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January 25, 2017 / 27 Tevet, 5777
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Torah Lengthens Life

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Chazal tell us that Torah is our life and the length of our days. Here is a story that proves this statement quite literally.

In Yerushalayim there lived a family in which all the children passed away at an early age. Everything possible was done to protect the children from illness and the slightest danger, however, it was to no avail. Not one child lived past the age of 18.

The family finally appealed to Rabi Yochanan:

“Please help us, help us to have children who will live to an old age like all normal children.”

Rabi Yochanan responded: “It is possible that you are descendants of Eli Kohen Gadol, whose family was cursed with death before old age. There is only one possible method of help. You must study Torah and make sure that your children study Torah. This is the only assurance of life, as it says: ‘For it is your life and the length of your days.’”

The family heard the words of Rabi Yochanan and all of the members began to study Torah day and night. Baruch Hashem, things changed and their children began living.

Overjoyed, the family met to discuss how to repay Rabi Yochanan.

“What can we give the great Rabi Yochanan for giving us this great lifesaving advice? We know that he will not accept money as he lives simply and is satisfied with what he has. Let us, therefore, repay him by naming our children after him.”

And that is exactly what they did, so much so that they eventually came to be known as the Family of Yochanan.

Rachel, Wife of Rabi Akiva

How often does a wife have the dominant influence over her husband, helping to guide him along the correct path? One woman who did was Rachel, daughter of Kalba Savua, the wife of the great Rabi Akiva.

In Yerushalayim there once lived a very wealthy man by the name of Kalba Savua. He not only possessed great riches, but was also honored greatly by the Jews of his time for he took part in all communal affairs. He had been blessed with a daughter, Rachel, who had great beauty and wisdom.

All the important families in Yerushalayim admired her and wanted her for their sons. They offered a great deal – all that any young maiden could desire. Rachel, however, was persistent in her refusal.

“Wealth is false and mere family lineage is vanity; what is truly important is to find a man who is truthful and of high moral character and principles,” she would say.

Days went by and Rachel continued to refuse the tempting offers of the wealthy families, looking instead for the one person who filled the requirements she considered important.

Her father owned vast numbers of sheep and cattle and Rachel was used to going out in the fields and looking over her father’s property. One time, as she walked she met one of the shepherds. Over time they got to know each other and Rachel was sure that this was the man she wanted to marry.

His name was Akiva the son of Yosef, and he was possessed of wonderful character and moral traits. Unfortunately, he had never been given the opportunity to learn and so he remained woefully ignorant of the Holy Torah. He promised Rachel, however, that if they married he would go and study Torah.

Rachel approached her father: “Father, I have found the man whom I desire to marry and I wish your blessings.”

When Kalba Savua heard these words he was overjoyed.

“I am very happy for you. Who is the man that is to be your future husband?”

“His name is Akiva Ben Yosef, and he is a shepherd who takes care of some of your flocks.”

Kalba Savua turned pale.

“What? I can hardly believe my ears. Do you mean to say that you have refused the hands of so many worthy young men and want to marry an ignorant and worthless shepherd? Stop talking such nonsense and put the thoughts out of your mind lest you bring shame down upon your head and upon that of your family.”

But Rachel only shook her head and said: “No, I have made up my mind and I intend to marry Akiva.”

Her father was furious. “I warn you, if you continue to speak in this way and do not change your mind, I will drive you out of the house and you will never see my face again.”

Rachel saw that her father was serious in his opposition to her marriage but she refused to back down. Leaving her father’s beautiful home and all the servants and luxuries she enjoyed, she went to the shepherd Akiva and became his wife.

True to his word, the angry Kalba Savua took an oath and declared:

“My daughter shall not inherit even one penny from my fortune.”

The newly married couple did not care about this for they were not interested in money. Akiva set up a small tent on the outskirts of the city and there, he and his bride lived. They had no money and they ate hard bread but they were happy. Rachel told her husband:

“I would rather live with you in this small tent than remain in my father’s house with all the wealth and luxuries that are to be found there.”

One night as they sat in their tend a strong wind blew into their dwelling and scattered straw about Akiva’s face and hair. Rachel removed them and asked:

“Why do you look so sad tonight, my husband?”

“Why should I not look sad if my wife, the finest of women, suffers from hunger and deprivation? If only I had the means to do so, if only the L-rd would help me become wealthy, I would build you a beautiful palace and place a gold crown on your head engraved with a picture of the city of Jerusalem.”

As he finished speaking a man appeared at the opening of their tent.

“What do you want?” asked Rachel.

“Have mercy upon me,” said the man, “I am a poor man and my wife is giving birth to a child and I have no straw for her to lie upon. Have you any straw that I could take to her?”

When Rachel heard these piteous words her heat was moved and she hurried to gather up some straw and gave it to the poor man and his wife.

She turned to her husband and then said: “You see, there are even poorer people than we in this land. At least we have a great deal of straw and we can use it to do good for others.”

And Akiva’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed: “Blesses are you unto G-d, my wife. Your words have made me happy and brought me comfort.”

“Why should I not be happy, my husband? After all, I have found a husband who is kind, honest and pure in his thoughts. If only you would do as you promised me – go to our rabbis and study Torah – I would be the happiest of all women.”

And so he did – for many years, until he became the great Rabi Akiva. All because a young woman looked past the external and saw what lay within.

Rabbi Sholom Klass

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