“You shall love your fellow as yourself – I am Hashem.”
Rashi states the following:
“The Tanna R’ Akiva said, ‘[You shall love your fellow as yourself] is a general rule throughout the entire Torah.’”
When entering any profession, one doesn’t get promoted automatically to a new position. He needs to work hard to get it.
If that’s the case, how did Rebbe Akiva earn the title of tanna, which means teacher?
The Gemara says, “Rebbe Akiva was a shepherd for Ben Kalba Savua. His daughter saw that he was modest and of fine character. She asked him, ‘If I marry you, will you go to the Beis Medrash to study Torah?’ He said to her, ‘Yes!’ He then married her in secret and she sent him away to theBeis Medrash…”
At what age did Rebbe Akiva start learning Torah? When he was forty years old and he had not learned anything.
What turned him around? One time he was standing near a well and asked, “Who made a hole in this stone?” It was said to him, “The water which constantly falls every day.” Akiva, don’t you know the posuk, “Water erodes stones”? Rabbi Akiva immediately inferred the teaching regarding himself and said, “If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can words of Torah – which is hard as iron – make an indelible impression on my heart.” He immediately returned to study Torah, for forty years.
From this story, we are privy to the moment of insight which begins Rabbi Akiva’s spiritual odyssey from ignorant shepherd to legendary scholar. It’s interesting that he made this insight with the water and stone at forty. What is so unique about forty? Forty is the age when man attains insight. In addition, the Gemara says that Water is compared to Torah and the Yeitzer Hara is compared to a Stone. When your Yeitzer Hara is overpowering you, through learning Torah, you can diminish his power over you. As the Medrash says, “If you toil very much in the Torah’s words, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will remove the Yeitzer Hara from you.”
We said that after Rebbe Akiva’s epiphany with the rock, “He immediately returned to study Torah.” There are two words in Hebrew that can mean return. One is תָשׁוּב and חַזָרָה. חַזָרָה comes from the word חוֹזֵר which means to review or repeat something. When one finishes a Mesechta he says, “We shall return to you.” What do those words mean? If one wants to ensure that the Mesechta he learned is securely embedded into his memory, he should review it forty times.”
Avos D’Rebbe Nosson continues, “He approached teachers of small children, to educate him, beginning with the aleph beis …He studied constantly and little by little he learned the entire Torah.”
How did Rebbe Akiva merit learning the entire Torah? His wife suffered from living in dire poverty. As the Mishnah tells us, “Torah is acquired with… acceptance of suffering…” Even though he forty years old, he was willing to suffer embarrassment by having to sit among little children who were learning the aleph beis! Furthermore, “One who suffers from embarrassment will never learn.” Rebbe Akiva was just the opposite. He didn’t feel embarrassed to ask the teacher to teach him the aleph beis.
Jim Watkins said, “A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power but its persistence.” Rashi adds, “Stones are worn away because water is passing over them constantly. Similarly, if you want the Torah to stay within you, it requires constant strengthening. What does that mean? Rashi says, “One is constantly reviewing his learning. You must keep your learning safe in your innards [i.e. have it well memorized], so as not to forget…”
Rebbe Akiva taught us that to achieve greatness you don’t need to be someone special. As the Medrash states, “G-d does not bestow greatness on someone until He tests him with a small matter.” However, to use the excuses of “I’m not intelligent,” “I’m too old” or “I don’t come from an important lineage,” are all invalid. For when he started learning Torah at forty, he was an ignoramus and had no Jewish lineage to speak of.
The second lesson is that in life we face challenges that seem to appear to us like rocks or stones – they are impenetrable. Nevertheless, if we are persistent like water – taking step by step – Hashem will help us break through, overcome them and continue to rock on!
This article is dedicated:
In memory of Eliyahu ben Mordechai, Mashah Tzivyah bas R’ Shlomo Zalman, Altah Soshah Devorah bas Aryeh Leibush, Chaim ben Shmuel Efraim Zalman, Tuvyah Shlomo ben Naftali Tzvi HaKohein, Esther Perel bas R’ Shlomo, Miriam bas Zelig Shaul, Menachem ben Shimon, Menachem ben Zev, Sarah bas HaRav Yisroel, Yosef ben Moshe HaLevi, Yisroel ben Yeshayah, Elisheva Basyah bas Yechiel Ephraim and all the other departed souls of our nation.
For the complete recovery of Chayah Malka bas Bas-Sheva, among the other sick ones of our nation.
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