Kabalists and other Jews have long believed that the Hebrew letters themselves are carriers of divine wisdom. Indeed, the word for letter in Hebrew is ōt, which also means sign or wonder, a divine revelation and supernal gift to be unwrapped through use, reading, writing, study, meditation, and imagination. Each letter is a world in and of itself — and each a part of another world while being pregnant with still other worlds — able to create and destroy, to conceal and reveal, to give and receive. Meditation is about exploring those worlds and exploring — and discovering — ourselves. Meditation has a long albeit often neglected history in Judaism.
Like Moses, Rabbi Akiva also is said to have lived to be one hundred twenty years old. At the urging of his wife, Rachel, who alone was able to visualize his amazing potential, he went to study Torah, first learning the alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet, with school children, and eventually becoming a great scholar, having tens of thousands of students himself. He initially resisted his wife’s prodding, but one day saw a rock that had been worn by water. He took it as a sign, humbly realizing that “if the water, which is so soft, can make an impression on hard rock, surely the Torah can make an impression on me.”
For Rabbi Akiva’s first forty years, he was ignorant of formal education, not even knowing the alef-bet; for the middle forty, he studied diligently; and for the last forty, he was a great teacher and sage, as he continues to be. Rabbi Akiva was one of the “Ten Teachers” tortured and killed by the Romans for teaching Jewish Law in defiance of Roman law. According to legend, while Rabbi Akiva’s flesh was being torn off, he recited the Shemah with a peaceful smile on his face, concluding that Being is Oneness, then dying.