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“Letter to my Son Akiva” (born 10 years ago, on Erev LAG B’OMER)

    Hi All – we just observed the 2nd Yahzeit of my beloved GRANDMOTHER MIRIAM OCKMAN, who began her journey to the next world after 88 years filled with beauty, love, wisdom, and gracefulness. In addition, this truly great Great-Grandmother of my children was buried on the Birthday of my Son Akiva.

    In the past few years around Akiva’s birthday, I have circulated an adapted version of a letter that I wrote to him shortly after his birth. Our Sages say that in the naming of their children, parents are endowed with a “Divine inspiration” that guides them in choosing a name that reflects each child’s essence. So around 9 years ago, we decided to write this letter to take Akiva on the unusual “Jessica & Jon Jewish Journey” of how we “chose” his name. I hope that you enjoy it and that my Grandmom’s Soul can get some nachas from it as well!

    One more related point: once when I had been to both a reunion and a funeral, Akiva confused the two words and asked me how the reunion was (when I had just been to a funeral). I told him that he was right! The funeral I had been to WAS in fact a reunion: the one who left this world would be reunited with the Souls that had already departed, and so too we would eventually reunite with the one who had recently taken that journey. In the mean time, may my Grandmom’s Soul be elevated in the merit of the deeds of those she has influenced and inspired!

    Have a Wonderful Shabbos & an Inspiring Lag B’Omer! Love, Jon, Jess, & The Chevra


My Dear Sweet Son – I can’t even tell you how much I love the name “Akiva”. True, I have so much love for the person behind it that it’s only natural for me to love the name as well. But that’s not the only reason I love it: after all, you lived for an entire (pre-Bris) week without a name, a week in which we had already begun building up love for you. We were therefore challenged to find an independently beloved name befitting our powerful feelings for our newborn Son. So how did we choose “Akiva”?


The preliminary step was that your Imma[1] simply loved the name, both how it sounded and what it stood for. Rebbe Akiva – like your Imma and Abba[2] – was a person who did not grow up especially observant or knowing a great deal about Judaism, but who chose later in life to learn and commit himself to the ideals of our precious Torah. He became the greatest Sage of his Generation, and even for people who grow up in a Torah-based home in our time, Rebbe Akiva represents how much a person can accomplish when he puts his mind, heart, and Soul to it.

So even before you were born, your Imma was trying to convince me that “Akiva” might very well be the right name for our first boy. I must admit, the name didn’t quite resonate with me at that point,; but a few other developments were beginning to win me over to your Imma’s insight.


First of all, you were born during the Omer, a time that is profoundly connected to Rebbe Akiva (sadly, the Omer corresponds with the loss of the great Rabbi’s 24,000 students). Even though in this context, the name “Akiva” is associated with an unhappy occurrence, we felt that it gave us yet another reason to pay tribute to a person who rose to even greater heights by overcoming challenges. Moreover, you were born only a few hours before the holiday of Lag B’Omer, which is said to be the day when the plague afflicting Rebbe Akiva’s students ceased.


Secondly, the specific day on which you were born is very well connected to the famous “Mission Statement” that, according to Rebbe Akiva, summarizes our objective in living: “Love your neighbor as yourself – this is the primary Principle of the Torah”. In what way is your Hebrew Birthday especially connected to this idea?

Some Jews have a custom of studying the “48 Ways to acquiring Torah wisdom” during the 49 days of the Omer (one “way” per day, reviewing all of the ways on the 49th day)[3]. There are those who say that this exercise in spiritual development stems from when the Jewish people left Egypt. Why would the newly liberated Jews embark on this 49 day growth program? Because on the 50th day after their departure they were to stand at Sinai and receive the Torah! Therefore, learning these 48 ways to acquiring Torah wisdom – one “way” per day with a Day 49 review – was an ideal means of becoming “fit” for Day 50: the date designated for the lofty Sinai Revelation, when the Jews would receive their defining mission of safeguarding the Torah.

According to this view, each specific way of acquiring Torah wisdom has an intrinsic connection with the day on which it is learned. And you, my dear Son, were born on the 32nd day of the Omer: the day on which the corresponding “way to wisdom” is – you guessed it – to love G-d’s creations. Tack on another point for Rebbe Akiva, whose “love your neighbor” adage fits in especially well with your Birthday!


So, in effect:

  • Your Mother had been trying to sell me on the name “Akiva”, loving its sound and the fact that Rebbe Akiva was perhaps the ultimate “Baal Teshuva”[4]

  • You were born during the Omer, a period profoundly connected with Rebbe Akiva

  • You were born only a few hours before Lag B’Omer, which is said to be the day when the plague afflicting Rebbe Akiva’s students ceased

  • Moreover, you were born on a day that emphasizes loving people, which is essentially the Mission Statement devised by Rebbe Akiva

But then additionally:

  • We saw in a naming book that the words “Rebbe Akiva” in Hebrew can be re-arranged to spell “Avir Yaakov” (“the mighty one of Yaakov”). Since Yaakov is my Hebrew name, we certainly found it appealing to think of our newborn as “the mighty one of Yaakov”

  • And then one final thought occurred to me that SEALED THE DEAL on my end: in addition to all of the standard pre-birth prayers that I had been reciting to G-d on behalf of who my child might become – e.g. a person committed to Torah & Mitzvahs, humble and sincere, who would live a long, healthy & happy life – I remembered that I had repeatedly found myself requesting that you would be a true lover of people (not knowing, of course, that you would actually be born on a day that is so manifest with the people-loving energy!). I had asked G-d many times that you should care deeply about people’s well-beings and that you would truly love them in a genuine manner. And without any undue pressure intended, Akiva, Imma and I believe that you are already doing a wonderful job in living up to your lofty name.

    I love you so much! Your Abba

1. “Imma” is Hebrew for “Mother”

2. “Abba” is Hebrew for “Father”

3. I learned about this custom from the teachings of Rabbi Noach Weinberg, founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah. May his Soul be elevated!

4. “Baalei Teshuva”: plural for “Baal Teshuva”, used colloquially to refer to a person who becomes more committed to Mitzvahs and Torah ideals

Text Copyright © 2011 by Jon Erlbaum and

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