34 The Flusk of Water
Rabbi Ben Petura and Rabbi Akiva
were lost in the wilderness.
Rabbi Ben Petura had a flask of water.
Was the water in the flask sufficient
to enable only one of them to return to civilization,
or both of them?
Rabbi Ben Petura said, “It is best that we share the water,
and neither should see the other die.”
But Rabbi Akiva refused the flask:
"v'chai achicha imach"–
your own life takes precedence over another's life.
Minutes turned the innumerable specks of dust below,
of the sun above, their heads as hot as the hot tin of the flask.
Their tongues as dry and tough and flat as their soles.
But they were still sitting with water between them.
“Drink!” – Rabbi Akiva finally cried.
Rabbi Ben Petura drank all the water, but couldn’t leave
Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Ben Petura watched
his last convulsions against the rocks,
his empty tin eyes next to the empty tin flask,
and thirsty flies sucking his droning lips.
Till Rabbi Ben Petura died, his flask was empty.
Was it three hours later, three days, three decades?
He wrapped it in the pages of Talmud
telling a well-known story of the non Jew who approached
the famous Hillel and asked him to teach him
the whole Torah standing on one leg.
Hillel’s answer was: “daalach sane lehabrech la taabid”,
“that which is hateful to you do not to your neighbour”.
Till Rabbi Ben Petura died,
he asked himself a question
why Rabbi Akiva was not faithful to his belief
"v'chai achicha imach”,
and why he, himself, drank all the water.
One can cry for three hours, three days, three decades
without uttering a syllable,
without a single tear
till the last drop of water in the flask.