Tag Archives: Rabbi Akiva

Growing Up Playing on the Railroad Tracks

I realized that it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve written anything on this blog. There are a few reasons for this. The first, as I chronicled here, is that for the past week, I’ve been sick as a dog. Actually, the whole family has, thanks to some nasty bug my poor granddaughter (who now is thankfully on the mend) picked up at the Germ Factory Day Care Center.

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t been blogging at all. In addition to the aforementioned Old Man’s Gym blog post, I’ve been attempting to generate some traction on my newest blogspot, Powered by Robots, including a discussion on how I’m developing my forthcoming science fiction novel, promoting my latest textbook (yes, I write those, too), and reviewing a scifi short story available for Kindle.

But that’s not the whole reason I haven’t been writing here.

aloneI haven’t been writing “Morning Meditations” because I haven’t been inspired to do so. I suppose that should be disturbing since, given my life situation, this is pretty much the only spiritual outlet (or intake) I’ve got.

I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says something like, “If you’ve given up on God because your church has failed you, then it wasn’t God you had faith in.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that meme lately.

It seems kind of trite and not exactly true, though. When I walked out of my little church the better part of two years ago, a lot of people tried to find me an alternative. They seemed to think without belonging to a community, that my faith would wane, and that I would eventually stop having faith at all.

It hasn’t been easy.

But it does go to show that when you have problems with community, for whatever reasons, it is generally believed that you cannot go it alone, just you and God.

So the meme isn’t exactly correct.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely incorrect, either.

I’m writing all this because I’ve seen various messages in social media lately saying stuff like “just returned from such and thus spiritual event and had a wonderful time with old and new friends.” I won’t name names, because that’s one way I get into trouble with “the powers that be”.

But I am reminded of the great times I had in community, both regular, weekly get-togethers and special events and conferences. Those doors are closed to me now, precisely because I closed them (and I had good reasons to do so).

gratitudeThis morning (couldn’t sleep, coughing and return of the evil nose bleed), I came across something at Aish.com, a quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Thank You, Gratitude: Formulas, stories, and insights.

A few years ago a person who would be considered successful by most people’s standards shared with me, “Looking back at my childhood, a pattern that I remembered having is, ‘He has more than me.’ ‘His birthday present was better than mine.’ ‘He gets to travel to more interesting places.’ ‘He is luckier than I am.’ ‘He has more friends.’ ‘He lives in a nicer house.’

“On my fortieth birthday I made a mental accounting of my life. I thought about various traits and patterns that I had. The most distressful part of this mental accounting was that I noticed I wasn’t very happy in my life. When I asked myself why, and thought about it, I realized that I kept feeling that I had less than others. I was told to look back at my childhood for this pattern, and that’s when I realized how often this theme came up. There were many ways that others had it better than I did. And my mind was full of thoughts of not only having less, but of being less.

“I realized that if I wanted to live the rest of my life joyfully, I needed to do one of two things. Either I could make it my goal to be so successful in every way that is important to me that I would be far ahead of everyone I knew. Then I would find it easier to be grateful for my accomplishments, successes, and possessions. Or I could learn to gain greater mastery over my thoughts. I would choose to think thoughts of gratitude as my automatic way of thinking. The first choice would take so much time, effort, and energy that I would be in a constant frustrating race with others. I might never reach my goal and even if I did reach it, it was certainly not going to last. Eventually someone would pass me by. This way of thinking would give me many years of stress and frustration and there really wasn’t a way that this would give me gratitude and happiness. It was obvious that the wiser approach would be to be grateful for what I had. Choosing this pattern of thought was one of the best choices I have made in my life.”

So if I feel “deprived” or feel “less” in any way, particularly in the area of spiritual company, I either have to work so hard that I outshine anyone I may be envious of, or I change the way I think about what I do have in my life and be grateful to God for that.

Kind of a no-brainer once you put it that way. Oh, and there’s this:

Ben Zoma says: Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…

-Talmud—Avot 4:1

Talmudic RabbisI saw another “meme” (not really a meme, but it read that way to me) that said something like “Torah without Rabbinics” or “Judaism without Rabbinics”. Yeah. Good luck with that.

Actually, I’ve heard this one before, and more than once. The first time I can remember was when I was in graduate school. One of my instructors described his childhood and how he would literally play on the railroad tracks behind where he lived because his family didn’t live near a more appropriate venue such as a park.

Now you may think that was terrible, and looking back, a lot of people might tell themselves they had a bad childhood because they were poor, but he said at the time, he was having a blast. When you esteem what you have, it’s hard to focus on what you lack (or what others may think you lack).

Over every single blade of grass, there is a heavenly force that whispers to it and commands, “Grow!”

-Bereishis Rabbah 10:7

OK, there is that. It’s easy, without external prompts, to simply tread water in your own little pool, and I have plenty of experience doing that.

In his commentary on the above-quoted Bereishis Rabbah, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski says in part:

Every living thing in the world has potential, and it is the Divine will that everything achieve its maximum potential. We think of humans as the only beings that have a yetzer hara which causes them to resist growth. Certainly animals and plants, which do not have a yetzer hara, should achieve their maximum potential quite easily.

Not so, says the Midrash. Even plants, and in fact all living matter, have an inherent “laziness,” a tendency towards inertia. Even the lowly blade of grass needs to be stimulated and urged to grow.

We can see from here that a human being thus has two inhibiting forces to overcome in order to achieve growth: (1) the yetzer hara, which is unique to us, and (2) the force of inertia, which is common to all matter.

plant growing through concrete
Image: xellow.com

So while Heaven prompts us to grow, our yetzer hara and plain old inertia counters that. However, if a single blade of grass can push its way up into the air through solid concrete, and if drops of water can slowly wear down a stone, then it possible for a human being, namely me, to pick away at the barriers between me and a more spiritual life, a tiny bit at a time.

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The Torah’s Great Principle

love-one-anotherRabbi Akiva said, “Love your fellow as yourself” is a great principle of the Torah. A similar principle is gleaned from the famous story of a proselyte who wished to convert to Judaism on condition that someone would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder accepted his conversion and told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]―that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Obviously, the entire Torah is a true, God-given Torah, but Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva teach us that there is room to meditate on the principle that is the Torah’s “great principle”; the signpost that puts us on the right track.

The need for such guiding lights is most necessary when an outsider wishes to approach the infinite sea of Torah and needs an anchor to show him where to begin.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The Torah’s greatest principle”
Wonders From Your Torah

Our Master Yeshua (Jesus) taught something similar.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Referencing Rabbi Ginsburgh, I periodically write about non-Jewish people (including me) who are drawn to the larger body of Torah mitzvot and who find they have a desire to live a more “Jewish” lifestyle as a means of holiness. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with this and indeed, the Torah was created not just for the Jewish people, but for humanity, as it is said:

For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

I substituted the word “Torah” for “Law” in the ESV translation for effect, but both terms are correct (although I’d argue that “Torah” is the more correct word to use here).

Again, as we see from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s commentary, the “outsider” (non-Jew or secular Jew) who desires to learn Torah has to start somewhere. Although as Rabbi Ginsburgh states, the entire Torah is true, it’s easy for a beginner (Rabbi Ginsburgh is talking about potential converts to Judaism but I’m applying his statements to the rest of us) to become lost, confused, discouraged or even “seduced” by the complexities of Torah and the vast span of mitzvot. I’ve seen non-Jewish people introduced to the concept of “complete Torah observance” or “obligation” who throw themselves headlong into what they imagine it is to lead a “Torah-submissive life” only to become enamored by “the stuff.”

tzitzit1I call “stuff” all the outward devices, objects, or activities that are typically associated with observant Judaism, such as donning a tallit gadol and tefillin when davening, wearing a tallit katan under one’s shirt daily, wearing a kippah in public daily, lacing their sentences with Hebrew or even Yiddish words, growing a long, furry beard (because they believe God wants this), and so on.

But what does Rabbi Ginsburgh, citing both Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva suggest is the Torah’s “great principle?” What does the Master say is the greatest commandment?

None of those things I just mentioned. What is the anchor for “beginners” in the Torah? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This concept sheds light on the Jewish conception of holiness. The Hebrew word kedosh , meaning “holy,” implies separation; (See Tanya, ch. 46.) a distinction must be made between the Jewish approach and a secular approach to any particular matter, as is stated at the conclusion of our Torah reading: (Levitcus 20:26.) “You shall be holy unto Me, for I, G-d, am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.”

Such a distinction is unnecessary with regard to the ritual dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos. These are clearly distinct; there is no need for man to do anything further. Instead, the focus of our Torah reading is on concerns shared by all mortals. Thus the reading relates laws involving agriculture, human relations, business, and sexual morality. For it is in these “mundane” areas that the holiness of the Jewish people is expressed.

Judaism does not understand holiness to be synonymous with ascetic abstention. Instead, it demands that a person interact with his environment, and permeate it with holiness. (See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 3:1.)

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“What Does Being Holy Mean?”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 254ff; Vol. XII, p. 91ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5745
Chabad.org

That might be a little “intense” or at least unfamiliar to most Christians. Here’s another way of saying it.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17

A life of faith and holiness cannot be lived apart from actually living life. Holiness is doing not just praying, meditating, studying, and contemplating. Holiness is an action. Go and do.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true (See Iyar 6.) of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere. (See Tamuz 10.)

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Iyar 8, 23rd day of the omer, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe;
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Again, the Master taught something similar.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

John 13:15-17

boston_marathon_terror_explosionWe are his servants and we are not greater than he is. He gave us an example of what to do by the living of his life and his teachings. He gave us an “anchor” in the Torah as to where we should begin and where we should stay centered: to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor (who is really everyone) as ourselves. And just recently, we’ve been reminded that there are opportunities to fulfill the Master’s mitzvot all around us.

The Mighty Rock, Whose deeds are perfect, because all His ways are good. He is a faithful God in Whom there is no iniquity.

Deuteronomy 32:4-5

These very sobering words are often invoked at moments of great personal distress to express our faith and trust in the Divine wisdom and justice.

People who have suffered deep personal losses, such as destruction of their home by fire or the premature death of a loved one, or who have observed the widespread suffering caused by a typhoon or an earthquake, may be shaken in their relationship with God. How could a loving, caring God mete out such enormous suffering?

It is futile to search for logical explanations, and even if there were any, they would accomplish little in relieving the suffering of the victims. This is the time when the true nature of faith emerges, a faith that is beyond logic, that is not subject to understanding.

The kaddish recited by mourners makes no reference to any memorial concept or prayer for the departed. The words of kaddish, “May the name of the Almighty be exalted and sanctified,” are simply a statement of reaffirmation, that in spite of the severe distress one has experienced, one does not deny the sovereignty and absolute justice of God.

Our language may be too poor in words and our thoughts lacking in concepts that can provide comfort when severe distress occurs, but the Jew accepts Divine justice even in the face of enormous pain.

Today I shall…

…reaffirm my trust and faith in the sovereignty and justice of God, even when I see inexplicable suffering.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Iyar 8”
Aish.com

Without trust and faith in God, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity and we are unable (or unwilling) to be the Master’s servant in this world and to do his will by loving and helping others in need.

In a commentary on this week’s Torah portion, we learn from the midrash that one of the reasons for the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu was that they loved God “too much.” They came too near the Holy One and were consumed. This was a warning to Aaron that no matter how great his love for God was and the desire to draw near the Divine Presence in the Holy of Holies, he must restrain himself.

G-d knew that Aharon’s love for Him was so great that he would always desire to enter the Holy of Holies. However, by doing so, it could cause his soul to leave his body, as happened with his sons. G-d therefore informed told him of the need to keep his soul within his body so that he could fulfill his mission in this world — transforming it into a dwelling place for G-d.

The lesson we can learn from the command to Aharon is that every Jew has the capacity to love G-d, and indeed is commanded to do so, as the verse states: “You shall love your G-d with all your heart, soul and might.” (Devarim 6:5)

peace-of-mind1While midrash may not appeal to you in a literal sense, when viewed metaphorically or as a moral lesson, it teaches that human beings, out of our love for God, can achieve greater heights of holiness, drawing nearer to God, though we can never be “greater than our Master.” Yet as servants, we must always strive to become better than we are.

It’s not easy. God never gets tired, He never gets scared, He never gets discouraged, He never wants to “throw in the towel,” but we poor, pathetic human beings experience all those things.

People think that if they are not well, they must sacrifice all meaning in their life in order to take care of their physical situation.

In fact, the opposite is true: You cannot separate the healing of the body from the healing of the soul. As you treat the body, you must also increase in nourishing the soul.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Soul Healing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Just as we cannot separate healing of the body from healing of the soul, we cannot separate our personal need for healing from the needs of those around us. In fact, by acting for the benefit of others and serving their needs, we may discover that our own wounds are also being healed.

I have been guilty on many occasions of wanting to withdraw from humanity and particularly from the community of faith when it has hurt too much. God has shown me (again and again and again) that I’ve been going in the wrong direction.

When in doubt, I must return to the portion of Torah that is for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, the anchor, the center, the love of God and humanity. Without that, nothing else we do means anything.

160 days.

If Water Can Wear Down A Stone

prayer-hitbodedutSet aside time each day to meditate and pray alone in a room or some meadow and express your innermost thoughts and feelings and personal prayers to God. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with God to draw you closer and let you truly serve Him. This is Hitbodedut.

You should hold these conversations in whatever language you speak best. Our set prayers are said in Hebrew, but if this is not one’s native language, it is difficult to use it to give expression to all one’s innermost thoughts and feelings and the heart is less drawn after the words. It is easier to pour out your heart and say everything you need in your own language.

You should tell God everything you feel, be it contrition and longing to repent over the past or requests and supplications to come truly close to God from now on, each person according to his level.

Be very careful to get into the habit of spending time every day on your personal prayers and meditation. Fix a regular time for this and then be happy for the rest of the day!

-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
azamra.org

Sunday before last, I was having my bi-monthly coffee encounter with my friend. We spoke of many things, including matters both painful and necessary to me, but one of the topics we briefly touched upon was hitbodeut. I should say that neither of us could remember the name, but this is what we were describing when discussing an encounter with God. To briefly quote from Wikipedia:

Hitbodedut refers to an unstructured, spontaneous and individualized form of prayer and meditation taught by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Through hitbodedut one may establish a close, personal relationship with God and gain a clearer understanding of one’s personal motives and aspirations. However, Rebbe Nachman states that the ultimate goal is to free oneself of all negative traits that obstruct the spiritually-transforming non-dual realization of the “Imperative Existent,” which is the Divinity inherent in all being.

Mystic aspects aside, why am I bothering to write about this? Those of you reading my blog who are aware of hitbodedut, probably know far more about the practice than I do, and those of you who don’t can simply reduce the concept down to a way to be alone and talk to God. What’s the big deal?

First off, I have been aware of hitbodedut off and on for a few years but mentally, I always manage to lose track of both the term and the practice. This is a sort of “bookmark” in my memory so if I lose my place again, I can just search my blog and find it. Beyond a reminder, there is also what we know about how Jesus prayed:

At about morning light he left and went to a desolate place.

Luke 4:42 (DHE Gospels)

But he departed to the wilderness areas and prayed.

Luke 5:16 (DHE Gospels)

As he was praying alone, his disciples were gathered to him.

Luke 9:18 (DHE Gospels)

Although we can’t draw a direct connection between these examples of Jesus praying from Luke and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, we can say that both of them seemed to practice a similar manner of prayer, withdrawing to wilderness areas or other places to be alone in order to pray. Even in his most desperate hour, Jesus continued to seek his Father alone.

Afterward, Yeshua came with them to a courtyard that was called Gat Shamnei. He said to the disciples, “You remain here until I have gone over there and prayed.” He took Petros and the two sons of Zavdai with him, and he began to become distressed and disheartened. He said to them, “My soul is bitterly troubled to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he went a little bit away from them, fell on his face and prayed, saying “My Father, if it is possible to be so, let this cup pass from me, yet not according to my will, but according to your will.”

Matthew 26:36-39 (DHE Gospels)

I’ve often wondered if Jesus wanted to be alone, why he also took his closest companions with him. Maybe he wanted them to keep watch in case anyone might come who would disturb his prayers. Maybe he wanted them to pray for him in his hour of terror and hardship, before the betrayer came. What is he trying to say to us? Is it better to be alone with God than to pray in assembly?

But as for you, when you pray, go into your room, close your door behind you, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will {openly} be generous to you.

Matthew 6:6 (DHE Gospels)

Being alone with God can be a lonely or terrifying experience. It can be lonely if all you experience is the emptiness of your own words. It can be terrifying if God answers you.

Really? How can I say that? Sure, we all have experienced times in prayer when it seems as if God isn’t listening, as if He has taken a two-week vacation to some distant place, leaving us to fend for ourselves, but why would God answering prayer be terrifying?

Because it’s God. He’s not a “cosmic teddy bear” who allows us to hop on His comfortable lap as if He was Santa Claus. We are trying to be seriously alone with the creator of the entire universe, who can and has laid waste to the surface of the Earth. Do we…do I know what I’m asking for?

And how can Nachman of Breslov say, “and then be happy for the rest of the day?”

Hitbodedut is of the greatest value. It is the way to come closer to God, because it includes everything else. No matter what you lack in your service of God, even if you feel totally remote from His service, tell God everything and ask Him for all that you need.

If at times you find yourself unable to speak to God or even open your mouth, the very fact that you are there before Him wanting and yearning to speak is itself very good. You can even turn your very inability to speak into a prayer. Tell God that you feel so far away that you cannot even speak to Him! Ask Him to have mercy on you and open your mouth to tell Him what you need.

Many great and famous Tzaddikim have said that all their achievements came only through Hitbodedut. Anyone with understanding can recognize the supreme value of this practice, which ascends to the most sublime heights. This advice applies to everyone equally, from the very least to the very greatest. Everyone is capable of practicing it and can attain great levels. Happy are all who persist in it.

It is also good to turn Torah teachings into prayers. When you study or hear a teaching of a true Tzaddik, make a prayer out of it. Ask God when you too will be able to fulfill this teaching. Tell Him how far from it you are and beg Him to help you attain everything contained in the lesson.

A person of understanding who wants the truth will be led by God in the path of truth, and he will learn how to practice Hitbodedut and offer words of grace and sound arguments to persuade God to bring him to true service.

Hitbodedut rises to a very high place. This applies especially to turning Torah teachings into prayers, which creates the greatest delight above.

Hitbodedut is the highest level: it is greater than everything.

When God helps with Hitbodedut, it is like a person talking to his friend.

prayers_in_the_darkI get the sense that the “talking to his friend” part is more familiar to some Christians than to many religious Jews. I could be wrong of course, but when I pray from a siddur, the words communicate a more formal relationship with God, a greater awe, the powerful majesty, as we stand before the King of all Glory. Not exactly like schmoozing with a good buddy.

But then again, that’s not exactly right, either. God is closer, more intimate than a friend. As the Master says, He is our Father, our “Abba.”

It is very good to pour out your heart to God like a child pleading with his father.

Doesn’t God call us His children? “You are children to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1) . Therefore it is good to express your thoughts and feelings and all your troubles to God, like a child nagging and complaining to his father.

Even if you think you have done so much wrong that you are no longer one of God’s children, remember that God still calls you His child. As the Rabbis taught: “For better or worse, you are always called His children” ( Kiddushin 36a) .

Even if you think God has rejected you and told you that you are no longer His child, you must still say: “Let Him do His will – but I must do my part and continue acting as His child.”

How good it is when you can arouse your heart and plead with God until tears stream from your eyes and you stand like a little child crying before his Father.

Confusing thoughts may enter your mind, but if you stand firm, God will send you another thought to encourage you. You may think you are no longer one of God’s children. But if you do your part, God will eventually send you thoughts of encouragement.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray to their Father who is in Heaven. These were his Jewish disciples but by extension (and since we have no other model from the time of Jesus), we may apply the teachings of the Master about prayer to we non-Jewish disciples as well. What choice do we have?

I know Nachman of Breslev is addressing Jews in his teachings, but he does say, “From the smallest to the greatest, it is impossible to be a truly good person without Hitbodedut,” implying that one’s station in life or relative level of spirituality is beside the point. No matter who you are, unless you pray Hitbodedut, that is, pray totally from the heart, you are missing something.

Can we small, finite creatures be intimate with an infinite and Holy God?

Christianity seems to think so and sometimes I think some folks are a little too intimate. I’ve never been one of those who thinks that I can simply sit down at my kitchen table and share a casual cup of coffee with Jesus. He’s a King, not my next door neighbor. Not even his own disciples treated him so commonly.

But I’ve got to “reboot” my journey by starting somewhere. I’ve got to attempt to rise to a higher level. Even if I get it wrong, it’s better to stub my toe while walking the path than to stand frozen in one spot out of appearing foolish or a fear of failure.

During your Hitbodedut, it is good to say: “Today I am starting to attach myself to You!”

Make a new start each time, because everything that comes later is always in accordance with the beginning.

No matter what happens, it is always good to make a new start each time and say, “Today I am beginning…” If things were already good, now they will be even better! And if they were not good before, then you certainly need to start anew.

You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” generally attributed to Charles (“Chuck”) Dederich, and that seems to be part of what the Rebbe is saying too. Each day is a new beginning. Every moment is a fresh opportunity. The Master said, the spirit desires but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We want to draw nearer to God, but there are so many things we let get in the way. After a while, we start to feel as if there are too many barriers and we stop trying.

But while we live there are always opportunities. Pushing the walls aside is as easy as finding some place to be alone and then starting to talk to God. Our first words can always be, “Today I am starting to attach myself to You!” Even if nothing seems to “happen” first, be patient.

Even if many days and years pass and it seems as if you have accomplished nothing with your prayers and conversations with God, don’t give up! Every single word makes an impression.

“Water wears away stone” (Job 14: 19 ) . It may seem that water dripping on hard stone could not make any impression, yet when water drips on stone continuously for many years, it can literally wear a hole in the stone. We actually see this.

Even if your heart is like stone and it seems that your words of prayer are making no impression at all, still, as the days and years pass, your heart of stone will also be softened. For: “Water wears away stone”.

rabbi-akiva-stone-waterThere is a story told about the great Rabbi Akiva that applies to us and particularly (I hope) to me.

Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd, a laborer, an am ha’aretz – religious in observance, but ignorant of Torah knowledge. At age 40, he didn’t even know how to read the aleph-beis.

One day, while sitting by a brook, Akiva noticed a steady trickle of water hitting a rock. It was only a drip, but it was constant – drop after drop after drop. Akiva observed something incredible: A hole had been carved out by that steady drip of water. He wondered how that could be. He concluded: 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.

That marked a turning point in Rabbi Akiva’s life. He committed himself to Torah study, and went on to become the greatest sage of his generation, with 24,000 students learning under him at one time.

-from “Like Water on Rock”
Aish.com

It is said of Rabbi Akiva: If water can wear down a stone, then every Jew can and will study Torah…If water can wear down a stone, the Jewish people can overcome Rome…If water can wear down stone, then the Temple can be rebuilt…

If water can wear down a stone, then I can encounter God in prayer.

And so can you.