It is one of the most inspirational Talmudic stories, related in Avos D'Rebbe Nosson. 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.
What is the message of Rabbi Akiva and those life-transforming drops of water?
On one level, this story shows how every Jew, if given the chance, can achieve great heights. It’s never too late to start.
On a deeper level, the story of Rabbi Akiva teaches that every drop of Torah, even if undetectable, makes an impact. Torah, as the word of the Almighty, has unparalleled power to effect change. Sometimes we do not perceive it, and the results are not apparent until years later. But if one keeps at it, the majesty of Hashem’s Torah will penetrate. Drop after drop after drop, it will carve into your neshama and transform you.
Indeed, that is the Jewish view of spirituality. Achieving great heights comes not so much through dramatic bursts of insight and inspiration. Experiences are fleeting; once they are over, the connection quickly dissipates. Rather it is the consistent striving to live with Torah values – the small triumphs of the soul – that add up drop after drop, to ultimately create true spiritual transformation.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l used the story of Rabbi Akiva as the inspiration for his pioneering kiruv organization. Drawing from the words of the Prophet Yirmiyahu (23:29), “Are not My words like fire, says Hashem?” (see Kiddushin 30b), Rabbi Weinberg added a new dimension to Rabbi Akiva's deduction: If something as soft as water can carve a hole in solid rock, how much more so can Torah – which is like fire that can melt iron – make an indelible impression on my heart. Rabbi Weinberg therefore named his organization Aish HaTorah (“Fire of Torah”).
This theme became Rabbi Weinberg’s calling card: Torah wisdom is the deepest way to change people. No preaching, just showing how Toras Chaim – the life-giving and life-affirming source – illuminates one’s life and, drop by drop, imperceptibly enters one's essential core.
It was that stalwart conviction in the power of Torah that gave Rabbi Weinberg the confidence to reach out to every Jew. For decades Rabbi Weinberg taught tens of thousands of eager souls what the Almighty is saying through the words of Torah, and then showed them how to live with this knowledge,
Like Water on a Rock
Aish.com is proud to announce the release of its new book, Like Water on a Rock: True Stories of Spiritual Transformation (ArtScroll). This book, in its own small way, is an illustration of Rabbi Akiva’s principle.
The collection includes favorite Aish.com authors including Sara Yoheved Rigler, Yaakov Salomon, Lori Palatnik, Rabb Benjamin Blech, Emuna Braverman, Nechemia Coopersmith and Shraga Simmons.
The stories sweep across the globe, as we encounter a woman giving her kidney away to a stranger; a Muslim from Kuwait, whose maternal grandmother whispers Hebrew prayers in the darkness of nigh; Ethiopian Jews searching for the Temple in Jerusalem; the only Jewish chaplain in Iraq; and 50 other stories of inspiration, challenge and triumph.
Each essay is like a single drop of water, showing how Jews from varied walks of life are grappling with Jewish ideals and applying them to everyday life. There is struggle, determination, and consistent focus. There is failure, and there is success. Yet captured in each essay is that moment of impact where another drop of Torah penetrates, producing a subtle yet permanent transformation.
Aish.com, where these essays first appeared, has been remarkably successful in disseminating millions of drops of Torah. Our mandate is to use this God-given gift of technology to reach Jews across the globe. We connect to Jews wherever they are – at home, in the office, on the road. And with our websites in English, Hebrew, Spanish and French, we speak in their language.
More than 400,000 people around the world are subscribed to Aish.com's weekly email update. Every time someone visits the site (it happens over one million times per month), another drop of Torah seeps into the world. The vehicle may be an essay offering Jewish "wisdom for living" on spirituality, career, parenting, Israel or current events. It may be in the form of a complex Torah essay or a short video. Whatever the case, the slow drip penetrates and makes its impact on the Jewish soul.
A 2011 online readers' survey showed that among non-observant Jews, 86 percent say that Aish.com gives them a better understanding of Judaism, and 59 percent say that Aish.com has increased their Jewish observance. (Similarly, 82 percent of observant respondents say that Aish.com has deepened their sense of Jewish pride.)
Drop after drop, this impact of online Torah study creates a genuine transformation. Through Aish.com, countless numbers have profoundly deepened their understanding and commitment to Torah learning and observance. Many have taken on observance of Shabbat, have begun regular Torah study, are attending synagogue, and are now affiliated with vibrant Jewish communities.
With the Almighty’s help, this collective impact will continue to grow, contributing to a historic renaissance in the Jewish world.
We encourage you to purchase a copy of Like Water on a Rock. Better yet, buy another one for your friend, neighbor, colleague or cousin. These stories are sure to inspire, providing the drops of water that together add up to a powerful impact, setting ablaze every Jewish soul.