Parshios Emor & The Omer
“Letter to my Son Akiva”
(born on Erev LAG B’OMER)
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 shortly after our Son Akiva was born (in 5761 – i.e. 2001), we decided I should write him a letter to take him on the unusual “Jessica & Jon Jewish Journey” of how we “chose” his name. Here is an adapted version of that letter that we hope you’ll enjoy!
Have an Inspiring Lag B’Omer & a Wonderful Shabbos! 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 Imma1 simply loved the name,
both how it sounded and what it stood for. Rebbe Akiva – like your Imma and
Abba2 – 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).3 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
* 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:
* We saw in a naming book that the words “Rebbe Akiva” in Hebrew can be
re-arranged to spell “Avir Yaakov” (“the mighty one of Yaakov”). Since
Yaakov is my Hebrew name, we certainly found it appealing to think of our
newborn as “the mighty one of Yaakov”
* And then one final thought occurred to me that SEALED THE DEAL
on my end: in addition to all of the standard pre-birth prayers
that I had been reciting to G-d on behalf of who my child might become –
e.g. a person committed to Torah & Mitzvahs, humble and sincere, who would
live a long, healthy & happy life – I remembered that I had repeatedly
found myself requesting that you would be a true lover of people (not
knowing, of course, that you would actually be born on a day that is so
manifest with the people-loving energy!). I had asked G-d many times
that you should care deeply about people’s well-beings and that you would
truly love them in a genuine manner. And without any undue pressure
intended, Akiva, Imma and I believe that you are already doing a wonderful
job in living up to your lofty name.
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