Now it is a good Time for this writer to discuss "Western" Mystical teachings. We have discussed a number of topics over the last three years, among which were Angels, Buddhism, and Wicca, and of course, NOVA THOUGHT! We are about to embark on a discussion on Kabbalah. Of necessity, in this writer's opinion, this must begin with learning about a man named Akiva ben Joseph, usually referred to as “Akiva.”
Akiva ben Joseph was born in 50 C.E., of humble parentage, to a landless peasant family near the coastal town of Lydda in Judaea, during the Roman occupation. Akiva grew up, and was a tall, strong man. He still could not read or write, nor was he interested in learning. He became a Shepherd, employed by a wealthy Jerusalemite named Kalba Sabu'a. As a young man, Akiva did not know a word of Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures). The only people he knew who could read were rich people: they didn't think highly of him, and Akiva didn't think highly of them.
Kalba Sabu'a, daughter Rachel watched Akiva every day, and was extremely impressed by his humility and his kindness in handling her father's flocks. She saw in him a tremendous, yet-unrealized potential. In one of the most beloved romance stories of all Time, still taught to Jewish children all over the world, they fell in love. Rachel asked Akiva to marry her. Her father found out about this, and he was very angry, because he had planned on his daughter marrying a Torah Scholar, rather than an illiterate shepherd. In his anger, he vowed to cut off his daughter Rachel financially. Rachel came to a decision.
Rachel made it a condition for their marriage that Akiva must go to study the Torah in the Yeshiva at Yavneh, which had recently been founded by Johanan ben Zakkai. Akiva was extremely hesitant. By now, Rachel had taught him how to read, but he still had not begun to study Torah. He was forty years old at the Time. One day, while he was tending to his flock, a he saw something that literally changed the course of his life. This event also changed the course of history, not just of the Jewish People, but of the world.
He was thirsty, and walked to a pool of water at the foot of a hill. He noticed that the pool had been hollowed out of the stone by the water, dripping off a brook running down the hill. He realized that the hardness of the stone had been overcome by the softness of water. He thought to himself, that if Torah could be compared to water, then his heart would be like the stone. He realized that he could study the Torah little by little, drop by drop. He decided to sincerely accept the conditions that had been asked of him, married Rachel, and began studying Torah.
According to Legend, Akiva studied the Torah for thirteen years without expressing any opinions. Finally, when he did say something, it was brilliant. His logic, speaking and writing abilities, and photographic memory, made him an extraordinary student. Eventually, he became one of the most beloved Rabbis of his Time, with over twenty-four thousand students. Rabbi Akiva was a true genius, although known for his abject humility and refusal to accept titles. He helped organize Halakah (interpretation of Laws in the Torah). He was instrumental in founding Modern Rabbinical Judaism. He told his students for years, that a drop of water had taught him to study the Torah. Eventually, founded his own Yeshiva.
Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph later became a follower of the Bar Kochba, believing the latter to be the Messiah. Due to his involvement with the Bar Kochba Revolt, he was hated by the Roman Empire. He later recanted this belief, but continued, against Roman Law, to continue to teach Torah. Rabbi Akiva was executed by the Roman Empire in 132 C.E. Legend has it that he chanted the Shema as he was being tortured and executed.
One of Rabbi Akiva‘s best-known works is called the Alphabet of Akiva ben Joseph, called a Midrash (explanation of scripture letter by letter). He is also said to have written the Sepher Yetzirah (“Book of Formation”), the oldest extant Text, and one of the most important, about the Kabbalah. According to Tradition, the Sepher Yetzirah was either passed to Abraham, or revealed as Oral Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Regardless, it was written down in, pretty much, its current form, at the latest around Akiva’s Time.
The impact of the Sepher Yetzirah on modern civilization is immense, immeasurable.