of the Third Temple bimheira beyameinu.

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