What Five Talented Students Accomplished
R' Akiva's Persistence
Three days before Rosh Hashanah 5756 (1955), Shlomo Ekcstien, a 26-year-old leader in the B’nei Akiva youth movement, wrote a short letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe expressing his disappointment at not seeing results from all the time and effort he was expending. This was arguably the busiest time of year for the Rebbe, so you can imagine Shlomo’s surprise when he received a full two-page response only six days later. In the letter, the Rebbe reassures him that his efforts will bear fruit. Although right now the youths may show no sign of change, as they mature and as life intensifies, the messages he’s imparting will surface. A measure of discontent is healthy, the Rebbe writes, because it keeps us motivated to do more. At the same time, the Rebbe was firm that he shouldn’t compromise Torah standards in an effort to capture their attention. Then the Rebbe draws on the story of Rabbi Akiva, who guided 24,000 students over the course of 40 years. Each was an outstanding scholar in his own right, prized and cherished by Rabbi Akiva. Then, in a short period of time, almost all of them passed away. A lifetime of work, gone. Or so it seemed to the human eye. But Rabbi Akiva persisted. He took his remaining five students and began to rebuild. And it is from these five students that we have the Torah as we know it today. We must do our part to teach and invest, the Rebbe explained, while maintaining awareness that our greatest accomplishments may come through capacities or people we don’t foresee. And those accomplishments will be so great, they’ll surpass all the failures we’ve experienced thus far.
Covid-19 As parents and educators, we may feel discouraged in the current situation. Family life and school aren’t what they should be. Is it even worth our investment? Will we gain anything substantial over these months, or are we just passing time? Rebbe Akiva empowers us to maintain our hard work and devotion, with the assurance that we will ultimately see the results we seek. Zoom classes and conference calls are not as good as actual class time, but we never know when our students will hear that one thing that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. It’s understandably frustrating to be director, principal, and IT consultant for our homeschool, and then also be a parent and inspiration to our kids. Will this effort pay off? For reasons we don’t yet understand, Hashem knows that right now our children will gain more at home than at school. We didn’t foresee this, and we may not comprehend it, but it is certainly so. The same can be said for all those suffering financial strains. It can be frightening to watch months and even years of investments crumble without any immediate vision of rebuilding. But let’s keep strong. Hashem has good plans for us, and with His help we will soon enjoy successes we never imagined. Our generation may not be the strongest or the holiest in history, but we will be the ones to complete thousands of years of investment, and usher in Moshiach’s arrival very soon.