During the omer we follow certain mourning customs. These include not getting married, and not eating new fruits so as not to say Shehechianu. We also do not get hair cuts. Shaving is permitted. Some are strict not to shave. Only on the day after Lag Baomer is it permissible to take a haircut. This is because we have a tradition that the students of Rabbi Akivah died during this season. They stopped dying only on the 34th day of the Omer.
Who was Rabbi Akivah whose students died? He was the most famous Baal Teshuvah ever.
At forty Rabbi Akivah became observant. He was until then an enlightened man who thought that Judaism was backwards.
He said that when he was an ignoramus he said, “give me a Talmid Chacham and I will bite him like a donkey!”
They asked: “Why not like a dog?”
He answered: “A dog bites and tares the flesh when a donkey bites he breaks the bones.”
Psychologists have pointed out the power of the mid life crises. This happens at around the time a person turns forty. This is what happened to Rabbi Akivah.
One time he was standing at a well in Lod. he saw a stone which had a hole in it. He asked, “Who made this hole?” They answered him that it is written in the Torah that water dissolves stone. “Avanim Shachaku Mayim.” The water falls on it every day and washes away the stone! He then said, “My heart is hard as stone.” He then went to study in school with his small son.
Torah is compared with water which softens the hard heart.
After he became a great rabbi he saw the wife of Tornusropus Harasha. She was so beautiful that when he saw her he spit, laughed and cried. He spit because she was born from a smelly drop. He laughed because he saw through Ruach Hakodesh that she was going to convert and marry him. When this happened she gave him a lot of money which helped to make him rich. He cried because such a beautiful thing would die and get eaten by worms.
The Roman authorities wanted to win him back over to their side. They sent him two beautiful women. They were dressed kill with Jewelry and put on wonderful perfume. They climbed all over him all night. Each one said, “be with me.”
He gagged and spit the whole night. He did not even look at them.
When they got back to the authorities he was asked why he did not like the girls which were sent to entertain him. Rabbi Akivah answered that they stunk like animals.
He was a very staunch activist. As an old man he was influential in the rebellion against the ruling Roman Regime. He supported the Bar Cochbah revolution. He even thought that Bar Cochbah was the Mashiach. He turned out to be one of the most despotic rulers ever. This was his greatest mistake. He was tortured to death for being a religious leader.