22X30 Monotype, watercolor, ink, chin-collé of talmudic pages and fabric
The most common version of Akiva's death is that the Roman government ordered him to stop teaching Torah, on pain of death, and that he refused. Akiba's martyrdom is a seminal event in Jewish history and is regarded as an example of total devotion as well as the significance and power of learning through exegesis from text and prayer.
The story is recounted in a few sources. The most famous one appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Brachot 61b):
When R. Akiva was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema', and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven. (he offered prayer to God) His disciples said to him: Our teacher, even to this point? (even now? As you are burned alive you praise God?) He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by this verse, 'with all thy soul', [which I interpret,] 'even if He takes thy soul'. I said: When shall I have the opportunity of fulfilling this? Now that I have the opportunity shall I not fulfill it?
He prolonged the word ehad (one) until he expired while saying it. A bath kol (a heavenly voice) went forth and proclaimed: Happy art thou, Akiva, that thy soul has departed with the word ehad! (one) The ministering angels said before the Holy One, blessed be He: This is Torah, and this is its reward? [He should have been] from them that die by Thy hand, O Lord.
He replied to them: Their portion is in life.
A bath kol went forth and proclaimed: Happy art thou, R. Akiva, that thou art destined for the life of the world to come.
For Akiva the most important thing in life as in death was the essence of Judaism: he lived, worked, and died for it.
© Igaël Gurin-Malous - Express permission required for use of my artwork in any media.