However, Rabbi Akiva was from the root of Cain, as explained, from the aspect of the crown of gevura. (Through his learning) he sweetened the gevura and changed it to chesed, and (thereby) created souls for converts1 during the twenty-four years he was away from his wife, the daughter of Kalba. He had gone to learn Torah, and brought back with him twenty-four thousand students.2

The root of Rabbi Akiva’s own soul was from the penimiut of holiness.

The root of Rabbi Akiva’s own soul was from the penimiut [internality] of holiness. However, through earlier sin (in a past lifetime), it went to the kelipot, and subsequently returned to holiness. Even though he was called convert, he was not really a full convert.3

However, it is not that way for the rest of the souls of converts, which are mainly from the level of kelipa called kelipat noga [‘the twilight husk’]. Sometimes they can go in the direction of spiritual impurity, and other times they can return to holiness, as the Zohar says. (Zohar II Vayakhel)

Twilight is neither fully day nor night - it is a little of both; (Shabbat Ch. 2) there are souls mixed into this mixed state. They can go in either direction. Great is the merit of one whom through his mitzvahs draws such souls to the side of holiness. All of their accomplishments are accredited to him.

This is the secret of, "Converts are hard for Israel like thorns." (Yevamot 47b) (For at times they go to the wrong side.) For when a gentile comes to convert, a generation of souls from those righteous people in Paradise of the earth enters him, as mentioned in the portion Shelach. (Zohar III Shelach) After that, an actual soul from the children of Israel enters him, and he is then called a gair tsedek [righteous convert], since he now has a holy soul from malchut which is called tzedek. (See Likutei Moharan)

A gair who accepts the laws of the Torah out of his own volition draws this energy.

There are many expressions of malchut. "The law of malchut is law." (Baba Kama 113b) From it come the rules and regulations necessary to implement any given idea. Tzedek means righteousness - in the sense of one who follows the rules. So it is a malchut quality. A gair who accepts the laws of the Torah out of his own volition draws this energy.

The Rabbis call a gair ‘one who comes to take refuge underneath the wings of the Shechinah’. (Vayikra Raba 2:9) The Shechinah expresses through malchut. Propelled by the motion of coming from darkness to light, the gair soars to great heights - hence he is protected and graced by the wings.

The soul that he had while being a non-Jew is called the ‘soul of a convert’.4 However, even after the conversion and its return to good, still the kelipot have somewhat of a hold on it,5 and it can cause the other holy soul to sin. This is what it means, "like thorns to Israel", for it (sometimes) causes the other soul, which is called "Israel", to sin.

With this, you can understand the secret of Rabbi Akiva, who was originally a complete simpleton and who for forty years hated Torah scholars. He would say, "If someone would give me a Torah scholar I would bite him like a donkey!" 6 This was because of (the hold of the kelipot on) his original convert-soul, while his true soul from the side of holiness only acted righteously. Enough on this point.

[Translation and commentary by Perets Auerbach.]