It’s a classic and beloved story. A 40-year-old shepherd viewed himself as a complete failure. Completely ignorant of Torah knowledge, Akiva didn’t even know how to read the alef-beis and practically despaired of ever being able to learn Torah.

But then one day, while walking, Akiva noticed a steady drip of water upon a rock. It was only a drip, but it was persistent and relentless. Akiva also observed that the steady drip had made a hole in the rock. He then concluded that if something as agile as water could carve a hole in solid rock with persistence and patience, if he had that same persistence and patience, the words of Torah – which are hard as iron – could eventually make an indelible impression upon his heart. He began to learn and eventually became the great Rabbi Akiva, one of our greatest leaders and key links in the transmission of Torah (Avos D’Rabbi Nasan 6:2).

I have often thought that in our society, if it was anyone other than Rabbi Akiva, such a story is highly unlikely to occur. Who has time or patience to pay attention to a drip on a rock? Who has time to ponder the wonders of nature at all? We are too busy ensuring that our apps and social media posts are up to date to notice the world out there.

I realized recently, however, that all hope is not lost. Even though we may not recognize the impact of a drop of water from the mark it leaves on a rock, we can recognize the impact of a drop of water from our water bill. Surprisingly enough, a persistent and consistent leaky faucet can drive up a water bill. Who would think that a small drop could make such a difference? (Ask me how I know!) That’s something most of us would indeed notice despite how busy we are.

Rabbi Avrohom Yachnes is one of the esteemed rebbeim at Camp Dora Golding with whom I have the pleasure of spending my summers. I always enjoy his insights and wisdom. A few summers ago, Rabbi Yachnes repeated an idea he heard from Rabbi Yosef Elefant. Rabbi Elefant related the aforementioned story with Rabbi Akiva and the rock, and then added the following observation:

Let’s assume we were somehow able to guesstimate exactly how much water fell on that exact spot of Rabbi Akiva’s rock over the years. If we were to then pour that amount of water on the rock at one time, would it cause a hole? Likely not. It wasn’t the magnitude of water that caused the hole, but rather it was the result of the process. Each individual drop didn’t appear to accomplish anything. But the reality was that it was creating an imperceptible impression all along.

Rabbi Akiva realized that if he, too, stayed the course and had patience for the process, eventually Torah would penetrate within him, as well.

Rabbi Yachnes then related that decades earlier he had a classmate who was a grandson of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky. The grandson recounted one occasion when Reb Yaakov came to visit him in yeshivah. When the grandson began leading him towards the yeshivah, Reb Yaakov asked him where they were going. The grandson replied that he assumed Reb Yaakov wanted to see the beis midrash. Reb Yaakov countered that he actually wanted to go to his grandson’s dorm room.

After Reb Yaakov assessed the room and was satisfied with its orderliness, he told his grandson that he had a gift for him and handed him a package. The grandson opened it to find a small plant, not a typical gift given to yeshivah students.

Reb Yaakov told his grandson that he wanted them to both stare at the plant. After about 30 seconds, Reb Yaakov asked his grandson if he saw the plant grow. When the grandson replied that he didn’t see anything happen, Reb Yaakov suggested that they watch for a little longer. After a couple of minutes of monotonous watching, Reb Yaakov again asked his grandson if he saw the plant grow. When the grandson admitted that he didn’t, Reb Yaakov remarked that the reality is that it had grown even if they couldn’t see it.

Reb Yaakov then told his grandson that he wanted him to keep the plant on the windowsill above his bed. Reb Yaakov suggested that every night as he was getting into bed, his grandson should look at the plant and remember that it had grown that day even if it didn’t seem that way. Particularly on days when he didn’t feel he had been successful in his learning and was feeling down on himself, looking at the plant would remind him that there’s always growth occurring even when it may not be apparent.

The world celebrates completion and grandiosity. True greatness is borne from consistency and relentless effort that may never receive the adulation it deserves. The path to greatness also requires that one notice and appreciate every drop of growth.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, a rebbe at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, is a parenting consultant and maintains a private practice for adolescents and adults. He is also a member of the administration of Camp Dora Golding for over two decades. Rabbi Staum was a community rabbi for ten years, and has been involved in education as a principal, guidance counselor, and teacher in various yeshivos. Rabbi Staum is a noted author and sought-after lecturer, with hundreds of lectures posted on He has published articles and books about education, parenting, and Torah living in contemporary society. Rabbi Staum can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His website containing archives of his writings is