THE POWER OF THE HAFTARAH
[Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Noach]
The great Rabbi Akiva once saw a strange man running swiftly as a horse. He had a charred com- plexion and on his head, he was carrying a load heavy enough for ten men. Rabbi Akiva ordered him
"Why do you do such hard work?" R' Akiva asked. The man answered, "Do not detain me lest my
supervisors be angry with me; I am a dead man. Every day I am punished anew by being sent to chop wood for a fire in which I am consumed.''
''What did you do in life, my son?'' asked Rabbi Akiva. ''I was a tax-collector. I was lenient with the rich
and oppressed the poor.''
Rabbi Akiva persisted, ''Have you heard if there is any way to save you?'' The man replied, ''I heard that if only I had left a son who would stand before the congregation and call out 'Bless HASHEM, the blessed One' - to which the people would respond, 'Blessed is HASHEM, the blessed One, for all eternity!'
He then continued: "And if only I had left a son who could proclaim to the congregation, 'May His great Name be exalted and sanctified, to which the people would respond, 'May His great Name be blessed!' I would be released from my punishment. When I died, my wife was pregnant. I do not know if she gave birth to a son, and if she did there would be no one to teach him!"
At that moment, Rabbi Akiva resolved to find out if a son had been born, and if so, to teach him until he could lead the congregation in prayer. He went to Ludkia and inquired about the despised tax-
collector, but the people wanted no part of that wicked man. To Rabbi Akiva's inquiries about the widow, they responded, ''May her memory be obliterated from the earth! And his child - ''He is not even circumcised.''
Rabbi Akiva took the child, had him circumcised, and personally taught him Torah and the order of prayers. When he was ready, Rabbi Akiva appointed him to lead the congregation in prayer.
Yesh Nochalin cites a beautiful ending to this story in Zohar Chadash -
After his son lead the Services, the deceased father came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream and told him:
"When my son read the Haftarah they lightened my punishment in Gehinnom.
When my son led the public Prayer Service and recited Kaddish, they completely tore up my sentence. And when he became wise and acquired Torah, they gave me a portion in Gan Eden."