“Letter to my Son Akiva” (born 10 years ago, on Erev LAG B’OMER)
Hi All – we just observed the 2nd Yahzeit of my beloved GRANDMOTHER
MIRIAM OCKMAN, who began her journey to the next world after 88 years filled
with beauty, love, wisdom, and gracefulness. In addition, this truly great
Great-Grandmother of my children was buried on the Birthday of my Son Akiva.
In the past few years around Akiva’s birthday, I have circulated an adapted
version of a letter that I wrote to him shortly after his birth. Our Sages
say that in the naming of their children, parents are endowed with a
“Divine inspiration” that guides them in choosing a name that reflects each
child’s essence. So around 9 years ago, we decided to write this letter to
take Akiva on the unusual “Jessica & Jon Jewish Journey” of how we “chose”
his name. I hope that you enjoy it and that my Grandmom’s Soul can get
some nachas from it as well!
One more related point: once when I had been to both a reunion and a
funeral, Akiva confused the two words and asked me how the reunion was (when
I had just been to a funeral). I told him that he was right! The funeral I
had been to WAS in fact a reunion: the one who left this world would be
reunited with the Souls that had already departed, and so too we would
eventually reunite with the one who had recently taken that journey. In the
mean time, may my Grandmom’s Soul be elevated in the merit of the deeds of
those she has influenced and inspired!
Have a Wonderful Shabbos & an Inspiring Lag B’Omer! Love, Jon, Jess, & The
7 DAYS WITHOUT A NAME
My Dear Sweet Son – I can’t even tell you how much I love the name “Akiva”.
True, I have so much love for the person behind it that it’s only natural
for me to love the name as well. But that’s not the only reason I love it:
after all, you lived for an entire (pre-Bris) week without a name, a week in
which we had already begun building up love for you. We were therefore
challenged to find an independently beloved name befitting our powerful
feelings for our newborn Son. So how did we choose “Akiva”?
REBBE AKIVA: HERO OF THE “LATE STARTERS”
The preliminary step was that your Imma simply loved the name, both how
it sounded and what it stood for. Rebbe Akiva – like your Imma and Abba
– was a person who did not grow up especially observant or knowing a great
deal about Judaism, but who chose later in life to learn and commit himself
to the ideals of our precious Torah. He became the greatest Sage of his
Generation, and even for people who grow up in a Torah-based home in our
time, Rebbe Akiva represents how much a person can accomplish when he puts
his mind, heart, and Soul to it.
So even before you were born, your Imma was trying to convince me that
“Akiva” might very well be the right name for our first boy. I must admit,
the name didn’t quite resonate with me at that point,; but a few other
developments were beginning to win me over to your Imma’s insight.
BORN A FEW HOURS BEFORE LAG B’OMER
First of all, you were born during the Omer, a time that is profoundly
connected to Rebbe Akiva (sadly, the Omer corresponds with the loss of the
great Rabbi’s 24,000 students). Even though in this context, the name
“Akiva” is associated with an unhappy occurrence, we felt that it gave us
yet another reason to pay tribute to a person who rose to even greater
heights by overcoming challenges. Moreover, you were born only a few hours
before the holiday of Lag B’Omer, which is said to be the day when the
plague afflicting Rebbe Akiva’s students ceased.
DAY 32 OF THE OMER: LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Secondly, the specific day on which you were born is very well connected to
the famous “Mission Statement” that, according to Rebbe Akiva, summarizes
our objective in living: “Love your neighbor as yourself – this is the
primary Principle of the Torah”. In what way is your Hebrew Birthday
especially connected to this idea?
Some Jews have a custom of studying the “48 Ways to acquiring Torah wisdom”
during the 49 days of the Omer (one “way” per day, reviewing all of the ways
on the 49th day). There are those who say that this exercise in spiritual
development stems from when the Jewish people left Egypt. Why would the
newly liberated Jews embark on this 49 day growth program? Because on the
50th day after their departure they were to stand at Sinai and receive the
Torah! Therefore, learning these 48 ways to acquiring Torah wisdom – one
“way” per day with a Day 49 review – was an ideal means of becoming “fit”
for Day 50: the date designated for the lofty Sinai Revelation, when the
Jews would receive their defining mission of safeguarding the Torah.
According to this view, each specific way of acquiring Torah wisdom has
an intrinsic connection with the day on which it is learned. And you, my
dear Son, were born on the 32nd day of the Omer: the day on which the
corresponding “way to wisdom” is – you guessed it – to love G-d’s
creations. Tack on another point for Rebbe Akiva, whose “love your
neighbor” adage fits in especially well with your Birthday!
BUT WHAT SEALED THE DEAL FOR YOUR NAME? 7 DAYS WITHOUT A NAME
So, in effect:
- Your Mother had been trying to sell me on the name “Akiva”, loving
its sound and the fact that Rebbe Akiva was perhaps the ultimate “Baal
- You were born during the Omer, a period profoundly connected with Rebbe
- You were born only a few hours before Lag B’Omer, which is said to be
the day when the plague afflicting Rebbe Akiva’s students ceased
- Moreover, you were born on a day that emphasizes loving people, which is
essentially the Mission Statement devised by Rebbe Akiva
But then additionally:
1. “Imma” is Hebrew for “Mother”
2. “Abba” is Hebrew for “Father”
3. I learned about this custom from the teachings of Rabbi Noach Weinberg,
founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah. May his Soul be elevated!
4. “Baalei Teshuva”: plural for “Baal Teshuva”, used colloquially to refer
to a person who becomes more committed to Mitzvahs and Torah ideals
Text Copyright © 2011 by Jon Erlbaum and