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Dear Friends,

After a brief delay due to covid I arrived in Tel Aviv this morning. I’ve spent the last few hours wandering the streets and was taken by the juxtaposition of the pain and loss on both sides due to the current conflict and the busy streets as Tel Avivians prepare to welcome Shabbat. I was particularly taken by the number of store windows displaying signs calling for the release of the remaining hostages and the countless people who, like me, continue to wear a dog tag stating that our hearts are with those still held by Hamas. The world may have forgotten why this war began, but the residents of Tel Aviv certainly haven’t.

I will undoubtedly have much to share from my time here, and I look forward to doing so upon my return. For now, however, as I have during the past few years, each week during my July vacation, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite Jewish stories.

This week’s comes from a Midrashic collection known as Avot de-Rabbi Natan. It relates the origin story of Rabbi Akiba, one of the most outstanding teachers in Jewish tradition. As the Midrash explains, Akiba was a bit of a late bloomer. It states,

What was the beginning of Rabbi Akiva? They say he was 40 years old and had not learned a thing. Once, he stood at the mouth of the well and said, “Who carved this rock?” They told him, “The water that consistently falls on it daily.” They said to him, “Akiva, did you not read water wears away stones (Job 14:19)?” Immediately, Rabbi Akiva ruled…: Just as the soft sculpts the hard, words of Torah, which are as hard as iron, will all the more so carve my heart/mind, which is but flesh and blood! Immediately, he returned to learn Torah. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, commentary on Pirkei Avot 1:4

Akiba thought he was too old to learn. Only after seeing the way water slowly bore a hole in a rock did he realize that age is never a bar to learning something new, so long as one has patience and a commitment to the process of gaining new knowledge. This ancient lesson remains as relevant today as it was in Akiba’s. And there is no time to gain more insight into our precious tradition than the slower summer months.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen