Article Parsha 2016-05-10

Echoes of Eden Parashat Kedoshim 5776 Put a Little Love in Your Heart

Perhaps one of the most famous verses in the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Vayikra 19:18) This is not an isolated instruction; it comes as the concluding statement at the end of a list of commandments, all designed to create harmony, to create a just, functional, perhaps even utopian society.

In his comments on this verse, Rashi notes that Rabbi Akiva stated that this is “a great principle of the Torah,” a defining principle – if not the defining principle of Judaism.

Far more often than not, Rashi draws upon rabbinic tradition without citing the author of a particular teaching. In this case, though, not only does Rashi inform us that this is the great principle of the Torah, but he also goes farther than is his usual practice, and quotes Rabbi Akiva as the formulator of this opinion. Certainly, Rabbi Akiva is one of our greatest sages, but why, specifically in this instance, does Rashi feel that the citation must be included?

While Rabbi Akiva himself is generally (universally?) remembered as one of the most saintly, holy, caring individuals in our history, there is an uncomfortable aspect of his biography that gives us pause: the tragic deaths of thousands of his students, deaths which the Talmud attributes to a lack of love, honor and mutual respect among them.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף סב עמוד ב

שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֶלֶף זוּגִים תַּלְמִידִים הָיוּ לוֹ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, מִגְּבַת עַד אַנְטִיפְרַס, וְכֻלָּן מֵתוּ בְּפֶרֶק אֶחָד, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלֹֹּא נָהֲגוּ כָבוֹד זֶה לָזֶה.

Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of disciples, from Gevat to Antipatris; and all of them died in one period of time, because they did not treat each other with respect. (Talmud Bavli Yevamot 62a)

While in general it may be unfair to judge parents for the behavior of their child or a teacher for the behavior or accomplishments of his or her students, nonetheless the “disconnect” between this teacher and his students causes us no small degree of wonder, and perhaps a degree of worry. How could such a great teacher formulate such a great principle, yet fail to transmit the message to his students?

We may approach this problem by first examining the reaction of one of Rabbi Akiva’s primary students[1] to this principle:

ספרא קדושים פרשה ב פרק ד:יב

ואהבת לרעך כמוך רבי עקיבא אומר זה כלל גדול בתורה בן עזאי אומר זה ספר תולדות אדם זה כלל גדולמזה:

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Rabbi Akiva said, ‘This is the great principle of the Torah.’ Ben Azzai said,”‘This is the book of the generations of man[2] [on the day God created man, He made him in the likeness of God]” (Bereishit 5:1) – this is an even greater principle. (Sifra Kedoshim parasha 2 perek 4:12)[3]

For Rabbi Shimon Ben Azzai, the larger principle that informs all of Jewish thought is that each and every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore deserving of love, respect, and reverence. In Ben Azzai’s view, if we remain cognizant of the image of God inherent in every human being, we will necessarily treat others with love and respect.[4] Thus, in Ben Azzai’s opinion, his own principle subsumes that of his teacher and colleague Rabbi Akiva: Loving one’s neighbor would be a natural consequence of recognizing the divinity of every other person. Rabbi Akiva’s principle becomes redundant if Ben Azzai’s principle is scrupulously obeyed.

From Ben Azzai’s comment, we begin to understand what at least one of Rabbi Akiva’s students thought was an unfortunate limitation of his great teacher’s principle: What if a person is an ascetic, and holds himself up to impossible standards of deprivation, self-criticism or harshness? Would he be justified to treat others as he treats himself? To phrase this more cynically, would the principle of loving one’s neighbor as oneself give license to the masochist to be a sadist?[5] Ben Azzai’s principle circumvents this problem: Rather than using the individual as the benchmark for how others should be treated, Ben Azzai stressed the need for an objective, Divine benchmark for interpersonal relations.

Something had gone terribly wrong; Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students, but he did not despair. He started again, but this time he focused on a much smaller group of disciples - five students, to be precise. It is from these students that Torah spread; it is they who transmitted the legacy of Rabbi Akiva.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף סב עמוד ב

וְהָיָה הָעוֹלָם שָׁמֵם, עַד שֶׁבָּא רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אֵצֶל רַבּוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁבַּדָּרוֹם, וּשְׁנָאָהּ לְרַבִּי מֵאִיר, וְרַבִּי יְהוּדָה, וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי,וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן שַׁמּוּעַ, וְהֵם הֵם הֶעֱמִידוּ תּוֹרָה בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה.

The world remained desolate until R. Akiva came to our masters in the south and taught Torah to R. Meir, R. Yehudah, R. Yossi, R. Shimon [bar Yochai] and R. Elazar b. Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. (Talmud Bavli Y’vamot 62b)

The phrase “until R. Akiva came” is used many times in rabbinic literature; in fact, it is used twice as many times in reference to R’ Akiva as it is regarding all other sages combined. This is the only instance in which the phrase is descriptive: It is not a general statement, along the lines of “until he came up with the idea;” rather, it describes an actual relocation – he came to the south of Israel and began to teach his new students there. One may theorize that whenever this phrase is used, it refers to a teaching Rabbi Akiva imparted to his new students in the south. These particular teachings were aimed at insuring that his new students would be emotionally sophisticated, sensitive and kind, and avoid the mistakes that led to the demise of his earlier followers.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף נז עמוד א

כִּדְתַּנְיָא, שִׁמְעוֹן הָעַמְסוֹנִי וְאַמְרֵי לָהּ נְחֶמְיָה הָעַמְסוֹנִי הָיָה דּוֹרֵשׁ כָּל "אִתִּין" שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה, כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ לְ"אֶת ה'אֱלֹהֵיךָ תִּירָא" ]דברים י[ - פּירַשׁ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו, רַבִּי, כָּל "אִתִּין" שֶׁדָּרַשְׁתָּ, מָה תְּהֵא עֲלֵיהֶם? אָמַר לָהֶם,כְּשֵׁם שֶׁקִּבַּלְתִּי שָׂכָר עַל הַדְּרִישָׁה, כָּך אֲקַבֵּל שָׂכָר עַל הַפְּרִישָׁה. עַד שֶׁבָּא רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וְלִמֵּד, "אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא" - לְרַבּוֹת תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים:

As it was taught: Shimon HaAmsuni (others state that it was Nehemiah HaAmsuni) interpreted every ‘et’ in the Torah, but when he came to the verse, “Thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God,” he desisted. Said his disciples to him, ‘Master, what is to happen with all the instances of the word ‘et’ which you have interpreted?’ He replied: “Just as I received reward for interpreting [them], so will I receive reward for desisting.” Until R. Akiva came and taught: ‘Thou shalt fear [et] the Lord thy God:’ [the addition of the word ‘et’ teaches us that this fear] includes (students of) scholars. (Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 57a)

Rabbi Akiva taught that students of Torah are deserving of respect, and their honor is a part of the awe and fear we have towards God Himself. We can easily read this as an addendum to his glorious teaching that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself. Additionally, we may surmise that this may have been Rabbi Akiva’s way of anticipating or responding to the critique that his “great principle of Torah” leaves a loophole for the person who mistreats themself to treat their fellow students with disrespect.[6] A second teaching of Rabbi Akiva may address this issue even more directly.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף סב עמוד א

לכדתניא: שנים שהיו מהלכין בדרך, וביד אחד מהן קיתון של מים, אם שותין שניהם - מתים, ואם שותהאחד מהן - מגיע לישוב. דרש בן פטורא: מוטב שישתו שניהם וימותו, ואל יראה אחד מהם במיתתו שלחבירו. עד שבא רבי עקיבא ולימד: וחי אחיך עמך - חייך קודמים לחיי חבירך.

Two people are travelling on a journey [far from civilization], and one has a pitcher of water. If both drink, they will [both] die, but if one only drinks, he can reach civilization. Ben P’tura taught: It is better that both should drink and die, rather than that one should behold his companion's death. Until R. Akiva came and taught: [The verse] ‘That thy brother may live with you’ (Vayikra 25:36) teaches us: Your life takes precedence over his life. (Talmud Bavli, Bava Metziah 62a)[7]

We must care for others, but when push comes to proverbial shove, one’s own life must take precedence. This case uses the extreme situation to teach both sides of Rabbi Akiva’s underlying principles: We must love others as we love ourselves – care for them and respect them at all times – but in order to do so, we must love ourselves, treat ourselves with dignity and care. The fact that Rabbi Akiva had to stress the idea of self-preservation and self-respect indicates that this was not only a law, but a position his students needed to hear. Rabbi Akiva, who believed passionately in the value of life just as he believed passionately in the value of altruism, could not accept the notion that altruism might cause the death of both travelers in the desert. He had seen enough death in his lifetime, and taught his students that if you can walk out of the desert alive, that becomes yourobligation.[8]

Did Rabbi Akiva succeed in breaking the vicious cycle and raising a different type of student? Close examination of the words and deeds of his “new students” proves that he most certainly did – but in order to fully appreciate Rabbi Akiva’s pedagogic success, we are forced to take a slight detour.

Rabbi Akiva’s philosophy regarding interpersonal relationships is perhaps most clearly illustrated in his halachic rulings regarding marriage. As one of the most important and primary relationships in a person’s life, Rabbi Akiva was quite concerned that husband and wife live in tranquility, in harmony, in love. For this reason, Rabbi Akiva’s rulings regarding divorce were relatively lenient.

The scholars who preceded him were divided on the question of legitimate grounds for divorce: While Beit Shammai understood that the Torah would only permit divorce in cases of infidelity, Beit Hillel opined that a man may divorce his wife even if she burns his food (and it is my understanding that it is only his food, and not hers or anyone else’s, which is ruined, indicating aggression, spite and hatred).[9] We may assume that Beit Hillel’s relative leniency is based on an understanding that if this couple is already involved in a contentious relationship, there is no need to wait for the relationship to deteriorate to actual infidelity. And yet, Rabbi Akiva goes one considerable step further, stating that a man may divorce his wife even on the grounds that he has found another woman who is “na’ah mimenah”– more beautiful or more pleasant (or perhaps more suitable). While on the one hand it may strike us as outrageous that a wife can be “sent packing” because her lecherous husband has found a newer model with less “mileage,” Rabbi Akiva seems exceptionally sensitive to the concern that this relationship should be based on love, mutual respect, and attraction. In fact, in a separate, apparently related teaching, Rabbi Akiva speaks out against the “old time rabbis” who advocated that wives should refrain from making themselves look attractive during those times that they are forbidden to have marital relations with their husbands. Rabbi Akiva permitted married women to beautify themselves as they saw fit, and did not limit physical attractiveness between spouses as a function of physical intimacy.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף סד עמוד ב

זְקֵנִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים אָמְרוּ, שֶׁלֹּא תִּכְחוֹל, וְלֹא תִּפְקוֹס, וְלֹא תִּתְקַשֵּׁט בְּבִגְדֵי צִבְעוֹנִין. עַד שֶׁבָּא רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וְלִימֵּד,אִם כֵּן אַתָּה מְגַנָּהּ עַל בַּעֲלָהּ, וְנִמְצָא בַעֲלָהּ מְגַרְשָׁהּ,

 The early Sages ruled that she must not rouge nor paint nor adorn herself in colorful garments while she is a niddah; until R. Akiva came and taught: If so, you make her repulsive to her husband, with the result that he will divorce her! (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 64b)

Here is another instance where the phrase “until R. Akiva came” is used. If we are correct in our thesis, this is another instance in which Rabbi Akiva taught his new students to be sensitive to feelings, to legislate in favor of love and attraction. The same Rabbi Akiva who permitted the husband with a straying eye to divorce his wife, spoke out against an earlier rabbinic ruling that he feared might make wives unattractive to their husbands. Rabbi Akiva spoke boldly, in order to insure that halacha would never provide the reason for a husband’s eye to stray.[10]

Rabbi Akiva further stressed the importance of a person marrying an appropriate spouse in order to avoid the pitfalls of a deteriorated relationship:

מסכתות קטנות מסכת אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא א פרק כו ד"ה רבי עקיבא

רבי עקיבא אומר כל הנושא אשה שאינה מהוגנת לו עובר משום חמשה לאוין משום לא תקום (ויקרא יט:יח)ומשום לא תטור (שם) ומשום לא תשנא אחיך בלבבך (שם יז) ומשום ואהבת לרעך כמוך (שם י"ח) ומשוםוחי אחיך עמך (שם כה:לו) מתוך ששונא אותה רוצה הוא שתמות ונמצא מבטל פריה ורביה מן העולם:

A man who marries a woman who is not an appropriate for him breaks five different negative commandments of the Torah: “Do not take revenge,” (Vayikra 19:18) “Do not bear a grudge,” (ibid., 18) “Do not hate your fellow man in your heart,” (ibid., 17) “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (ibid. 18) and “Your fellow man shall live with you.” (ibid. 25:36). Because he hates her, he hopes that she will die, and he abstains from procreation. (Avot d’Rebbi Natan, version 1, chapter 26)

This very striking passage is, in fact, the only commentary by Rabbi Akiva himself on his “great principle of Torah.” He teaches that in a relationship devoid of love, many other Torah laws are unavoidably trampled upon. The great principle is most evident in this passage, which outlines a destructive progression that begins with a loveless marriage: A cascade of negative emotions leads to hurtful thoughts and, eventually, destructive actions.

With this information, and against the backdrop of Rabbi Akiva’s application of his “great principle of Torah,” we may now return to our earlier question: Did Rabbi Akiva succeed in communicating this idea to his students?

Rabbi Yehuda, one of Rabbi Akiva’s five new students, makes a very similar application of law, and warns of the price to be paid for a relationship that has deteriorated. Both the words and the logic he employs should seem quite familiar:

ספרי דברים פרשת כי תצא פיסקא רלה ד"ה (יג) כי

כי יקח איש אשה ובא עליה ושנאה, רבי יהודה אומר … [ושנאה], [11]מיכן אתה אומר עבר אדם על מצוהקלה סופו לעבור על מצוה חמורה עבר על ואהבת לרעך כמוך]ויקרא יט:יח[ סופו לעבור על לא תקם ולאתטר]ויקרא יט:יח[ ועללא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך]ויקרא יט:יז[ ועל ואהבת לרעך כמוך ועלוחי אחיך עמך]ויקרא כה:לו[עד שבא לידי שפיכות דמים לכך נאמר כי יקח איש אשה.

If a man takes a wife, has relations with her, and comes to hate her…” Rabbi Yehuda says, …from this we see that if a person breaks an easy commandment, he will eventually break a more serious commandment. If he does not obey the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he will come to violate the commandments “Do not take revenge” and “Do not bear a grudge,” [Vayikra 19:18], and the commandment, “Do not hate your fellow man in your heart,” [Vayikra 19:17], the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Your brother shall live along with you.” [Vayikra 25:36], and he will eventually reach the point of bloodshed. (Sifrei Devarim, Ki Tetze section 235)

Regarding a totally different sort of interpersonal relationship, the Mishna in Nedarim grapples with the problem of a person who made a vow disowning a friend from his assets. The Mishna discusses the conditions that might annul such a vow (called “opening” the vow), and Rabbi Meir’s opinion on the matter also strikes a familiar chord:

משנה מסכת נדרים פרק ט משנה ד

וְעוֹד אָמַר רַבִּי מֵאִיר פּוֹתְחִין לוֹ מִן הַכָּתוּב שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ, אִלּוּ הָיִיתָ יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁאַתָּה עוֹבֵר עַל לֹא תִקֹּם וְעַללֹא תִטֹּר (ויקרא יט), וְעַל לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ (שם), וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (שם),וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ (שם כה)שֶׁמָּא יַעֲנִי וְאֵין אַתָּה יָכוֹל לְפַרְנְסוֹ, וְאָמַר אִלּוּ הָיִיתִי יוֹדֵעַ שֶׁהוּא כֵן, לֹא הָיִיתִי נוֹדֵר, הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר:

Rabbi Meir also said: An opening [for annulment of a vow] may be given based on what is written in the Torah, so we say to him: ‘Had you known that you were violating [the injunctions], “Do not take revenge,” “Do not bear a grudge,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Your brother shall live with you,” or that he might become poor and you would not be able to provide for him, [would you have made this vow]?’ Should he reply, ‘Had I known that it is so, I would not have vowed,” he is absolved. (Mishna Nedarim 9:4 Talmud Bavli 65b)

The pattern that emerges is unmistakable: Rabbi Akiva’s application of the great principle of “Love your neighbor as yourself” to the area of spousal relationships was applied by two of his new students – first, Rabbi Yehudah in the matter of divorce, and next by Rabbi Meir, to help heal a different sort of rift between two people.

The Sifrei records a similar teaching in a third area of interpersonal relationships:

ספרי דברים פרשת שופטים פיסקא קפז ד"ה (יא) כי

כי יהיה איש שונא לרעהו וארב לו וקם עליו, מיכן אמרו עבר אדם על מצוה קלה סופו לעבור על מצוהחמורה עבר על ואהבת לרעך כמוך סופו לעבור על לא תקום ולא תטור[ויקרא יט:יח]ועל לא תשנא אתאחיך [ויקרא יט:יז]ועל וחי אחיך עמך [ויקרא כה:לו]עד שיבא לידי שפיכות דמים לכך נאמר כי יהיה איששונא לרעהו וארב לו וקם עליו.

“If one person hates another and lies in wait and attacks him:” From this we learn that if a person breaks an easy commandment he will eventually break a more serious commandment. If he breaks the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” he will eventually come to break the commandments “Do not take revenge” and “Do not bear a grudge,” [Vayikra 19:18] and the commandment “Do not hate your fellow man in your heart” [Vayikra 19:17], and the commandment “Your brother shall live along with you” [Vayikra 25:36], until he reaches the point of bloodshed.

This passage deals with hatred which may lead to murder; once again, there is a downward spiral, and along the way commandments are trampled. Again, Rabbi Akiva’s teaching is implemented, although this specific teaching is not attributed to a particular scholar. However, the Talmud states that anonymous teachings in the Sifrei are the work of yet another of Rabbi Akiva’s “new” students: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף פו עמוד א

דאמר רבי יוחנן: סתם מתניתין רבי מאיר, סתם תוספתא רבי נחמיה, סתם ספרא רבי יהודה, סתם ספרירבי שמעון, וכולהו אליבא דרבי עקיבא.

R. Johanan said: [The author of] unattributed Mishnah is R. Meir, of unattributed Tosefta is R. Nehemiah; of an unattributed [dictum in the] Sifra is R. Yehudah, and in the Sifrei, R. Shimon; and all are taught according to the views of R. Akiva. (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 86a)

Thus, we see that three of his Rabbi Akiva’s new students heard and internalized their teacher’s lesson, and applied his great principle of Torah regarding the centrality of building and maintaining loving relationships in their own teachings.

A fourth student, Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, taught this same principle of love and respect in a more succinct formulation:

משנה מסכת אבות פרק ד:יב

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן שַׁמּוּעַ אוֹמֵר, יְהִי כְבוֹד תַּלְמִידְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלָּךְ, וּכְבוֹד חֲבֵרְךָ כְּמוֹרָא רַבָּךְ, וּמוֹרָא רַבָּךְ כְּמוֹרָא שָׁמָים:

R. Elazar b. Shammua’ said: Let the honor of your disciple be as dear to you as your own, and the honor of your colleague as [important] as the reverence for your teacher, and the reverence for your teacher as [vital] as your fear of Heaven. (Mishna Avot 4:12)

The emphasis Rabbi Elazar places on honoring teachers, colleagues and students reflects Rabbi Akiva’s teachings; we may say that this Mishna is a true expression of Rabbi Akiva’s legacy, as it is expressed by one of his new students.[12] Another lengthy midrash recounts that Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua’s kindness and concern extended even to non-Jews, a fact that eventually saved all the Jews of a certain province.[13]

It seems clear that Rabbi Akiva was quite successful with his new students. He taught them sensitivity, he taught them kindness, and he taught them love. He taught them that love of our fellow man is truly the central teaching in the Torah. Every aspect of Torah law should be impacted by this love; every aspect of our society evolves from the great principle of love.

The Rabbi Akiva who arrived in the south and taught 5 great students was a Rabbi Akiva who himself had internalized the lesson of his earlier students’ tragic deaths. When teaching his new students, he did not leave it to chance that they would understand his message; he drilled it home over and over, and was explicit and specific in teaching them. His pedagogic method, and his diligence in delivering this educational message to his new students, are preserved in another passage that tells the story of the earlier students’ deaths, with slight variations:

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת חיי שרה פרשה סא:ג

ר' עקיבא אומר אם היו לך תלמידים בנערותך עשה לך תלמידים בזקנותך שאין אתה יודע איזה מהם מתקיים לך זה או זה ואם שניהם כאחד טובים, י"ב אלף תלמידים היו לר"ע מעכו ועד אנטפריס וכולם בפרק אחד מתו, למה שהיתה עיניהם צרה אלו באלו ובסוף העמיד שבעה, רבי מאיר, ורבי יהודה, רבי יוסי, ור' שמעון, ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע, ורבי יוחנן הסנדלר, ור' אליעזר בן יעקב, ואית דאמרי ר' יהודה, ור' נחמיה, ורבי מאיר, רבי יוסי, ורשב"י, ור' חנינא בן חכינאי, ורבי יוחנן הסנדלר, א"ל בניי, הראשונים לא מתו אלא שהיתה עיניהם צרה אלו לאלו תנו דעתכם שלא תעשו כמעשיהם, עמדו ומלאו כל ארץ ישראל תורה.

R. Akiva said: If you have raised disciples in your youth, raise disciples in your old age, because you do not know which will survive, these or those, or whether they will be equally successful.’ R. Akiva had twelve thousand disciples from Acco to Antipatris, and all died in the same period. Why? Because they looked grudgingly on each other. Eventually he raised seven disciples: R. Meir, R. Yehudah, R. Yossi, R. Shimon, R. Elazar b. Shammua’, R. Yohanan the Cobbler, and R. Eliezer b. Yaacov. Others say: R. Yehudah, R. Nehemiah, R. Meir, R. Yossi, R. Shimon b. Yohai, R. Hanina b. Hakinai, and R. Yohanan the Cobbler. [Rabbi Akiva] said to them: My sons, the previous ones died only because they begrudged one another [the knowledge of] the Torah; see to it that you do not act as they did. They arose and filled the whole of Eretz Israel with Torah.(Bereishit Rabbah 61:3)

Any other man who had lost so many students, whose entire life’s work was eradicated, would have given up. Rabbi Akiva had begun teaching at a relatively late stage of life, and he might easily have felt that all was for naught. Instead, he started again. He found the best minds around, and he filled their hearts with love.

A postscript is taught in the name of the Chidushai HaRim.[14] While it is true that law follows Rabbi Akiva, in our inner hearts we should feel the altruism of Ben Petura.[15] And even when we must value and take care of ourselves, the love for our fellow man should still be strong in our hearts.

Many generations later, in the holocaust era, another man saw the same type of destruction witnessed by Rabbi Akiva, though multiplied to impossible numbers. He was a young hassidic yeshiva student named Eli Wiesel, and many years later, he wrote about his love for Rabbi Akiva:

I love Rabbi Akiva. I love him for his humanity, for his passion for study. I love him for his love of the Jewish people. His argument with Ben P’tura on the duties and obligations of friendship? His decision teaches us something important. When the surviving friend emerges from the desert, he is no longer alone; he will have to live two lives, his own and that of his dead friend. (Sages and Dreamers, Eli Wiesel page 240)[16]

For more in depth study see: