Student perspectives

Rabbi Akiva's moment of truth


 During the counting of the Omer, we talk about a great Jewish sage named Rabbi Akiva, known, among other things, for saying that the entire Torah can be summarized in one sentence, “Love your fellow Jew as you love yourself.”

But before Rabbi Akiva became the great man he is remembered for today, he was a poor shepherd living in Jerusalem. Then known as Akiva, he falls in love with Rochel, the daughter of his employer, one of the richest men in Jerusalem. Rochel agrees to marry him and give up all of her wealth if Akiva agrees to go learn and study Torah. At this point, Akiva was forty years-old and having never spent a day in the classroom he was concerned that his brain was too hard, too worn to consume knowledge.

One day Akiva goes to get a sip of water from a stream and he looks up to see drops of water slowly falling onto a rock.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Over time these drops created a large hole in the rock where the water was collecting. All of a sudden, Akiva has a moment of clarity. “If these small drops of water can change a rock over time,” he thought, “surely, the words of Torah, like little drops of water, can seep into my brain.”

And with that he goes off to yeshiva where he studied for 24 years, finally returning to Jerusalem with 24,000 students to become a great scholar. I think there are three important takeaways from this story:

The first is that even a drop of water, even one good deed or act of kindness can have an impact, both as individuals collecting drops of mitzvahs over our lifetime, and together, as a collective Jewish people whose good deeds can create a typhoon of positivity. One of the philosophies I love most about Chabad is that it’s about what you do, not about what you don’t do. This is important to keep in mind as we go about our lives. Giving a little bit of tzedakah here or there, showing up for Pizza and Parsha, or making a minyan has great impact, especially when there are many of us committed to doing a little bit more.

The second takeaway is that we as individuals have the ability to transform ourselves in profound ways. At forty years-old Akiva left his previous life behind as a shepherd to become a learned Torah scholar. He started out in the Kindergarten class and worked his way up. An individual is more than his or her resume, past experiences, degrees or socio-economic status. The fact that we all have the ability to transform ourselves in complete and profound ways can be terribly empowering to those seeking something more or different.

Finally, one of the most beautiful parts of Rabbi Akiva’s moment of truth was that he acted on it. Akiva held on to the light, to that second of clarity, and did something about it. Finding the inspiration is rarely the problem. Especially in a university setting, we are saturated with inspiration. The challenge is to hold on to the feeling from that painting, that speaker, or even the fresh challah on the table, and do something with it when we wake up the next morning.  It’s the follow up that often gets us. I challenge all of us here that when we find that spark of light, we catch it and let it grow, in the spirit of Rabbi Akiva.


Tracy Frydberg is a student at UT. 


Initiative as a mitzvah


 This week’s parsha is Tzav, which means ‘command’. G‑d instructs Moses to command Aaron and his sons regarding their obligations as kohanim who offer the korbanot (sacrifices) in the Sanctuary. Chapter 6 verse 5 says:


Which translates to “and the fire on the altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out. The kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning.”

The Talmud (Eruvin 63a) explains that even though the fire descended from heaven on to the Altar, it is a mitzvah to add to it a humanly produced fire.

This means that when G-d creates something, we are meant to maintain and improve it. When I was in high school, I was a madricha for my synagogue’s religious school. I helped in the second grade classroom and the teacher emphasized that our students should be partners with G-d. The example she always used was that she wanted M&Ms. She would stand in front of the class and ask G-d to give her M&Ms. The students would laugh and then she would explain. G-d gave her life, gave her a brain, gave her the ability to learn and get a job, and eventually gave her the ability to earn money to go out and by herself some M&Ms. Again, G-d created us, gave us this initial opportunity, and it is for us to take what we have and make something out of ourselves and the world. We can use our capabilities that G-d granted us, and work to make the world a better place.

As our Chassidic masters say “This is a rule that applies to all areas of life: the gifts of life are bestowed upon us from Above, yet it is G-d's desire that we add to them the product of our own initiative.”

Alisa Baron is a student at UT



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