Even if He takes your soul

…Even if He takes your soul

When the Romans took Rabbi Akiva to be executed, it was time to recite the morning "Sh’ma" (declaration of our total embrace of G-d’s unity, from Deuteronomy 6 – Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One! And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might…) The Romans began to flay his skin with iron combs as he was reciting the "Sh’ma" and taking upon himself the yoke of Heaven. His disciples said to him, "Our teacher, even at this point [you continue to recite the "Sh’ma"]?

He said to them, "All my life I have been troubled by the verse [in the "Sh’ma"] which says ‘You shall love the L-rd your G-d.and with all your soul’, which I understood as meaning ‘even if He takes your soul’. I always asked myself, when shall I have the opportunity to fulfill this verse? Now that I have the opportunity, shall I not fulfill it?" He prolonged the word ‘echad’ (one) and expired while pronouncing it. A heavenly voice went forth and proclaimed: Happy are you, Akiva, that your soul has departed with the word ‘echad’!

Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b

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