In a recent shiur, Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim discussed how continued spiritual growth is the purpose of a Jew’s life. (You can listen or download the shiur here.) Rabbi Grunblatt brought down the story about Rabbi Akiva, the water and the stone. Here is the relevant passage from the Avot Dâ€™Rebbi Natan, 6:
What were R. Akivaâ€™s beginnings? It is said, up to the age of forty, he had not studied a thing. One time, while standing by the mouth of a well in Lydda, he inquired, â€œWho hollowed out this stone?â€ and was told, â€œIt was water falling upon it constantly, day after day.â€ They said, â€œAkiva, havenâ€™t you read that â€˜water wears away stoneâ€™ (Job 14:19)?â€ At that, R. Akiva asked himself all the more so, â€œIs my mind harder than this stone?â€ He immediately returned to study Torah, and he and his son sat with a childrenâ€™s teacherâ€¦. The teacher wrote down alef and bet for himâ€¦ he went on learning until he had learned all five Books of Moses.
Rabbi Grunblatt pointed out that if you saw one drop of water fall on a stone, you would certainly think it had no effect. It is only after many, many years of dropping does the water have an effect. So to with spiritual growth, our connection to Hashem through our learning Torah and performance of mitzvos occurs drop by drop over many years.
I want to bring out a related lesson from this story. If the water came out in more volume, or with more force, then it would have a much greater effect on the stone. So to, if we learn more or do our mitzvos with more intensity, they will have a greater effect in creating the connection between us and Hashem.
One practical application of this is Berachos. Through our three daily Shomoneh Esrais and other Berachos, we are told (Mishna Brurah 46:14) to make 100 Berachos a day.
Recognizing Hashem 100 times a day in Berachos is like 100 drops of water. However, if we say the Berachos with more attention, intention and mindfulness, they will have a much stronger effect on our spiritual connection. Since we are saying them anyway, it seems like a no-brainer to try and increase their intended effect.
Start small. Pick one or two Berachos where you can make the time to think about Hashem and the contents of the Beracha. Do it for one day. And then the next. One day at a time. Increase the spiritual drip. You won’t be sorry.