Sunday, November 04, 2007

Can’t Say Hello?

The Gemora (Kesuvos 62b - 63a) relates: Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd of Ben Kalba Savua. His daughter, upon observing how modest and noble the shepherd was, said to him, “Were I to be betrothed to you, would you go away to study Torah?” “Yes,” he replied. She was then secretly betrothed to him and sent him away. When her father heard what she had done, he chased her from his house and forbade her by a vow to have any benefit from his estate. Rabbi Akiva spent twelve years studying Torah. When he returned home, he brought with him twelve thousand disciples. While in his home town, he heard an old man saying to his (Rabbi Akiva’s) wife, “How long will you be living as a widow?” She said to him: “If he would listen to me, he would sit and learn for another twelve years.” Rabbi Akiva (overhearing this statement) said: “I now have permission.” He therefore returned immediately to learn for another twelve years in the Beis Medrash.

When he returned (after the second period of twelve years), he returned together with twenty four thousand of his students. His wife heard that he was returning, and came out to greet him. Her neighbors told her: “Borrow some clothing and cover yourself well.” She replied: “A righteous man knows the soul of his animal.”

When she reached him, she fell on her face and kissed his legs. Rabbi Akiva’s aide began to push her away. Rabbi Akiva said: “Leave her, as both mine and yours (merit of Torah study) is because of her.”

Her father heard that a great man was coming to town. He said: “I will go come before him; perhaps he will negate my vow.” He came before Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to him: “Did you make this vow with the intention that it should apply even if he becomes a great man?” He replied: “Even if he would learn one chapter or one law (I did not intend it).” Rabbi Akiva told him: “I am he (your son-in-law about whom you made the vow).” He fell to the ground, kissed his legs, and gave him one half of his assets.

The question is asked: Why didn’t Rabbi Akiva, at least, say hello to his wife, and then return to study for another twelve years? He was already home; wouldn’t that have been the decent thing to do?

We always heard in Yeshiva from Rabbi Gifter that “two times twelve” is not comparable at all with “one times twenty-four.” Rabbi Akiva was returning home, for he thought that his wife wished for him to be home; once he had permission from her to study longer, it would have been an interruption in his learning.

This was always used as a lesson for us as to how vital it is for one studying Torah to utilize every second for learning, even during a lunch hour or by vacation. It is important to relax, but a true Torah scholar must always remain focused on his learning even when he is occupied with other mundane matters.

Rav Chatzkel Levinstein said that Rabbi Akiva was concerned that if he would enter his house, he would get involved in other matters, and he would not be able to return to the Beis Medrash.