Rabbi Akiva said to him, “Stop! If you’re a servant, I can free you, and if you’re a poor man, let me make you wealthy.”
The man replied, “Please, rabbi, do not delay me. My supervisors are very angry that I am late.”
Rabbi Akiva pressed him further and said “Who are you and what are you doing?”
The man responded, “I am a dead man. Every day, they have me chop wood, upon which they burn me every night.”
Rabbi Akiva asked what the man’s profession was when he was alive.
He said that he was a tax collector, who would favor the rich, and persecute the poor.
The rabbi then asked if his “supervisors” had told him any way that he could be saved from this punishment.
The man said, “Yes, if I had a son, and he would say Kaddish in the synagogue and
the congregation responded “Amen, Y’hay Shmay Rabbah M’vorach” then I would be
released from my punishment.
But it’s not possible. I did leave a son when I died. My wife was pregnant at the time of my passing, but I don’t know what became of the child. Who would teach him about Judaism and Torah? I don’t have any friends in the world.”
Rabbi Akiva asked the man his name and was determined to find this child.
The dead man told him his name was Ukba, his wife’s name was Shoshiva and he was from the town of Lanuka’a.
Immediately, Rabbi Akiva rushed to that town and when arriving there, he asked the people about Ukba.
They said, “May his bones grind in hell.” When he inquired about Ukba’s wife, they said, “May her name and memory be erased.”
They also mentioned that she gave birth to a son, but he never had a Bris Milah (circumcision). (The townspeople hated the family so much, they didn’t even give the boy a circumcision.)
Rabbi Akiva found the child and had him circumcised, and asked G-d to help him teach this child to read the prayers of the Shema, the Grace After Meals, and eventually the Kaddish.
He had the child go before the congregation and recite
Kaddish, and the synagogue replied “Amen, Y’hay Shmay Rabbah M’vorach.”
The dead man’s soul was released from his punishment and visited Rabbi Akiva in a
dream, and thanked him for saving him from the judgment of Gehinom (purgatory).