Contact Us

In Place of G-d

In Place of G-d

Vehotziu Et Rabi Akiva


"והוציאו את רבי עקיבא... וסרקו בשרו במסרקות פיפיות"
“They brought out Rabbi Akiva... and lacerated his body with sharp pointed iron combs.”

QUESTION: The martyring of the ten Sages was done by the Romans as a punishment for the brothers kidnapping and selling of Yoseph.

When Yosef was sold, only nine brothers were present (Reuven had returned home and Binyamin did not participate). Why were ten Sages killed?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash the brothers had agreed not to reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef and had made Hashem a party to the agreement (see Rashi, Bereishit 37:33). The Roman King thus calculated that ten (counting Hashem) had cooperated in the kidnapping, and therefore he killed ten Sages.

Commentaries ask why Rabbi Akiva was among the ten Sages killed since he was a descendant of converts and his ancestors had taken no part in the kidnapping.

The answer given is that Rabbi Akiva was punished on behalf of Hashem, who participated in the kidnapping by not revealing to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef.

A hint to this in the Torah can be found in the pasukVechol ma’aseir bakar vatzon kol asher ya’avor tachat hasheivet ha’asiri yiheheh kodesh la’Hashem” — “and all the tithe of cattle and sheep, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to G‑d” (Vayikra 27:32). The words “Vechol ma’asar” (וכל מעשר) are an acronym for "וידעו כולם" — “let it be known to all” — "למה מת עקיבא" — “the reason for the death of Akiva,” — "שהיה רועה" — “who was a shepherd of” — “bakar vatzon” — “cattle and sheep.” The pasuk continues “kol asher ya’avor” — “all those who died” (literally “went under”) — “tachat hashavet” — “represented one of the tribes (the shevatim).” But Rabbi Akiva had no relationship to the tribes, so why was he killed? We must conclude that “ha’asiri” — “the tenth” sage, that is, Rabbi Akiva — was “kodesh laHashem” — martyred on behalf of Hashem.

(ר' שמשון זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי)

* * *

QUESTION: Why was Rabbi Akiva selected to be the one martyred on behalf of Hashem?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Pesachim 22b) says that Shimon Ha’amsuni had a practice of interpreting every occurrence of the word “et” in the Torah to mean a reference to something additional. When he reached the pasuk, “Et Hashem Elokecha tira” — “Hashem, your G‑d, shall you fear” (Devarim 10:20) — he stopped because what could there be in addition to G‑d? Rabbi Akiva interpreted the word “et” as including talmidei chachamim — Torah scholars. Since it was Rabbi Akiva who equated Torah scholars with Hashem, he was the one selected to represent Hashem.

* * *

The Gemara (Berachot 61b) says that while Rabbi Akiva was being put to death, he recited the Shema, and when he said the word echad he expired. A voice emanated from heaven and said, “Lucky are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your soul ‘went out’ with ‘echad.’” In light of the above, we may say that the voice also meant, “Lucky are you Rabbi Akiva that your soul went out on behalf of ‘Echad’ — Hashem — the One and only One.”

(אר"י ז"ל)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Moshe Vellvill Dallas, TX USA September 30, 2009

Eleh Ezkarah... Psalm 42:5 says "Eleh Ezkarah V'Eshpchah Alai Nafshi...". Rashi says this refers to the 3 annual pilgrimages to Yerushalayim, a JOYOUS time. Yet, the martyrs' story in the Cantor's Repetition of the Musaf Prayer of Yom Kippur reverses the 3rd and 5th words and turns it into the OPPOSITE of joyous. It seems sacriligous to me, mocking the psalm. Reply

josh f. March 19, 2009

Rabbi Akiva's equation is demonstrative of the holiness of the Chumash and all that extends from it. Rabbi Akiva was a convert who could truly appreciate the fear of Torah scholars, which he equated to fear of G-d. The tortures that Rabbi Akiva was glad to suffer also point towards the birth pangs of Moshiach (may we speedily see). For so many of us today are born like Akiva- an alien to the Jewish nation- and must return to it through the great suffering that Akiva experienced at the end of his life- to merit the World to Come. Reply

Menachem Posner, May 22, 2008

Re: According to many, while this moving tale incorporates many historical events, it was never intended to be understood as a historical account of an actual event. Many of the details in this dirge hold parallels to Yom Kippur service of the high priest in the Holy Temple.

The Yom Kippur service serves to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. They are symbolized by the two great collective sins perpetrated in the infancy of our nationhood; the sale of Joseph and the worship of the golden calf.

These sins symbolize the sins committed toward our fellows (the sale of Joseph), and our Creator (the golden calf). It is for this reason that Temple service on Yom Kippur contains the sacrifice of a bull (representing the calf) and the scapegoat (for the kid whose blood was used to make Joseph’s disappearance look like an accident).

It was because of the primacy of the sale of Joseph in the Yom Kippur service that it was chosen as the background on which to paint the deaths of these Reply

Jan Schulman Oxnard, CA April 15, 2008

The Ten Martyrs I don't understand why the Romans would be interested in gaining "justice" for what the brothers did to Joseph. Not only that, it was G-d's will that Joseph be sold so that the Hebrews would be brought to Egypt, would multiply, would then leave Egypt led by Moses and then the Torah would be given to Moses so that the Hebrews became a Jewish nation. So why the retribution to these good and holy men? Reply

Cody Flecker Yuma`, Arizona June 12, 2007

Rabbi Akiba I still do not understand why he was killed by the Romans, other than the fact that he was a rebel leader fighting against the Roman Occupation. For the record, my wife and I took a trip to Israel(Tiberius) and saw the Rabbi's tomb. It was a disgrace to see the sewer pipe flow raw sewage right by his tomb. Aside from that the experience was a moving one. Reply

About the Publisher
Sichos In English
Sichos in English has published hundreds of volumes of Chassidic books on Chassidism and its way of life. They can be reached by writing Sichos In English 788 Eastern Parkway Brooklyn, NY 11213 or calling 718.778.5436.
Related Topics
Find Services
Audio Classes
Holiday Shopping Kids Zone
Free Greeting Cards