Monday, May 8, 2017

Rock on Akiva!

In last week’s parsha the verse says, “ואהבת לרעך כמוך, You shall love your fellow as yourself - I am Hashem.”[1]

Rashi[2] states the following:

“The Tanna R’ Akiva said, ‘[You shall love your fellow as yourself] is a general rule throughout the entire Torah.’”[3]

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[4] 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 the beis medrash…”

At what age did Rebbe Akiva start learning Torah? When he was forty years old and he had not learned anything.[5]

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’?[6] 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,[7] for forty years.”[8] [9]

From this story, we are privy to the moment of insight which begins Rabbi Akiva’s spiritual odyssey from ignorant shepherd to legendary scholar.[10] 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.[11] In addition, the Gemara says that Water is compared to Torah[12] and the Yeitzer Hara is compared to a Stone.[13] When your Yeitzer Hara is overpowering you, through learning Torah, you can diminish his power over you.[14] As the Medrash[15] 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.”[16] There are two words in Hebrew that can mean return. One is [17]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 insure that the Mesechta he learned is securely embedded into his memory, he should review it forty times.”[18]

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.”[19]

How did Rebbe Akiva merit learning the entire Torah? His wife suffered by living in dire poverty.[20] As the Mishnah[21] 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.”[22] Rebbe Akiva was just the opposite. He didn’t feel embarrassed to ask the teacher to teach him the aleph beis.[23]

Jim Watkins said, “A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power but its persistence.” Rashi[24] adds, “Stones are worn away because water is passing over them constantly. Similarly, if you want the Torah to stay within you,[25] it requires constant strengthening.[26] What does that mean? Rashi[27] 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[28] states,    “G-d does not bestow greatness on someone until He tests him with a small matter.”[29] 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.[30]

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[31] – Hashem will help us break through, overcome them and continue to rock on!
[1] Vayikra 19:18.

[2] See Rashi ibid. “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”.

[3] Toras Kohanim 4:12. See also Bereishis Rabbah 24:7 and Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4.

[4] Kesubos 62b-63a and Nedarim 50a.

[5] Avos D’Rebbe Nosson 6:2.

[6] Iyov 14:19.

[7] See note 5.

[8] See Bereishis Rabbah 100:10.

[9] See note 4. In addition, Mishlei (7:3) says, “Inscribe them (i.e. the words of Torah) upon the tablet of your heart.”

[10] As the Gemara says, “He had such hatred for Torah scholars during those years that had he had the chance he would have bitten them like a wild donkey” (Pesachim 49b).

We learn out from here that the worst type of Jew hater is the irreligious Jew who is devoid of Torah. Why? Because when he sees how Torah gives direction and meaning to one’s life, it reminds him of what he’s missing in his own life.

[11] Avos 5:21. See also Jewish Wisdom In The Numbers by Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman and Osher Chaim Levene, pages 274 – 278.

[12] See Bava Kama 17a.

[13] See Kiddushin 30b.

[14] See Bava Basra 16a.

[15] Bamidbar Rabbah 14:4.

[16] See note 3.

[17] See Devarim 30:10.

[18] See Pesachim 72a.

[19] See Artscroll Nedarim 50a, note 4.

[20] See Nedarim 50a.

[21] Avos 6:6.

[22] Ibid. 2:5.

[23] See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 29:8.

[24] To Iyov 14:19 “אבנים”.

[25] I.e. retain what you learn.

[26] See Rashi to Berachos 32b “צריכין חזוק”.

[27] Devarim 12:28 “שמר”.

[28] Shemos Rabbah 2:3.

[29] Nevertheless, “G-d does not make matters difficult for His creatures. However, He does expect a person to perform according to his capacity” (Shemos Rabbah 34:1. See also Avodah Zarah 3a). As Koheles says, “Whatever you are capable of doing with your own strength do it” (9:10).

[30] See Berachos 27b.

[31] As the Gemara says, “If you have grabbed much, you have not grabbed anything. However, if you have grabbed a little, you have grabbed something” [(Rosh Hashanah 4b) see also Yuma 38b].


  1. More with the Dr. on Nibiru

  2. Wat a great piece!
    Thats not the rock and roll like that one of Nadab and Avihu, for Akiva was smart enough to marry and stayed married!
    The only way to serve Hashem.

    Water and Fire change the rock into Shamayim.
    Shavuah tov Rabbi and Rebbetzin Robinson!

  3. photo of Nibiru by an Astronmer

  4. Nibiru at 3:00AM in Alaska