I just learned this year that there’s an allusion to Rabbi Akiva in Kol Nidrei at the opening of the Yom Kippur services. The final letters of אור זרוע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה spell ר עקיבה (though usually with alef at the end, the hey isn’t far off). Why the Rabbi Akiva Kol Nidrei reference?

First of all, Yom Kippur is Rabbi Akiva’s yartzeit. He was killed by the Romans in the most gruesome way on the holiest day of the year, and his soul took flight as he said the word “Echad” of the #Shema. See this tragic inspirational imagery near end of Talmud tractate Brachot.

But there’s more to it: Kol Nidrei’s heartfelt import is that we often are tied & entangled with things we’re committed to because of circumstance or weakness, but they don’t define who we really are deep within ourselves. Kol Nidrei can be felt as a release from those ties. This explains why Kol Nidrei (in essence a legal text of release from vows) became such a heartfelt meaningful opener of the Yom Kippur prayers. Some say this can be traced to the times like Spanish Inquisition when Jews felt deeply torn between their inner beliefs and observance and the pressures and coercion of outside forces that made them make vows to things that were foreign to them and against their core identity as Jews. The release of those outside vows, meant the world to them. 

Rabbi Akiva exemplifies this concept! He began his journey of study at age 40. He already formed habits & tendencies, was probably set in his ways. And yet he uprooted & upended it all in a personally transformative way. Those old ties didn’t define him, didn’t hold him back. As Yom Kippur is a holiday facilitating and celebrating meaningful change & personal transformation, it is most fitting that there’s this hidden allusion to Rabbi Akiva in one of its opening lines.

Of course, there’s also Rabbi Akiva’s famous declaration of how G-d purifies the Jewish people just as a Mikva does! Very YomKippur-esque!

P.S: as an interesting historical tidbit, this allusion to Rabbi Akiva at the end letters of this “Ohr Zarua” verse was shared by the Mitteler Rebbe (2nd Rebbe of Chabad) to the great Talmudic scholar Rabbi Akiva Eiger, who greeted the Mitteler Rebbe at the healing spa of Carlsbad with this very verse.