Bamidbar 5780 – Drop by Drop

Bamidbar 5780 – Drop by Drop

I’m sick of zooming.  

Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful beyond words for this technology because it enabled me to learn and teach online for the last 2 months.  To still connect…sort of.  But as things open up more and more, I find that learning on a screen is less and less appealing.  I feel an accumulation of need, an accumulation of isolation, an accumulation of the words that have not been said because we are not together.  There is a silence where the voices and ideas that we normally share with each other should be.  There is a void from the hugs I didn’t give or receive.  The cumulative effect is starting to feel overwhelming.

What exactly is Hashem trying to get us to learn?  How can I find a path of growth amidst this confusion and pain? 

I have long been fascinated by the story of how Rabbi Akiva, uneducated in Torah until he was 40, turned his life around and became one of the greatest teachers in Jewish History.  The story goes that one day he was approaching a well and saw a hole in one of the stones.  When he asked how that hole had been formed, he was told that water dripping from above had carved out that hole slowly but surely over a long period of time, drop by drop.  Rabbi Akiva’s reaction was immediate and intense, he applied what he was seeing to the notion that he could also change.  He said, “If something soft can carve something hard, then all the more so, the words of Torah, which are like steel, can engrave themselves on my heart, which is but flesh and blood.” (Avot D’Rabbi Natan, 6:2)

What amazes me about Rabbi Akiva’s story is how badly I want to live like that.   How badly I want to see the beauty and power in every single drop.  How badly I want the drops to carve and shape my soul and how badly I want to feel like the drops are adding up and I am making progress. 

And yet, I often feel like I am not getting anywhere.  With every tefillah, with every shiur, with every attempt at developing my character, there are times that I feel further and further from where I want to be.  I look at Rabbi Akiva’s story and I yearn to access that perspective, to tap into the energy of “little by little” and small steps leading to big changes.  It’s a mindset that I have often had trouble living in.

In school, when I was assigned a project, I was either so excited about it that I sat down and immediately did the whole thing or I was choked with fear because it seemed so large and I didn’t have the skills to break it down into bite-sized pieces.   I used to make lists that included things like “1.Read book, 2.Write paper, 3.Save the world.”  Obviously those were goals that were unattainable in one day and possibly even in a whole life.  In that mindset, change is either all or nothing.  Either a person can accomplish what they set out to do or they cannot.  It is a mindset that can bring despair, depression and even cause a person to give up, chas v’shalom.

After his revelation, we learn that Rabbi Akiva “went with his son and they sat down by the school teachers. He said to one: Rabbi, teach me Torah! He then took hold of one end of the tablet, and his son took hold of the other end. The teacher wrote down aleph and beis for him, and he learned them (aleph to tav, and he learned them; the book of VaYikra, and he learned it).  And he went on studying until he learned the whole Torah.”(Avot D’Rabbi Natan, 6:2)

What gave Rabbi Akiva the courage and the strength to begin this journey?  What exactly did he see in those drops of water?  The answer, I think, is twofold.  On one hand, he saw the potential in every single drop.  How every drop mattered.  On the other, he saw how powerful cumulative effort could be.  How each drop, when combined with millions of others over the course of years, would wield a force so powerful that they could change the face of the hardest rock and someday maybe the whole world.  He saw how the big picture is made up of countless drops, how a life is made up of infinite numbers of tiny moments and untold efforts.  And every little bit makes an impression.

That is the energy I want to hold onto in this time and always.  

Please Hashem, help me to remember that the journey is made up of thousands of individual steps and that every single one of them takes us further along the road.  Please help all of us to see also how far we’ve come rather than always focusing on how much more we would like to do.

I bless us all to recognize the cumulative energy of the words that have been spoken and  heard these last 2 months, the virtual hugs that have been given and received, the wisdom that has been shared in countless new ways and of the massive desire to connect.  
I bless us to feel the accumulated ratzon of thousands of years of yearning for Moshiach and I bless us to know that Hashem counts every single drop.

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