Mishlei Tools: 11:30: The Three Weeks: Sources of Life
“Wise people attach themselves to these Good Souls (Proverbs 11:30).” One day, almost 2000 years ago, in one of the great places of Torah study in ancient Israel, in one particular discussion, Rabbi Akiva brought great words of wisdom to the attention of the assembled Rabbis. Overwhelmed with emotion, Rabbi Tarfon responded: “Akiva, being too far away from you is like being too distant from Life itself (Kiddushin 66b).”
So intense was the moment, Rabbi Tarfon realized that simply knowing this man, just being in his presence, brought home to him a grasp of the feel and touch of Life itself. Note that Rabbi Tarfon does not say, “from the meaning of life itself.” His reaction is more fundamental than “meaning.”
In a parallel message in another part of the Talmud, Rabbi Tarfon’s comment is recorded with a slight difference: “Akiva, being too far away from you is like being too distant from one’s own life (Zevachim 13a).” This phrase is as immediate as the other one, but is personalized even more. Rabbi Tarfon feels that being close to Rabbi Akiva touches his own life very deeply. He sees that his own life is defined by his relationship to this genius of Life, Rabbi Akiva, who was, after all, no more than a simple illiterate shepherd until middle age, who, only at age 40, and through the most unexpected circumstances, assumed his Self and destiny through Torah study.
Rabbi Akiva passionately expressed the intensity of his love of life expressed through Torah teachers: Once, when Rabbi Akiva made a wedding feast for his son, every time he opened a new barrel of wine he would offer the following toast, “Here’s to the lives of Torah teachers, and here’s to the lives of Torah students (Tosefta Shabbat 7:8).”
We are in the midst of the Three Weeks, a time of exile and loss, a disconnect from Life. No wonder the sages taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred; rather than being amongst those who attach themselves to Good Souls, we were disconnecting from each other. Rather than connecting to the good we saw in others, we connected to what we perceived as bad.
The Three Weeks is a time when we must become, each of us, a Lokei’ach Nefashot, a collector of Good Souls, meaning, we look for the good we can find in others and attach to that.