It then reincarnated into Yochanan High Priest Kohen Gadol the Chashmonite,1 then into Akavia the son of Mehalelel, and after that into Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai Hakohen. From there it reincarnated into Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, and this is the secret of what is written, "Three lived until 120 years of age: Moses, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Akiva".2 (Rosh Hashanah 31b)

Rabbi Akiva was a simpleton for forty years.

Moses spent forty years in the house of Pharaoh, forty years in Midian, and forty years leading the Jewish people. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai spent forty years in business, forty years learning, and forty years teaching. Rabbi Akiva was a simpleton for forty years. Then he learned for forty years, and then he taught for forty years.

This relates to the secret of the three heads of keter.3 "The days of our years are seventy". (Ps. 90) They come from the seven lower sefirot, each one inclusive of ten. The elite ascend in life to draw from bina and its fifty gates - hence the common blessing to live to a hundred and twenty.

Keter and bina are intrinsically related.4 It could almost be said that binah is just a lower, toned down expression of keter.5 (Likutei Torah Baal HaTanya) "Age forty for bina." (Pirkei Avot) The three heads of keter manifest through three aspects of binah - thrice forty. This is a related dynamic cause of the hundred and twenty years.

"And You made him (man) me’ot [a little bit less] than Divine". (Ps.) MAT/m’ot equals 119, the level just underneath 120, which draws from the infinite fiftieth gate and is thereby superhuman and heavenly. One who merits to attain this sweetens all dinim across the board: The 120 permutations of ELHYM, the name of din.

This is by virtue of the transcendental 120 connection. These tzadikim assured the human race the ability to reach for supernal linkage.6

Cain, the firstborn, has intense keter/firstborn of the sefirot connection. These three souls from his root ascended to this place and drew the perfect archetype expression of keter through bina. They each have the three heads expressing in themselves, and they each assume one of them relative to each other. Moses comes from the highest. Raban Yochanan from the next head, Rabbi Akiva his grand disciple (Pirkei Avot) from the next.

...these souls had a strong connection to Moses...

Thus, these souls had a strong connection to Moses, for all souls were included in his, but particularly those of these tzadikim.7 However, as explained elsewhere, it was only the level of the nefesh that reincarnated into them - their level of ruach and neshama did not come from this root.

After that, it reincarnated into Rav Yaiba Saba, mentioned in the Zohar in the portion Mishpatim, and later into Abaye. This is the secret of what the Sagesthe Sages say, "Rabbi Yochanan did not overlook any verse, mishnah, etc., or question of Abaye and Rava".8 (Succah 28a)

Then, it came into Rav Achai, one of the Rabanan Savorai9, in ibur. It is to him that the Talmud refers when it says, "Rav Achai asked..." From there it went in ibur into Rav Acha from Shivcha Gaon, the author of Sha’eltot. My teacher told me that Rav Achai himself was Rav Acha from Shivcha.

After that, it reincarnated into Rav Dustai Gaon, Rabbi Aharon Halevi grandson of Rabeinu Zarchei Halevi author of Sefer HaMeorot and teacher of the Magid Mishnah, Don Vidal dei Telusa, author of the Magid Mishnah; then to Shaul Trishtai, and Rabbi Yehoshua Suriano. Then it went to a young man whose name was Avraham. The Magid Mishnah was connected to the Rambam and this is why he wrote the Magid Mishnah to explain the Mishna Torah of the Rambam.10

“If you would give me a Torah scholar I would bite him like a donkey”.

Both Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva were simpletons for the first forty years of their lives because the nefesh of each was from the same level of drop from the ten that went out from Joseph the Righteous between his fingers.11 Therefore, they were simpletons for the first forty years and susceptible to the kelipot for part of that time. This was especially true of Rabbi Akiva, who used to say, "If you would give me a Torah scholar I would bite him like a donkey".12 (Pesachim 49b)

This explains much, for even though the Talmud says that the daughter of Kalba Savua13 saw he was very modest and special even as a simpleton, still Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva must have sinned while young. For this reason, they had to reincarnate several times as we wrote earlier.14 Also, for this reason a holy and special nefesh entered Rabbi Akiva as the son of converts and not from the seed of a Jew, for it was a wasted drop that had gone out from Joseph when he was seduced by the wife of his master, a non-Jewess.

...it needed to enter the world at the time of intimacy into the body of a convert.

In truth, the nefesh of Rabbi Akiva is not like the rest of the souls that are created by the zivug [pairing] of tzadikim in the Garden of Eden, as mentioned in the Zohar. (Zohar III Shelach) It is a very great and holy nefesh, but because of the sin of Adam and his son Cain, it fell down into the depths of the kelipot,15 and later caused the incident when the seed left Joseph. Therefore, it needed to enter the world at the time of intimacy into the body of a convert.

The domino theory. "One sin leads to another sin." (Pirkei Avot) Adam did not wait for Shabbat to be with Eve. (See above.) This set off a tremor of impatience in creation that led to many mistakes. Cain saw that Abel’s extra wife was really his. He didn’t wait for her to come to him in a subsequent lifetime. Instead, he jumped the gun and took her prematurely, causing much damage. This in turn led to some small lack of perfection by Joseph. Potifar’s wife wanted him. Besides this, she also actually saw spiritually some deep connection between them. She did not know that this was to be expressed through her daughter. (Midrash) She so went ahead of time and tried to be with him. For the most part he waited and refused. (Gen. 39:6-13) The aspect of the energies that left his fingers were some category of coming too soon and needed tikun. It comes through the scenario of the grand-soul of Rabbi Akiva.

All this is in line with previous teachings about Samuel the prophet having the Mashiach ben Yosef spark. (See above.) He also had the Nadab/Abihu channel. They came back a few times and Rabbi Akiva was one of their main pit stops. From here we see that he also had the related Mashiach ben Yosef link. For this reason, just as Samuel anointed King David16 and furthered the Mashiach ben Dovid spark, so did Rabbi Akiva sanction its expression in his generation in Bar Kochva.17

Here we see a prime example of the great theme found in the Cain root - the coming back of lost kedusha from the lowest places. This is what Mashiach is all about. "And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who return from sin in Jacob". (Isaiah 59:20)

We already explained in earlier chapters that the nefesh which enters the body of a convert after conversion is enclothed within another nefesh, [which comes as] the result of the zivug of tzadikim in the Garden of Eden. It is really the first true nefesh of the convert, as mentioned in Saba of Mishpatim (Zohar II Mishpatim 98b) and it is what caused him to be a simpleton for the first forty years, in the secret of what the Sages say, "Converts are difficult for Israel like thorns". (Yebamot 47b)

...intercourse that does not result in conception causes the birth of souls.

Even intercourse that does not result in conception causes the birth of souls. (See above.) They come down from the world of potential into the ethereal realms and serve as positive energies that aid the parents and the universe as well. They may at some later point even end up descending further and entering a body. Moreover, after departing from this world, tzadikim pair in soul above and give birth to even higher souls.

In respect to converts, they are lofty souls made from such supernal unions. But there is in them a negative element, for the sparks of their souls are elevated by the supernal coupling out of the kelipot. This causes the thorn difficulty.

What comes out is that they are both very high and very low, which, as mentioned, is in line with the central theme of the whole Cain root. This is the inner meaning of the two explanations of Tosfot on the mentioned ‘thorn passage’. Either they cause problems because they are mixed with kelipot causing them to do bad, or they act so highly that they cause an accusation on the rest of the people for not living up to their level. According to both ways of looking at it, they cause some amount of trouble. Too much good is also hard to handle in this world as it is in its unrectified state.

But the world is not meant to so remain. "Death or mundanity." Things must progress to a level where good is super-mega at its best. The convert tikun is one of the prime mechanics that helps get the world to eventually receive the extraordinary degrees of greatness it was meant for. Rabbi Akiva is a main leader of this motion.

Furthermore, since Rabbi Akiva is the son of a convert whose name was Yosef, he was subject to what the Sages say, "Do not disgrace the ancestry before him for three generations because it is difficult for him" - the zuhama does not leave him for three generations. (Sanhedrin 94a) Thus it is clear that he was susceptible to kelipot and chitzonim for the first forty years while he was a simpleton.

They are also from the root of Cain, for Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva are the level of the arms of Moses, mixed in with the root of Cain. Therefore, Moses, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Akiva all lived to the same age of 120 years. This is why Moses asked God to give the Torah through Rabbi Akiva, as it says in the Talmud (Shabbat 55a) and Otiot d’Rabbi Akiva [The Letters of Rabbi Akiva].

...the angels claimed that [the Torah] should be left in Heaven.

When the time came to give the Torah to the world, the angels claimed that it should be left in Heaven. (Shabbat) This parallels their accusation by the very making of man. Indeed, even after creation, the whole world was hanging until the Torah was accepted below. (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Bamidbar 687)

As mentioned, Rabbi Akiva ascended to the original thought of creation - the state of intense din. He so disproved the angels and demonstrated that man is worthy of being made. This leads to man being worthy to accept the Torah. This explains Moses’ exclamation about Rabbi Akiva being the one to bring down the Torah.

This all links with the idea of Rabbi Akiva corresponding to the Shechinah/malchut - the source of din, in the order of the ten martyrs. (Likutei Torah) His direct connection afforded him the ability to attain the highest heights and be worthy of bringing the Shechinah fully into the world.

It also says that Moses killed Oig king of Bashan, who had a spark of the soul of Rabbi Shimon ben Nesanel in him, who feared sin. (Seder HaDorot) Thus his name has the head-letters of BShN/Bashan. And since this holy spark called fear of sin was mixed together in Oig, Moses was afraid to kill him - until God told him, "Do not fear". (Deut. 3:2) Subsequently, this spark became one of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s students.

Back in the days, Oig was from the house of Abraham, (Gen. 14:13, Rashi) whose quality is the right side of chesed. Even though Oig was primarily wicked, he did have some connection to this aspect which is close to kedusha. It aided him to live for generations - all the way to the time of the redemption from Egypt. The Zohar tells that Moses was concerned that this might give him some merit to be saved. Here the Ari.Zl. seems to say the opposite: That Moses was worried over an aspect of fear in Oig, which comes from din/the left side?!

In truth it was both. And this itself was all the more reason for apprehension. G‑d Himself had to tell him not to be afraid - what is not found in other places. This shows what a real threat it was.

Moses is the da’at of the Jewish nation. (See above.) Da’at includes chesed and gevura. He is so empowered to war with Oig. Therefore, he himself was the one to defeat him.

The Ari.Zl says that Moses was afraid to kill him - not that he was afraid of losing the battle. As mentioned, he saw the latent kedusha in Oig and was so concerned about damaging it. God told him not to be concerned about this, for on the contrary, killing him would subjugate the negative energy around the spark of good, allowing it to surface in a later lifetime.

[Translation and commentary by Perets Auerbach.]