Yonasan ben Hurkenos said to Rebbi Akiva, "You are the Akiva whose name goes from one end of the world to the other end (mi'Sof ha'Olam v'Ad Sofo)!"
The MITZPEH EISAN points out that the Gematriya of the words, "mi'Sof ha'Olam (v')Ad Sofo," is 564, the number of times that Rebbi Akiva is mentioned in the Mishnayos. (The Gematriya is actually 563, not 564. The Mitzpeh Eisan relies on the instrument of "Im ha'Kollel," a rule of Gematriya which allows an extra 1 to be added to the combined numerical value of a word's letters. This extra 1 corresponds to the word as a whole.) The Halachah follows the opinion of Rebbi Akiva 375 times, which equals the Gematriya of "Sha'ah," as in "ha'Sha'ah Omedes Lo" ("the time is fortuitous for him"). Also, the Gemara in Gitin (67a) refers to Rebbi Akiva as "Otzar Balum" (an organized storehouse of wisdom), the Gematriya of which is also 375.
(There seems to be an error in the transmission of this Gematriya. In our edition of the Mishnayos, the name of Rebbi Akiva appears 338 times. Perhaps the Mitzpeh Eisan means that the Gematriya of the words, "mi'Sof" and "Sofo" (without the words "ha'Olam Ad") is exactly 338, and that the Gematriya of one of those two words is equal to the number of times the Halachic ruling follows Rebbi Akiva.)
QUESTION: Rebbi Dosa ben Hurkenos told his three distinguished guests, Rebbi Yehoshua, Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah, and Rebbi Akiva, three Halachos that he heard in the name of Chagai ha'Navi. Those three Halachos were: "Tzaras ha'Bas" (the Tzarah of the daughter of the surviving brother) is prohibited to do Yibum, people in the lands of Amon and Moav must give Ma'aser Ani during the Shemitah year, and that Beis Din may accept converts from the Tarmodi'im.
Is there any reason why Rebbi Dosa chose to mention these three particular Halachos to his guests?
ANSWER: The ARUCH LA'NER explains why Rebbi Dosa chose to mention these three Halachos to his guests. He proposes that each Halachah was addressed to one of the guests, in the order in which they entered to visit him. Rebbi Dosa's intention was to correct mistakes in Halachah that his guests had made.
The Halachah that "Tzaras ha'Bas" is prohibited was directed towards Rebbi Yehoshua. Rebbi Yehoshua was the first who entered, the head of the delegation of Tana'im who came to question the supposed ruling of Rebbi Dosa concerning "Tzaras ha'Bas." It was Rebbi Yehoshua (15b) who did not want to rule in the case of "Tzaras ha'Bas," excusing himself by saying that he did not want to put his head "between the mountains" who argue about it. Rebbi Dosa told him that he did not have to be afraid to rule that "Tzaras ha'Bas" is prohibited. (It could be that Rebbi Yehoshua did not want to rule openly on the issue against the opinion of Beis Shamai because of the incident recorded in Chagigah 22b.)
The second Halachah Rebbi Dosa related -- that the people in the lands of Amon and Moav must separate Ma'aser Ani during the Shemitah year -- was directed towards Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah. It was Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah who discussed that Halachah in Maseches Yadayim (4:3) and said that one must separate Ma'aser Sheni but not Ma'aser Ani in the lands of Amon and Moav during the Shemitah year. (Perhaps during their discussion of various Halachos during this meeting, the conversation turned to this Halachah and Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah expressed his opinion on the matter.)
The third Halachah -- that converts from the Tarmodi'im are accepted -- was directed towards Rebbi Akiva. Rebbi Akiva (49a) ruled that a child born through a union with a Chiyuv Lav (and not only a Chiyuv Kares) is a Mamzer. Consequently, according to Rebbi Akiva, a child born from a Jewish woman and a Nochri is a Mamzer, and thus Rebbi Akiva does not accept converts from the Tarmodi'im (see Tosfos 16b, DH Kasavar). Rebbi Dosa corrected him and said in the name of Chagai ha'Navi that converts from the Tarmodi'im are accepted, because the Halachah is that a union with a Chiyuv Lav does not produce a Mamzer.
(The Halachah follows the rulings of Rebbi Dosa in all three cases.)
QUESTION: When Yonasan ben Hurkenos successfully outwitted Rebbi Akiva, he exclaimed, "Happy are you that you merited such a reputation, and you still have not yet reached the rank of cattle shepherds (Ro'ei Bakar)!" Rebbi Akiva responded, "I have not reached even the level of shepherds of sheep (Ro'ei Tzon)!"
Why did Yonasan ben Hurkenos compare Rebbi Akiva to "Ro'ei Bakar," and what did Rebbi Akiva intend to say in his response?
(a) The MAHARSHA points out that Amos ha'Navi said about himself, "I am a cattle shepherd" (Amos 7:14). Yonasan ben Hurkenos said to Rebbi Akiva that although Rebbi Akiva may have received a tradition from Chagai ha'Navi, a later prophet, about a certain Halachah, he did not have a tradition from an earlier prophet -- Amos, the "cattle shepherd." Perhaps the earlier prophets ruled the way Yonasan ruled. Rebbi Akiva responded, "A tradition from Chagai is just as authoritative as one from Amos. A tradition from any prophet stems directly from the 'shepherd of sheep'" -- a reference to Moshe Rabeinu (Shemos 3:1).
(b) The ARUCH LA'NER explains that before Rebbi Akiva learned Torah, he worked as the shepherd of Kalba Savu'a (Kesuvos 62b). Yonasan's intention was to remind Rebbi Akiva of his ignoble beginnings. Rebbi Akiva in his humility responded that he had not even reached the rank of less reputable shepherds, such as shepherds of sheep ("Ro'ei Behemah Dakah") who are suspected of allowing their charges to graze in the fields of others (see Sanhedrin 26a, Bava Kama 79b).
(c) The MAHARATZ CHAYOS relates an explanation which points out that according to the Gemara in Berachos (63a), Rebbi Akiva once declared a leap year while he was outside of Eretz Yisrael. Several Tana'im were displeased with his ruling because the establishment of leap years is the prerogative of Beis Din in Eretz Yisrael.
The Tana says in Pirkei d'Rebbi Elazar (chapter 8) that even if there are great Tzadikim and Talmidei Chachamim in Chutz la'Aretz, and in Eretz Yisrael there are only shepherds, the shepherds in Eretz Yisrael should establish the leap year rather than the Talmidei Chachamim outside of Eretz Yisrael. (The Gemara in Sanhedrin (18b, 26a) says that even "Ro'ei Tzon and Ro'ei Bakar" may declare a leap year.) Yonasan ben Hurkenos reprimanded Rebbi Akiva for declaring a leap year outside of Eretz Yisrael and told him that with regard to declaring leap years, "You are not even as authoritative as Ro'ei Bakar [in Eretz Yisrael]!"