“And you shall love YHWH your God (Deuteronomy 6:5). It has been taught: Rabbi Eli’ezer says: If it says with all your being, why should it also say, with all your might? And if it says with all your might, why should it also say with all your being? Should there be a man who values his life more than his money, for him it says; with all your being; and should there be a man who values his money more than his life, for him it says, with all your might. Rabbi Akiva says: With all your being—even if He plucks your being.
Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practice Torah. Pappus ben Judah came and found Rabbi Akiva publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with Torah. He said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of the Government? He replied: I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once walking alongside of a river, and he saw fishes going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them: From what are you fleeing? They replied: From the nets cast for us by men. He said to them: Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors? They replied: Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element in which we would die! So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study Torah, of which it is written, your life and your length of days (Deuteronomy 30:20), if we go and neglect it how much worse off we shall be!
It is related that soon afterwards Rabbi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus son of Yehudah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When Rabbi Akiva was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of שֵׁמַע (Shema), and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven. His disciples said to him: Our teacher, even to this point? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by this verse, with all your being, [which I interpret,] ‘even if He plucks your being.’ I said: When shall it come to my hands? Now that I have the opportunity shall I not fulfill it?
He prolonged the word אֶחָד (eḥad), one, until he expired while saying it. An echo went forth and proclaimed: Happy are you, Akiva, that your being has departed with the word eḥad, one! The ministering angels said before the blessed Holy One: Such Torah, and such a reward? [He should have been] by Your hand, from men, from those fleeting of portion in life (Psalms 17:14). He replied to them: Their portion is in life. An echo went forth and proclaimed, Happy are you, Akiva, that you are destined for the life of the World that is Coming!” (BT Berakhot 61b).
“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, When Moses ascended on high he found the blessed Holy One engaged in binding כֶּתֶרִים (keterim), crownlets, to the letters. Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe, Who stays Your hand’ [i.e., is there anything wanting in the Torah that these additions are necessary]? He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiva son of Yosef by name, who will expound upon each tittle mounds and mounds of halakhot.’ He said, ‘Master of the Universe, permit me to see him.’ He replied, ‘Turn around.’ Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples and listened to the discourses upon the halakhah] yet he did not know what they were saying, and his power began to dwindle. But when they came to a certain subject and his disciples said, ‘Rabbi where do you derive [this from]?’ And he replied, ‘This is halakhah [given] to Moses at Sinai,’ and this put his mind at ease. [Moses] returned to the blessed Holy One and said, ‘Master of the Universe, You have such a man yet You give Torah by me!’ He replied, ‘Silence! Thus it arose in thought.’ Then Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe, You have shown me his Torah, show me his reward.’ ‘Turn around,’ He said; and Moses turned round and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls. ‘Master of the Universe, such Torah, and such a reward!’ He replied, ‘Silence! Thus it arose in thought’” (BT Menaḥot 29b).
“The third commandment: to realize that God exists—vast and controlling the world—and to unify Him fittingly each day in those six supernal directions, unifying them through the six words of שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל (Shema Yisra’el), Hear, O Israel! (Deuteronomy 6:4), directing one’s desire above along with them.
So one should prolong אֶחָד (eḥad), one, to the length of six words, as is written: Let the waters under heaven be gathered to one place (Genesis 1:9)—let the rungs beneath heaven be gathered together to unite with it, to be fittingly complete in six directions. Yet, with that unity one should bind awe, prolonging the ד (dalet) of אֶחָד (eḥad), one, since the dalet of eḥad, one, is large, as is written: Let the dry land appear (ibid.)—let dalet, who is dry land, appear and be bound in that union. After She is bound there above, one should bind Her below with Her forces, in six other directions below: בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד (Barukh shem kevod Malkhuto le-olam va-ed), Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever, comprising six other words of unification. Then, what was dry land is transformed into earth, generating fruit, verdure, planting trees. This corresponds to what is written: God called the dry land Earth (ibid. 10)—through that unification below, אַרְעָא (ar’a), Earth, fittingly consummates רַעֲוָא (ra’ava) desire. So, it was good, it was good (ibid. 1:10, 12), twice: one for the unification above, one for the unification below. Once it was unified in both aspects, from then on: Let the earth sprout vegetation (ibid., 11)—arrayed to generate fruit and verdure fittingly” (Zohar 1:12a).
“Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai opened, saying, ‘שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד (Shema Yisra’el Adonai Eloheinu Adonai eḥad), Hear, O Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). A large ע (ayin) and similarly ד (dalet); the mnemonic is עֵד (ed), witness, corresponding to what is written: YHWH is ed, witness, against you (1 Samuel 12:5). The letters ש מ (shin, mem) remain, with an open מ (mem). Why? Closed ם (mem) is upper King; open mem is lower King. Other letters remain: א ח (alef, ḥet); God’s honor is to conceal a matter (Proverbs 25:2).
Rav Hamnuna Sava said: Whoever performs this unification every day encounters joy from above, through the mystery of these letters: shin, mem from this side, alef, ḥet from that side. He permutes the letters, beginning in reverse and ending forward; your mnemonic is אֶשְׂמַח (esmaḥ), as is written, As for me, esmaḥ, I will rejoice, in YHWH (Psalms 104:34)—in YHWH, precisely! This is the holy unification, and it is fine. So, too, in the Book of Enoch, which says similarly that whoever performs the unification every day encounters joy from above.
Furthermore, it includes: Shin, mem, comprising a large ayin—ע״ (seventy) names of mystery of the holy Patriarchs. יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה (Yisra’el Adonai Eloheinu Adonai), O Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH—four compartments of tefillin, held by א ח (alef, ḥet), the one who said, Open to me, אֲחֹתִי (aḥoti), my sister, my love (Song of Songs 5:2). Dalet is the knot of tefillin, who is connected to them. A mystery for the wise, not to be revealed.
Rabbi Shim’on fell silent. He wept—and laughed. He said, ‘I shall speak, for favor is found—and there will be no generation such as this until King Messiah comes, when they will be permitted to reveal” (Zohar 3:236b).