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May 29, 2015 / 11 Sivan, 5775
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Torah Lengthens Life


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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.

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“I wanted you to have a taste of the cold,” answered Rav Chaim. “This way, you too can feel the intense cold and realize the suffering of this man and his wife, who are now residing in a bitterly cold house.”

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The great giant of his time, the Vilna Gaon, once said that the Shaagas Aryeh had the entire Talmud and its commentators at his fingertips and that he could relate the gist of all of them and their sources in one hour.

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As for myself, I can only answer that the yetzer hara has persuaded me to take the position because of the honor.

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