Acquiring Torah 2: An Life of Excellence
A Tanna taught: When they came (To speak with Rabbi Dosa) they entered through one door; when they went out they issued through three different doors (so as not to convene a Beit Din and be compelled to rule according to him). He came upon Rabbi Akiva, submitted his objections to him and silenced him. ‘Are you,’ he called out, ‘Akiva, whose name rings from one end of the world to the other? You are blessed indeed to have won fame while you have not yet attained the rank of oxherds.’ ‘Not even,’ replied Rabbi Akiva, ‘that of shepherds.’ (Yevamot 16a)
Rabbi Akiva began as a shepherd, as did Moshe Rabbeinu (See Maharsha). His response to the rebuke was not to defend himself, but to respond with humility, that he had not even achieved all he could as a shepherd.
Rabbi Akiva’s humility in Torah was rooted in his sense that he could have been a better shepherd; if he was not the best shepherd, how could he become great in Torah?
We measure our achievements in Torah by our ability to excel in other areas of life as well. Our ability to acquire Torah is a reflection by our ability to excel in all that we do. Are we the best children we can be? Parents? Friends? Husbands? Wives? Or, whatever our profession? Do we live with a drive to excel in all we do?
This step of Acquiring Torah begins outside of Torah, in our drive to master all we do.