I am thinking of a man by the name of Ben Kalba Savua.
Ben Kalba was a wealthy Jew who made a fortune in both the meat and textile industries. One of his employees was a JFB, which means a John Fitzgerald…oops…excuse me..it means a Jew From Birth. I don’t know how frum this Jew could have been. He was the son of a righteous ger, but his knowledge of Yiddishkeit was severely lacking. He couldn’t even read the alef-beis. In fact, this man was not only an am ha-aretz by the standards of his day, he would likely be considered an am ha-aretz even by the vastly dimished standards of our day. On top of this, he had a genuine distaste for real Torah scholars.
With this information one should not be surprised to hear that Ben Kalba, who wanted to match his daughter with a Torah scholar, was not a happy camper on the day he was informed that she was intent on marrying this… nobody. Ben Kalba reacted by cutting his daughter off from inheriting any of his fortune.
What could have caused a child of the rich and well meaning Ben Kalba to make such an irrational and irresponsible decision? The answer is that her motivations were neither irrational nor irresponsible. Ben Kalba’s daughter was no ordinary woman. She understood that there were commodities in the world of far greater importance than wealth or luxury. In fact, for some people, wealth and luxury occupy a very low rung on their ladder of priorities.
On the outside, Ben Kalba’s daughter saw a man unique in his gentleness of manner and in his modesty, and she also saw an untapped wellspring of Torah potential inside the man. A wellspring that lacked only an avenue through which it could flow and flourish.
Against her father’s wishes they were married.
In case you haven’t yet figured it out yet, the subject of this piece is Rabbi Akiva along with his aishes chayil, the tzadekes Rachel. They married and had a son named Yehoshua. Part of the agreement that Rachel made with Akiva was that at an appropriate time, he would leave home in order to attend yeshiva and learn. In my humble opinion I don’t think very many Jewish woman would be willing to make such a demand upon their husbands.
Akiva took his son Yehoshua and they left for yeshiva together. In the beginning they even learned together, starting with the alef-beis. Soon however they had to learn separately as each would progress at his own speed. How wonderful it would be if yeshivos today would admit the sincere baalei teshuva to learn with the yeladim and bachorim, at whatever level they needed to help them catch up on what they missed growing up… AND allowing them to skip ahead according to the ability and perseverence of each individual. We might find mini versions of Rabbi Akiva suddenly appearing out of nowhere throughout the Jewish world. That is my personal definition of loving my fellow Jew, however impractical it may seem.
Akiva spent 12 years in concentrated study and came home having risen to incredible Torah heights and having established a large following of his own. After spending time at home with Rachel, it was the desire of his dear wife that Akiva again leave home to continue the rewarding work he had begun. Akiva departed for another 12 years.
What I have related is only one piece of the life of a Torah giant who not only reached for the stars…but actually touched them. Between purity and impurity there are 50 levels. Moshe Rabbeinu had ascended to the 49th level of purity during his lifetime. Rabbi Akiva had entered the realm of level number 50.
One of Rabbi Akiva’s life achievements was a sefer he wrote called, “Osios d’Rabbi Akiva,” in which he explained deep mystical understandings for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alef-beis.
Up to this point I have brought out various insights and information. I am now going to attempt to take these ideas apart and reassemble into a new picture I’m going to call, “The Omer.”
The divisions of the Torah Verses, known as pasukim, come from Sinai. There are 5,846 of them. I verified this myself by counting and numbering every Verse from Bereishis 1:1 to Devarim 34:12. For example, ask me to cite Verses 2,447 and 2,448 and I should be able to do so in less than 30
Actually I already decided on those two Verses because they coincide with the timeline of the Makkos (Plagues), followed by Yetziyas Mitzrayim, the Omer period, and culminating with Har Sinai on Shavuous. Unfortunately the Egel Hazahav found its way into this time period as well. All of this occurred in the Hebrew years 2,447 and 2,448.
So let’s look at Torah Verse # 2,447 and Torah Verse # 2,448, which land us on Shemos, Chapter 32, Verses 11-12 – “Then Moshe supplicated before G-d, his G-d, and said: For what purpose, O G-d, should your wrath flare against your people who You have brought forth out of eretz Mitzrayim, with great power and with a mighty hand?…Turn back from your glowing wrath…”
I don’t know about you but I am startled by this seemingly uncanny synchronicity between the events of 2,447-48 and the Verses 2,447-48. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel compelled to tell you that matching up Torah Verses with Hebrew years has startled me many times.
The Omer period, which begins the night following the initial Seder, is designed to be a time for a continuous spiritual climb up the 50 rung ladder, away from all that is impure, and toward all that is pure. At the end of seven weeks, 7 x 7 days, the pinnacle of our journey is reached. Next stop: Day number 49 + 1: Shavuous.
If I have written understandably to this point and you are still with me, let’s now move into one of countless tangents which are found everywhere when studying the Torah. My rabbi once told me that of the 5,846 Verses comprising the Torah, only two contain all 22 Hebrew letters. I found this information very exciting, but that’s just me. If anyone knows of any other such Verses I would be most interested in hearing about them.
Here are the Verses:
VERSE 1 – Shemos (Exodus) 16:16 – “This is the thing that G-d has commanded, ‘Gather from it (the manna from Heaven), for every man according to what he eats – an omer per person – according to the number of your people, according to whomever is in his tent shall you take.'”
VERSE 2 – Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:34 – “Or has any god miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that the Lord, your God, did for you in Mitzrayim (Egypt) before your eyes?”
Notice that these two Verses are directly linked. In the first G-d has just drowned the Mitzrim in the Yam Suf and the mon is about to fall from the sky. This will provide the Jewish people with the sustenance they will need for their sojourn in the midbar. In the second Verse Yetziyas Mitzrayim has become a memory. On the Seder night however we are to reminisce those events as if we were going through it at that very moment.
When I was first made aware of these two Verses containing all 22 Hebrew letters I felt compelled to do something. I couldn’t wait I raced to count how many letters were in each Verse. I don’t know why but I just had to know. To say that I was startled (again) would be an understatement. The Torah startles me all the time.
There were exactly 70 letters in the first Verse, the number given for the nations of the world. There were exactly 120 letters in the second Verse, the years of life for both Moshe and Akiva. The first Verse talks about the total reliance the Jews would now have on G-d. We add 50 letters, the number of rungs from the bottom to the top of the ladder, and we reach the 120 letters of the second Verse. The second Verse is a constant reminder to us of where we came from and where we have ascended. It is the central theme of Pesach. Dayenu!
Oh…and Ben Kalba Savua did teshuva and gave Akiva and Rachel half his fortune.