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Rabbi Akiva and the Orphan

Rabbi Akiva and the Orphan

The classic story to explain why a mourner says kaddish


Rabbi Akiva was strolling through a cemetery when he saw a naked man, black as charcoal, carrying much wood and hurrying like a horse.

"Stop!" the rabbi ordered him. And the man stopped.

"What is with you?" demanded Rabbi Akiva, "What is this harsh labor of yours? If you are a slave and your master is so harsh, then I will free you. And if you are poor, let me make you wealthy."

The man answered, "Please, rabbi, do not delay me! My supervisors may become very angered if I am late!"

Rabbi Akiva responded, "Who are you and what do you do?"

The man replied, "I am dead. Every day, they send me to chop wood upon which they burn me every night."

Rabbi Akiva asked, "And when you were in this world, what was your work?"

"I was a tax collector," the man answered. "I would favor the wealthy and persecute the poor."

"So," asked the rabbi, "have you heard anything from your supervisors about any way you could be redeemed from your punishment?"

"Yes," the man replied. "I heard from them, but it is something that could never happen. They said that if I had a son and if that son would stand among the congregation and say kaddish and the congregation would answer, "Amen! Y'hay shmai rabba m'vorach!"—then they could acquit me from my punishment."

"But," he continued, "I did not leave a son behind. True, my wife was pregnant when I died, but I do not know whether she gave birth to a boy. And if she did, who would teach him Torah? I do not have a single friend in the world!"

On the spot, Rabbi Akiva resolved to search for that child. He asked the man for his name.

"My name is Ukba. My wife was Shoshiva. My town was Lanuka'a."

Immediately, Rabbi Akiva set out for that town. When he arrived there, he asked the townspeople about Ukba.

"May his bones grind in hell!" they replied.

He asked about his wife Shoshiva and they said, "May her name and her memory be erased!"

He asked about her child and they said, "She had a boy and he is uncircumcised."

The people hated her so much, they hadn't even bothered to circumcise her child.

Without further delay, Rabbi Akiva took this child and circumcised him. He sat the child before him to teach him, but the child would not learn.

So he fasted for forty days. After forty days, a voice came from heaven: "Rabbi Akiva, what are you fasting for?"

He replied, "Master of the Universe! Have I not already made myself a guarantor before You for the lad?"

Immediately, G_d opened the boy's heart and the rabbi was able to teach him how to read Torah and how to say the Shma Yisrael and the Silent Prayer and Grace After Meals. Then he stood him before the congregation and he said Barchu and they answered him. He said Kaddish and they answered him, "Amen! Y'hay shmai rabba m'vorach!"

His father was freed and came straight to Rabbi Akiva in a dream. "Let your heart rest assured that you saved me from the judgment of Gehinom."

Seder HaDoros

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Yoel August 14, 2016

My dad and I were never close, he decided that since I was born. However, I love him and he passed away two years ago and now I want him to be free and honor his memory. I will say kiddish next Shabbat for him. Reply

George Smith Luton, England October 16, 2012

Rabbi Akiva and the orphan I just read this story for the first time and I have found there are things to learn.
I am not Jewish, I was born into the church of England later on in life after I married I became a catolic. At my wedding over half the people were jewish my wife friends from childhood ,they have been close friends for over sixty years. I find that very beautiful in it self.
Because of my friendship I wanted to learn and understand, I am happy to say I am enjoying it . Thank you for allowing me to read storys like Rabbi Akiva and your prays in English so I can read them.

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