The Gemara relates at length how Rabbi Akiva fulfilled these directives. The Sages taught: One time, after the bar Kokheva rebellion, the evil empire of Rome decreed that Israel may not engage in the study and practice of Torah. Pappos ben Yehuda came and found Rabbi Akiva, who was convening assemblies in public and engaging in Torah study. Pappos said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of the empire? Rabbi Akiva answered him: I will relate a parable. To what can this be compared? It is like a fox walking along a riverbank when he sees fish gathering and fleeing from place to place.
The fox said to them: From what are you fleeing?
They said to him: We are fleeing from the nets that people cast upon us.
He said to them: Do you wish to come up onto dry land, and we will reside together just as my ancestors resided with your ancestors?
The fish said to him: You are the one of whom they say, he is the cleverest of animals? You are not clever; you are a fool. If we are afraid in the water, our natural habitat which gives us life, then in a habitat that causes our death, all the more so.
The moral is: So too, we Jews, now that we sit and engage in Torah study, about which it is written: “For that is your life, and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20), we fear the empire to this extent; if we proceed to sit idle from its study, as its abandonment is the habitat that causes our death, all the more so will we fear the empire. The Sages said: Not a few days passed until they seized Rabbi Akiva and incarcerated him in prison, and seized Pappos ben Yehuda and incarcerated him alongside him. Rabbi Akiva said to him: Pappos, who brought you here? Pappos replied: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, for you were arrested on the charge of engaging in Torah study. Woe unto Pappos who was seized on the charge of engaging in idle matters.
The Gemara relates: When they took Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, it was time for the recitation of Shema. And they were raking his flesh with iron combs, and he was reciting Shema, thereby accepting upon himself the yoke of Heaven. His students said to him: Our teacher, even now, as you suffer, you recite Shema? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by the verse: With all your soul, meaning: Even if God takes your soul. I said to myself: When will the opportunity be afforded me to fulfill this verse? Now that it has been afforded me, shall I not fulfill it? He prolonged his uttering of the word: One, until his soul left his body as he uttered his final word: One. A voice descended from heaven and said: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your soul left your body as you uttered: One. 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.
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
When Moshe ascended to the heavens, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, sitting and attaching crowns to the letters. He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Who is staying your hand?" He said to him, "There is one man man who will exist after many generations, and Akiva the son of Yosef is his name, who will in the future expound on every crown and crown piles and piles of laws." He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Show him to me." He said to him, "Turn backwards." He went and sat at the end of eight rows [of students in Rabbi Akiva's Beit Midrash], and he did not know what they were talking [about]. He got upset. When Akiva said something, his students said to him, "Our teacher, from where do you learn this?" He said to them, "It is a law taught to Moshe at Sinai." He calmed down. He returned and came before the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said before Him, "Master of the Universe! You have a man like this, and You are giving the Torah through me?" He said to Him, "Be silent. This is what I have decided." He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! You have shown me his Torah; show me his reward." He said to him, "Turn backwards." He turned backwards, and saw that they were weighing out his flesh at the market. He said before Him, "Master of the Universe! Such Torah, and such reward!" He said to him, "Be silent. This is what I've decided."
Another time, they were ascending to Jerusalem, .When they came to Har haTzofim, they tore their clothes. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. They started to cry, but Rabbi Akiva was laughing. The other sages said to him, Why are you laughing? He said to them, Why do you weep? They replied The place about which was written (Numbers 1,51) "and the non-Kohen that draws near shall be put to death", is now a haunt of foxes and we should not weep!? He replied That is why I laugh. It is written (Isaiah 8,2) "and I will take unto Me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Yeberechiahu." Now what was the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was during the period of the First Temple, and Zechariah was during the period of the Second Temple. Rather, the verse was making the prophecy of Zechariah dependent on the prophecy of Uriah. Regarding Uriah, it is written, (Micah 3,12) Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed etc.". Regarding Zechariah it is written (Zechariah 8,4) "There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem. Until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would likewise be unfulfilled. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I know that the prophecy of Zechariah will be fulfilled. In this way they answered him, Akiva, you have consoled us. Akiva, you have consoled us.