R' Akiva - Foundation of the Oral Torah

Essential Questions:

What was R' Akiva's role in developing and giving form to the Oral Torah?

How did the story of his life influence this role?

What can the midrashic relationship between R' Akiva and Moshe teach us about the relationship between the Written and Oral Torah?

Learning Outcomes:

Learners will gain an appreciation of the critical and complex role which R' Akiva played in the history of the Oral Torah.

Learners will explore the relationship between the Written and Oral Torah in the midrash.

Learning Activities:

The following texts can be used as a basis for history lectures which integrate the traditional Jewish narrative with a more academic historical perspective, especially if the educator accesses the supplementary articles linked in the comments.

They can also be used a series of chevruta based classes on the relationship between R' Akiva and Moshe as an expression of the relationship between the Written and Oral Torah, or on R' Akiva's unique role in the development of Oral Torah.

They can also be approached as springboard texts for discussions around the relationship between the Written and Oral Torah, the meaning of revelation and the power of Torah learning.

Teaching these lessons through Sefaria offers the opportunity for an additional student research component. Consider incorporating one of these possibilities:

- Ask students to search for Rabbi Akiva in Sefaria's database, and to create their own sheet with three sources about him that do not appear in these materials. Students use those sheets to engage in peer-teaching in hevruta or in small groups.

- Alternatively, discuss the various character traits of Rabbi Akiva's that emerge from studying these materials. Ask groups of students to co-create sheets around these character traits, and to add at least five sources that epitomize the way they think about this character trait. These sources can range from texts within Sefaria's library to video clips, songs, poems, artwork, etc.

- Once students have created their own sheets, create a group on Sefaria and add all the sheets to it to create a "Rabbi Akiva Gallery" space, so that the students can benefit from one another's work and/or share with the larger community.

1. Introduction

Oral Torah - revelation or exegesis?

The relationship between the written and the oral Torah finds one of its most powerful expressions in the midrashic relationship between Moshe and R' Akiva.

How can you reconcile the following two midrashim, one of which says that God gave Moshe the whole oral Torah along with the written and the other which says that God taught Moshe general principles?

What is the difference between knowledge which is received and that which is derived? Can you derive revelation? See the Rambam's introduction to the Mishna (in particular 8:17-18) for some insight on this question

Keep these questions in mind as we explore R' Akiva's relationship to Moshe, and his role in the revelation of the whole Torah.

(א) כשבא הקב"ה ליתן את התורה אמר למשה על סדר המקרא והמשנה והאגדה והתלמוד שנאמר וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה אפילו מה שישאל תלמיד ותיק לרבו. אמר ליה הקב"ה לך ולמדה את בני ישראל אמר ליה משה רבונו של עולם כתוב אתה לבניך. אמר ליה מבקש אני ליתן אותה לכם בכתב אלא שגלוי לפני שעתידים אומות העולם לשלוט בהם וליטול אותה מהם ויהיו בני כאומות העולם. אלא המקרא תתן להם בכתב והאגדה והמשנה והתלמוד על פה. ויאמר ה' אל משה כתב לך זה מקרא. כי על פי המשנה והתלמוד שהן מבדילים בין ישראל ובין אומות העולם.

(1) When the Holy One came to give the Torah to Moshe, he said over the order of the Readings, the Mishna, the aggadah and the Talmud as it says "And God spoke all these words..." (Shemot 20:1) - even what an experienced student would ask his teacher. The Holy One said to him go and "teach it to the Children of Israel..." (Devarim 31:19) Moshe replied 'Master of the world, you write it down for your children!' Gd said to him, 'I want to give it to them in writing, but it is revealed before me that in the future the nations of the world will rule over them and take it away from them. Then my children will be like the nations!' So Moshe said 'give them the Readings in written form and the aggadah, Mishna and Talmud orally.' "And the LORD said to Moses: Write down these..." (Shemot 34:27) this refers to the Readings, "...for in accordance with these..." (ibid.) refers to the Mishna and Talmud which make the distinction between Israel and the nations of the world.

How do you understand the tension between Gd dictating to Moshe everything the Oral Law would ever say and the need to teach it to Am Yisrael in a fashion that would still allow a student to ask a good question? Compare this to R' Akiva's dictum in Pirke Avot 3:15 "Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choice is granted."

The second half of this text emphasizes that the orality of the Oral Law is what saves it from being appropriated by the nations, as will happen to the Written Law when the Christians claim to replace Am Yisrael. It is interesting to note that the Bar Kochba revolt, whose connection to R' Akiva is explored below, was in the eyes of many scholars the event which marks the definitive break between the Jewish followers of Jesus and rabbinic Judaism. See this article for more on that.

(ו) דָּבָר אַחֵר, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל משֶׁה, אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּהוּ כָּל אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם שֶׁעָשָׂה משֶׁה לְמַעְלָה, הָיָה לוֹמֵד תּוֹרָה וְשׁוֹכֵחַ, אָמַר לוֹ רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָם יֵשׁ לִי אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְאֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ דָּבָר, מֶה עָשָׂה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מִשֶּׁהִשְׁלִים אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם נָתַן לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת הַתּוֹרָה מַתָּנָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיִּתֵּן אֶל משֶׁה. וְכִי כָּל הַתּוֹרָה לָמַד משֶׁה, כְּתִיב בַּתּוֹרָה (איוב יא, ט): אֲרֻכָּה מֵאֶרֶץ מִדָּהּ וּרְחָבָה מִנִּי יָם, וּלְאַרְבָּעִים יוֹם לְמָדָהּ משֶׁה. אֶלָּא כְּלָלִים לִמְדָהוּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמשֶׁה, הֱוֵי: כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ...

Another explanation. "And He gave to Moshe..." (Shemot 31:18) R' Abahu said: all forty days that Moshe was on high, he was learning Torah and forgetting it. He said 'Master of the world, I have only forty days and I don't know a thing!' What did the Holy One do? When forty days were up, He gave Moshe the Torah as a gift, as it says "And He gave to Moshe..." Did Moshe learn the whole Torah? It is written “It is longer than the land and wider than the sea” (Iyov 11) and Moshe learned it in forty days?! Rather, the Holy One taught Moshe general principles (clalim), as it says "When He finished (k'chaloto) speaking with him..."

(ו) וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמשֶׁה לְךָ אֲנִי מְגַלֶּה טַעַם פָּרָה, אֲבָל לְאַחֵר, חֻקָּה. דְּאָמַר רַב הוּנָא כְּתִיב (תהלים עה, ג): כִּי אֶקַח מוֹעֵד אֲנִי מֵישָׁרִים אֶשְׁפֹּט, וּכְתִיב (זכריה יד, ו): וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֹא יִהְיֶה אוֹר יְקָרוֹת וְקִפָּאוֹן, יקפאון כְּתִיב, דְּבָרִים הַמְכֻסִּין מִכֶּם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה עֲתִידִין לִהְיוֹת צוֹפִים לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא, כְּהָדֵין סַמְיָא דְּצָפֵי, דִּכְתִיב (ישעיה מב, טז): וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ. וּכְתִיב (ישעיה מב, טז): אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים, אֶעֱשֶׂה אֵין כְּתִיב כָּאן אֶלָּא עֲשִׂיתִם, שֶׁכְּבָר עָשִׂיתִי לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וַחֲבֵרָיו דְּבָרִים שֶׁלֹא נִגְלוּ לְמשֶׁה נִגְלוּ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וַחֲבֵרָיו. (איוב כח, י): וְכָל יְקָר רָאֲתָה עֵינוֹ, זֶה רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וַחֲבֵרָיו...

(6) ...And they will take for you a red cow - Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Hanina says, The Holy One blessed be he said to Moses: "to you I will reveal the reason for the red cow, but for others it will be a decree (without reason)", as Rav Huna says, "it is written (Psalms 75:3) "At the time I choose, I will give judgment righteously/equitably", and it is written (Zechariah 14:6), "And it will come to pass on that day there will not be light, yeqarot and qippa'on. It is written as "yiqpa'un" things which are hidden from you in this world, will be seen in the world to come, like the blind man who sees, as it is written "I will lead the blind by a road they did not know..." (Isaiah 42:16) It is also written there "...These are the promises - I kept them without fail." It does not say 'will keep,' but rather 'kept' because I already kept my promise to R' Akiva and his companions. Things which were not revealed to Moshe were revealed to R' Akiva and his companions. "His eyes behold every precious thing," (Job 28:10) this refers to R' Akiva and his companions...

In light of the previous two midrashim, what could R' Akiva have beheld that Moshe did not see? Do you think this was a revelation or an act of learning?

2. How R' Akiva learned

There are few Sages who compare with R' Akiva in terms of the richness of narrative material which appears in the midrash, and the episodes of his personal story are also closely bound up with his approach to learning.

(ב) דבר אחר הוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם זה רבי אליעזר ושותה בצמא את דבריהם זה רבי עקיבא. מה היה תחלתו של רבי עקיבא. אמרו בן ארבעים שנה היה ולא שנה כלום. פעם אחת היה עומד על פי הבאר אמר מי חקק אבן זו אמרו לא המים שתדיר [נופלים] עליה בכל יום אמרו [לו] עקיבא אי אתה קורא אבנים שחקו מים. מיד היה רבי עקיבא דן קל וחומר בעצמו מה רך פסל את הקשה דברי תורה שקשה כברזל על אחת כמה וכמה שיחקקו את לבי שהוא בשר ודם. מיד חזר ללמוד תורה. הלך הוא ובנו וישבו אצל מלמדי תינוקות א״ל רבי למדני תורה אחז רבי עקיבא בראש הלוח ובנו בראש הלוח כתב לו אלף בית ולמדה . (אלף תיו ולמדה תורת כהנים ולמדה). היה לומד והולך עד שלמד כל התורה כולה הלך וישב לפני רבי אליעזר ולפני ר׳ יהושע אמר להם רבותי פתחו לי טעם משנה כיון שאמר לו הלכה אחת הלך וישב לו בינו לבין עצמו אמר (אלף זו למה נכתבה בית זו למה נכתבה) דבר זה למה נאמר חזר ושאלן והעמידן בדברים.

(2) What were Akiva's beginnings? It is said: Up to the age of forty, he had not yet studied a thing. One time, while standing by the mouth of a well in Lydda, he inquired, "Who hollowed out this stone?" and was told, "Akiva, haven't you read that 'water wears away stone' (Job 14:19)? - it was water falling upon it constantly, day after day." At that, Rabbi Akiva asked himself: Is my mind harder than this stone? I will go and study at least one section of Torah. He went directly to a schoolhouse, and he and his son began reading from a child's tablet. Rabbi Akiva took hold of one end of the tablet, and his son of the other end. The teacher wrote down alef and bet for him, and he learned them; alef to tav, and he learned them; the book of Leviticus, and he learned it. He went on studying until he learned the whole Torah. Then he went and sat before Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua. "My masters," he said, "reveal the sense of Mishnah to me." When they told him one halakhah, he went off to reason with himself. This alef, he wondered, what was it written for? That bet - what was it written for? This teaching - what was it uttered for? He kept coming back, kept inquiring of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua, until he reduced his teachers to silence.

This text emphasizes that R' Akiva's learning began with a desire and no background. Compare this with the tradition that he is descended from converts (Berachot 27b and Intro to Mishna Torah). What is the relationship between having 'beginners eyes' and greatness in learning? What is the connection between R' Akiva's determination to overcome major obstacles (including the embarrassment of sitting in class with his child) and his ultimate greatness? How does his lack of traditional upbringing connect to his role as the master of exegesis as opposed to tradition? Finally, consider the fact that Moshe too was raised 'outside the tradition.'

(ה) ... ר' עקיבא אומר: הרי הוא אומר שתה מים מבורך - בור, תחילתו אין יכול להוציא טפת מים מאליו. לא היה אלא מה שבתוכו! כך תלמיד חכם לא למד מתחילתו כל דבר, לא שנה אלא מה שלמד. ונוזלים מתוך בארך. מה באר מתמלאת מים חיים מכל צדדיה - כך באים תלמידים ולומדים הימנו. וכן הוא אומר (משלי ה) יפוצו מעיינותיך חוצה. נמשלו דברי תורה למים: מה מים חיים לעולם - אף דברי תורה חיים לעולם, שנא' (משלי ד׳:כ״ב) כי חיים הם למוצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא. ומה מעלים את הטמא מטומאתו - כך דברי תורה מעלים את האדם מדרך רעה לדרך טובה, שנא' תורת ה' תמימה משיבת נפש. ומה מים חנם לעולם - אף דברי תורה חנם לעולם, שנאמ' (ישעיה נה) הוי כל צמא לכו למים. ומה מים שאין להם דמים - אף דברי תורה אין להם דמים, שנאמר (משלי ג) יקרה היא מפנינים וכל חפצים לא ישוו בה.

(5) ... R. Akiva says: It is written: "Drink waters from your pit." A pit, in the beginning, is unable to supply a drop of water of its own, containing, as it does, only what is put into it. So, a Torah scholar, in the beginning, has learned and reviewed only what his teacher has taught him. (Ibid.) "and flowing waters from your well": Just as a well flows living waters from all of its sides, so, disciples come and learn from him (the "flowing" Torah scholar). And thus is it written (Ibid. 16) "Your fountains will spread abroad." Words of Torah are compared to water. Just as water is life for the world, so, words of Torah, as it is written (Ibid. 4:22) "For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all of his flesh." And just as water raises a man from his uncleanliness, so, words of Torah raise a man from uncleanliness to cleanliness, as it is written (Psalms 19:10) "The fear of the L-rd is pure." And just as water restores a man's soul, so, words of Torah restore a man's soul from the path of evil to that of good, viz. (Ibid. 8) "The Torah of the L-rd is whole, restoring the soul." And just as water is free for the world, so words of Torah are free for the world, viz. (Isaiah 55:1) "Ho! all who thirst, go to the waters!" — But perhaps, just as water has no value, so Torah has no value; it is, therefore, written (Proverbs 3:15) "It is more precious than pearls, and all of your desires cannot be compared to it."

What causes or allows a Torah scholar to transition between cistern and flowing well?

How does this transition relate to the end of the previous source, where after learning one mishna from his teachers R' Akiva 'went off to reason with himself'?

R' Eliezer was one of R' Akiva's teachers. He is characterized in Pirkei Avot 2:8 as a 'plastered cistern which never loses a drop.' Do you a see a parallel between student and teacher and Moshe and R' Akiva? Also see the end of that mishna in Avot. What can the argument there about the greatness of R' Eliezer versus that of R' Elazar teach about this transition from receiver of knowledge to educator?

(ב) .... אמר רבי עקיבא כל המגביה עצמו על דברי תורה למה הוא דומה לנבלה מושלכת בדרך כל עובר ושב מניח ידו על חוטמו ומתרחק ממנה והולך שנא (שם ל) אם נבלת בהתנשא ואם זמות יד לפה...

R' Akiva said any who lifts themselves up above the words of Torah is like a carcass tossed by the roadside, everyone passing by puts their hand over their nose, keeps their distance and hurried on, as it says "If you have been scandalously arrogant, if you have been a schemer, then clap your hand to your mouth." (Proverbs 30:32)

What role does humility play in learning? Is it possible to learn without ego at all? How about to teach? Does this statement apply to both learning and teaching?

Compare this text to the series of statements on Torah water found on Ta'anit 7a, starting here

Also note R' Akiva's emphasis on humility as another parallel to Moshe in Bamidbar 12:3

3. The mishna of R' Akiva

(א) אֶנְהָגְךָ אֲבִיאֲךָ, אֶנְהָגְךָ מֵהָעֶלְיוֹנִים לַתַּחְתּוֹנִים. אֲבִיאֲךָ אֶל בֵּית אִמִּי, זֶה סִינַי. אָמַר רַבִּי בֶּרֶכְיָה, לָמָּה קוֹרְאִין לְסִינַי בֵּית אִמִּי, שֶׁמִּשָּׁם נַעֲשׂוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּתִינוֹק בֶּן יוֹמוֹ. תְּלַמְּדֵנִי, מִצְווֹת וּמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים. אַשְׁקְךָ מִיַּיִן הָרֶקַח, אֵלּוּ מִשְׁנָיוֹת גְּדוֹלוֹת, כְּגוֹן מִשְׁנָתוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי חִיָּא רַבָּה, וּמִשְׁנָתוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי הוֹשַׁעְיָא וְשֶׁל בַּר קַפָּרָא וּמִשְׁנַת רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא...

(1) "I would lead you, I would bring you..." (Shir Hashirim 8:2) I would bring you from the upper spheres to the lower. "I would bring you to the house of my mother..." This is Sinai. R' Berachia said: why do we call Sinai 'my mother's house'? Because there Am Yisrael was made as a day old baby. "...of her who taught me..." commandments and good deeds. "I would let you drink of the spiced wine..." These are the great mishnas, like the mishna of R' Chiya Raba, the mishna of R' Hoshaya and Bar Kapara and the mishna of R' Akiva...

This comment from the Intro to the Mishna Torah elucidates what the great mishnas of R' Chiya, R' Hoshaya and Bar Kapara were. What was the mishna of R' Akiva?

(א) לר׳ עקיבא קרא לו אוצר בלום למה רבי עקיבא דומה לפועל שנטל קופתו ויצא לחוץ מצא חטים מניח בה מצא שעורים מניח בה כוסמין מניח בה פולין מניח בה עדשים מניח בה כיון שנכנס לביתו מברר חטים בפני עצמן שעורים בפני עצמן כוסמין בפני עצמן פולין בפני עצמן עדשים בפני עצמן. כך עשה ר׳ עקיבא ועשה כל התורה טבעות טבעות.

He called R' Akiva a full storehouse. What was Rabbi Akiva like? A worker who goes out with his basket. He finds wheat - he puts it in, barley - he puts it in, spelt - he puts it in, beans - he puts it in, lentils - he puts it in. When he arrives home he sorts out the wheat by itself, barley by itself, spelt by itself, beans by themselves, lentils by themselves. So did Rabbi Akiva; he arranged the Torah rings by rings.

דאמר ר' יוחנן סתם מתני' ר' מאיר סתם תוספתא ר' נחמיה סתם ספרא רבי יהודה סתם ספרי ר"ש וכולהו אליבא דר"ע:

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: An unattributed mishna is Rabbi Meir; an unattributed Tosefta is Rabbi Neḥemya; an unattributed baraita in the Sifra, is Rabbi Yehuda; and an unattributed baraita in the Sifrei is Rabbi Shimon. And all of these are in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Akiva,

דאמר מר כשמת ר' עקיבא נולד רבי כשמת רבי נולד רב יהודה כשמת רב יהודה נולד רבא כשמת רבא נולד רב אשי ללמדך שאין צדיק נפטר מן העולם עד שנברא צדיק כמותו שנאמר (קהלת א, ה) וזרח השמש ובא השמש

As the Master said: While Rabbi Akiva was dying, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was born; while Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was dying, Rav Yehuda was born; while Rav Yehuda was dying, Rava was born; while Rava was dying, Rav Ashi was born. This teaches you that a righteous person does not leave the world before an equally righteous person is created, as it is stated: “The sun also rises and the sun also sets” (Ecclesiastes 1:5).

R' Yehudah HaNasi is known as the redactor of the Mishna, the first codification of the Oral Law which would become the 'portable homeland' (see here for podcast) of the Jewish people in the period of exile ahead. There were many Sages who contributed to the form and content of what R' Yehudah created, including R' Meir who the gemara declares as the author of any unattributed Mishna. Why then, in light of the sources above, is R' Akiva the link which connects the Mishna to the chain of Oral Torah stretching back to Sinai? And why does the gemara emphasize that the generational linkage is between righteous people and not learned ones?

These texts indicate that R' Akiva was a primary codifier of Jewish law and the methodology of rabbinic learning (see this article from Encyclopedia Judaica for the historical sources) as well as the bridge between the earlier generations and the great works of Tanaitic literature.

What is the difference between writing down his teachings (as R' Yehudah haNasi ultimately did in the Misha) and raising up many students (as R' Akiva did - see sources below)?

4. His students and the historical context of his teachings

R' Akiva was the spiritual leader of the the Bar Kochba revolt, the third Roman-Jewish War (see here for podcast). How do you think that the context of the struggle for national liberation and the threat of the annihilation of the keepers of the Oral Torah affected the role which R' Akiva played in passing on the tradition?

יתני ר' שמעון בן יוחי עקיבה ר' היה דורש (במדבר כ״ד:י״ז) דרך כוכב מיעקב דרך כוזבא מיעקב. ר' עקיבה כד הוה חמי בר כוזבה הוה אמר דין הוא מלכא משיחא א"ל ר' יוחנן בן תורתא עקיבה יעלו עשבים בלחייך ועדיין בן דוד לא יבא.

R' Shimon bar Yochai taught: R' Akiva explained the verse "a star (kochav) comes forth from Yaakov" as Kosiba comes forth from Yaakov. When R' Akiva would see Bar Kosiba he would declare 'this is the king messiah!' R' Yochanan ben Torta said to him: Akiva grass will grow from your cheeks and still the son David will not have come!

Flavius Josephus asserts that the revolt against Rome was ultimately sparked by “an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in their sacred scriptures” (Josephus, Jewish War, 6.312). In the studies of Second Temple literature this is known as a pesher, the application of ancient prophetic teachings to modern day situations, and is well documented in the Dead Seas Scrolls. Note that this is what R' Akiva does here as well.

Bar Kochba was judged in rabbinic eyes to be a false messiah and brought terrible destruction and suffering on the Jews (see the continuation of the above gemara.) Nevertheless, the Rambam in Kings and Wars 11:3 says that R' Akiva supported him. How do we understand such a great Sage backing a failed messianic movement? Compare R' Akiva's decision in this text to the decision of R' Yochanan ben Zakkai in fleeing Jerusalem which begins here. How does R' Akiva's decision to 'go for broke' by backing a messiah, rather than deciding like R' Yochanan to save what he can, relate to his statement about martyrdom in the text at the end of this sheet?

ר"ע אומר למד תורה בילדותו ילמוד תורה בזקנותו היו לו תלמידים בילדותו יהיו לו תלמידים בזקנותו שנא' בבקר זרע את זרעך וגו' אמרו שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא מגבת עד אנטיפרס וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה והיה העולם שמם עד שבא ר"ע אצל רבותינו שבדרום ושנאה להם ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי ורבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע והם הם העמידו תורה אותה שעה תנא כולם מתו מפסח ועד עצרת אמר רב חמא בר אבא ואיתימא ר' חייא בר אבין כולם מתו מיתה רעה מאי היא א"ר נחמן אסכרה

Rabbi Akiva says that the verse should be understood as follows: If one studied Torah in his youth he should study more Torah in his old age; if he had students in his youth he should have additional students in his old age, as it is stated: “In the morning sow your seed, etc.” They said that Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students in an area of land that stretched from Gevat to Antipatris in Judea, and they all died in one period of time, because they did not treat each other with respect. And the world was desolate of Torah until Rabbi Akiva came to our Rabbis in the South and taught his Torah to them. This second group of disciples consisted of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosei, Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. And these are the very ones who upheld the study of Torah at that time. It is taught that all of them died in the period from Passover until Shavuot. Rav Ḥama bar Abba said, and some say it was Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Avin: They all died a bad death. The Gemara inquires: What is it that is called a bad death? Rav Naḥman said: Diphtheria.

(ט) ומסר ר' עקיבא את עצמו [להריגה] אחר שנפטר ר' יוסי בן קיסמא. ונהרג ר' חנינא בן תרדיון ונתמעטה החכמה [אחריהם]. והעמיד [רבי עקיבא] תלמידים הרבה והוה שמדא על התלמידים של ר' עקיבא ...

R' Akiva gave himself over to execution after R' Yosi ben Kisma died. R' Chanina ben Tradiyon was also killed and wisdom diminished after they passed. R' Akiva raised up many students, but a religious persecution waged against his students...

It is a classic question to ask why R' Akiva's students died. This comment from R' Sherira Gaon (906 CE- 1006 CE) is the only reference to R' Akiva's students dying due to religious persecution, which is perhaps a reference to the Bar Kochba revolt. Why would the Sages of the gemara not mention this?

...שגזרה מלכות הרשעה גזרה כל הסומך יהרג וכל הנסמך יהרג ועיר שסומכין בה תחרב ותחום שסומכין בו יעקר מה עשה רבי יהודה בן בבא הלך וישב בין שני הרים גדולים ובין שתי עיירות גדולות בין ב' תחומי שבת בין אושא לשפרעם וסמך שם חמשה זקנים ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי ור"ש ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע ורב אויא מוסיף אף רבי נחמיה כיון שהכירו בהם אויבים אמר להם בני רוצו אמרו לו רבי ואתה מה תהא עליך אמר להם הריני מוטל לפניהם כאבן שאין לה הופכין אמרו לא זזו משם עד שנעצו לגופו ג' מאות לולניאות של ברזל ועשאוהו לגופו ככברה

...at one time the wicked kingdom of Rome issued decrees of religious persecution against the Jewish people with the aim of abolishing the chain of ordination and the authority of the Sages. They said that anyone who ordains judges will be killed, and anyone who is ordained will be killed, and the city in which they ordain the judges will be destroyed, and the areas around the boundary of the city in which they ordain judges will be uprooted. What did Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava do? He went and sat between two large mountains, and between two large cities, and between two Shabbat boundaries: Between Usha and Shefaram, and there he ordained five Elders, namely: Rabbi Meir, and Rabbi Yehuda, and Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Yosei, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua. And Rav Avya adds that Rabbi Neḥemya also. When their enemies discovered them, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava said: My sons, run for your lives. They said to him: Our teacher, and what will be with you? He said to them: I am cast before them like a stone that cannot be overturned; The Roman soldiers did not move from there until they had inserted three hundred iron spears [lulniot] into his body, making his body appear like a sieve pierced with many holes.

The full context of this text makes it clear that the ordination of these students of R' Akiva preserved the full authority of the oral law for later generations. If such an act was so important, then how do you explain R' Akiva choosing martyrdom in order to keep teaching in Berachot 61b

5. R' Akiva's death

משמת ר"ע בטלו זרועי תורה ונסתתמו מעיינות החכמה

From the time when Rabbi Akiva died, the powerful arm of Torah, ceased, and the fountains of wisdom were sealed.

זרועי תורה - עומק סברא ולסמוך טעמי תורה שבעל פה על מדרשי המקראות ואותיות היתרים ולשונות המשתנים במקרא:

powerful arm of Torah - The depth of though and the ability to rest the reasons for the Oral Law on the interpretation of texts, extra letters and variant linguistic forms in the Written Torah.

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שעלה משה למרום מצאו להקב"ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות אמר לפניו רבש"ע מי מעכב על ידך אמר לו אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילין תילין של הלכות אמר לפניו רבש"ע הראהו לי אמר לו חזור לאחורך הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים תשש כחו כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי מנין לך אמר להן הלכה למשה מסיני נתיישבה דעתו חזר ובא לפני הקב"ה אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם יש לך אדם כזה ואתה נותן תורה ע"י אמר לו שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם הראיתני תורתו הראני שכרו אמר לו חזור [לאחורך] חזר לאחוריו ראה ששוקלין בשרו במקולין אמר לפניו רבש"ע זו תורה וזו שכרה א"ל שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני

Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: When Moses ascended on High, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, sitting and tying crowns on the letters of the Torah. Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, who is preventing You from giving the Torah without these additions? God said to him: There is a man who is destined to be born after several generations, and Akiva ben Yosef is his name; he is destined to derive from each and every thorn of these crowns mounds upon mounds of halakhot. Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, show him to me. God said to him: Return behind you. Moses went and sat at the end of the eighth row in Rabbi Akiva’s study hall and did not understand what they were saying. Moses’ strength waned, as he thought his Torah knowledge was deficient. When Rabbi Akiva arrived at the discussion of one matter, his students said to him: My teacher, from where do you derive this? Rabbi Akiva said to them: It is a halakha transmitted to Moses from Sinai. When Moses heard this, his mind was put at ease. Moses returned and came before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said before Him: Master of the Universe, You have a man as great as this and yet You still choose to give the Torah through me. Why? God said to him: Be silent; this intention arose before Me. Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, You have shown me Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, now show me his reward. God said to him: Return to where you were. Moses went back and saw that they were weighing Rabbi Akiva’s flesh in a butcher shop [bemakkulin]. Moses said before Him: Master of the Universe, this is Torah and this is its reward? God said to him: Be silent; this intention arose before Me.

What does it mean that Moshe didn’t understand in light of R’ Akiva’s labeling his teaching ‘Halacha Moshe m’Sinai? How does this relate to the tension expressed in the two opening midrashim?

For an overview of the concept of Halacha Moshe m'Sinai, see this article

Compare Moshe’s reaction to R' Akiva's death and Gd’s answer to the parallel reaction and answer with the ministering angels in the story of R' Akiva's death at the end of Berachot 61b. Here is an excerpt -

The ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: This is Torah and this its reward? As it is stated: “From death, by Your hand, O Lord, from death of the world” (Psalms 17:14); Your hand, God, kills and does not save. God said the end of the verse to the ministering angels: “Whose portion is in this life.” And then a Divine Voice emerged and said: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, as you are destined for life in the World-to-Come, as your portion is already in eternal life.

What can this teach us about R' Akiva's Torah, particularly in its relationship to the Torah of Moshe?