The Love of Learning and a Contemporary Midrash

Feast of the Hieromartyr Timothy, Bishop of Proussa

Akiva_Square.jpegTHE LAST two presentations at the Hall of Men have been especially inspiring for me personally.

Two meetings ago, Dusty Gates, Director of Education at the Catholic Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, KS, presented John Senior as a “Defender of Realism and Professor of the Humanities.” In the 1970s, Senior helped start and lead the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. The story of that program has inspired me and served as an educational model as I have developed Eighth Day Institute. You can hear the lecture here and learn more about the curriculum here.

At the most recent meeting, Dr. Matthew Umbarger, Assistant Professor of Theology at Newman University, presented the life of Rabbi Akiva. I had never heard of Akiva before Dr. Umbarger proposed him as a hero for the Hall. One of the goals of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program was to instill a love of learning in the students. Eighth Day Institute has that same goal, more fully elaborated by the title of a great book by Jean Leclercq: The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (reviewed here). The life of Rabbi Akiva exemplifies this two-fold goal.

Rabbi Akiva was an unlettered shepherd for the first forty years of his life. At the age of 40, he dedicated himself to learning the Torah. He spent two 12-year periods studying the Old Testament Scriptures, partly motivated by a woman (you’ll have to hear that story in the audio presentation here). And he became one of the most respected second-century rabbis, contributing to the Mishnah (the first major work of Rabbinic literature; a redaction of Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah”) and to Midrash halakha (a rabbinic method of Torah study). Because his life so beautifully exemplifies EDI’s goal of instilling a love of learning and a desire for God, his image will adorn our walls at the Hall. Rabbi Akiva should inspire us all to pursue God not only with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength, but also with all our minds...even if you start at the age of 40, like Akiva.

You really should listen to the lecture (if you aren’t already an Eighth Day Member, please consider supporting our work by signing up today for access to our growing library of digital archives, along with other perks). I’ll conclude by leaving you with a taste of that lecture, a contemporary midrash (a creative interpretation or commentary of the Hebrew scriptures) composed by Dr. Umbarger for the conclusion of his presentation:

When Rabbi Akiva finally died with the Shema on his lips, his soul immediately ascended into Paradise. He asked, “By whose merit did I receive the grace to triumph over the tortures of the Romans?”

A voice called out, “By the merits of the King, the Messiah.”

Akiva replied, “Then Bar Kosiba is here waiting for me?”

The voice said, “No, He is Another. Would you see Him?”

“Yes! Let me kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and I perish in the way. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 2).

But the voice cautioned, “Be warned, Akiva, that though you have been much purified by suffering, meeting the Messiah will require still more purification.”

But Akiva countered, “The prospect of the righteous is joy” (Prov. 10:28).

But the voice persisted, “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Mal. 3:2).

Akiva persisted all the more, “But for me, who reveres the LORD’s name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And I will go out and frolic like a well-fed calf” (Mal. 4:2).

And so the doors to a great hall were opened, and Akiva stood before the King, the Messiah. When Akiva gazed upon the Messiah, fear and trembling took hold of him, and all his trembling lips could whisper was one sentence, “It’s You.”

The Messiah responded, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which one must be saved (Acts 4:12). Would you be saved, even by Me?”

And immediately, Akiva’s spirit was seared as though by a million suns, but only for a moment, and then he stood, blinking away tears of joy, proclaiming, “Thou didst restore Thy heritage as it languished! (Ps. 68:9). Whatever God does, He does for the good!” And if you listen, you can hear him proclaiming this still.

Cheers to Rabbi Akiva, the Sage of all Sages who Brought Hidden Things to Light, Believed that Whatever God Does He Does for the Good, Loved Learning, and Desired God!

In Christ
Director Doom

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Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

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