May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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All the time. OK, maybe not all time. A Jewish king is required to keep a sefer Torah with him—around the clock, and the Gemara (Sanhedrin 21b) even considered that perhaps he must even keep it with him in the bathroom, but in the final analysis concluded that based on the verse “and it should be with him and he should read from it” (Devarim, 17:19) that this comes to exclude places such as a bathroom where the place is not fit for reading from a Torah. Nevertheless, the assumption was a valid one, although ultimately refuted. That being said, why is there such a great demand that the Torah be with the king practically at all times?

The continuation of the aforementioned pasuk explains: “In order that he learn to develop awareness/fear of Hashem.” We can still persist and ask, wouldn’t it suffice to be him with a lot of the day—perhaps an hour here and an hour there would do. Why the need for continuous holding and reading from the sefer Torah?

The Mesilat Yesharim (ch. 25) explains that this is to teach us that in order for someone to acquire the attribute of yirah—of awareness and fear of Hashem—it must be through uninterrupted and unceasing study. Thus, the king needed to carry with him and read from the Torah consistently, without pause, for this is the way to reach one’s potential of yirat Hashem. Rav Chaim Shmulevits takes it further and says that a lack of consistency doesn’t just impede one’s ability to reach greatness. Rather, it brings one back to square one. In other words, one might think that a little here and a little there will get us to a higher plane than we were before. However, says Rav Chaim, inconsistency breeds a need to start back up again and again and again, like anew.

Most of us are born with the fabricated image of what a hero is. It’s one of two things, or both. Either it’s the person who took a massive leap of faith and performed an act of enormous magnitude that saved someone or many people’s lives—like Superman. Or the gadol hador—the overwhelmingly brilliant Torah leader with stellar character traits who to us looks like an angel from heaven. However, in truth, and we all know this, the hero, the hallmark of a great person, and a person on the road to real success is the person who is committed to the “daily grind.” Day after day, month after month, year after year, this person of dedication eventually blossoms into the successful person he or she wanted to be.

This idea is magnified from two turning points in Rabbi Akiva’s life, which are both stories that are quite famous in Jewish literature. One day, before Rabbi Akiva became the Rabbi Akiva we know of, was “chilling” by a certain well. (Now keep in mind that at this point Rabbi Akiva was completely unfamiliar to Torah—he didn’t even know the “aleph bet.”) On that day, perhaps while meditating, he noticed a rock with a significant protrusion in it, certainly an intriguing sight. He wondered what caused it and realized that it wasn’t a heavy waterfall that was pouring on it, but rather a small but steady drip of water that was consistently dripping on that part of the rock that was now but a hole. Upon understanding this, Rabbi Akiva thought, if water, which is soft, can make a hole in a rock, which is hard, all the more so can Torah, which is like iron, make an impression in the heart of a person, which is soft.

It wasn’t the powerful waterfall—the “Superman”—that made a dent in the rock, it was the daily grind, the consistency of the dripping water. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the big, mighty acts, but even the small, consistent acts can make the most real impression on us. Rabbi Akiva was perhaps mesmerized at this idea—the comfort of knowing that it doesn’t matter where you are holding in life, as long as we’re consistent, we can make it to where we want to be, as long as we put in the effort again and again and again.

Rabbi Akiva took this lesson to far greater lengths. After learning for 12 years straight, it was time to go home and see his wife again. As he got close, he heard a conversation taking place between his wife and the neighbor. The neighbor was poking fun at Rabbi Akiva’s wife, harassing her that her husband would be away from her for so long. Rabbi Akiva’s wife responded, if it were up to me I would want him to learn for another 12 years. Upon hearing that, he took this as an opportunity to leave and learn for another 12 years without stopping to greet his wife. Why? Couldn’t he have just said hello? He was right there! Perhaps we can say that Rabbi Akiva knew what changed his life around, what brought him to the success he was currently seeing: the lesson of consistency he learned from the rock. Now, mirroring the first turning point in his life, Rabbi Akiva once again implemented that same lesson. One 12 plus another 12 doesn’t equal 24. If he paused, it wouldn’t have been 24 years of uninterrupted study, but two 12s. Rabbi Akiva became Rabbi Akiva because of this small but steady drip, day after day, month after month, year after year. Interruption restarts, but consistency creates.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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