We have to understand that our concept of kavod and the Gemara’s concept of kavod is כרחוק מזרח ממערב, they’re as far apart from each other as east is from west. What we are נוהג כבוד זה לזה in the politest society of today is not called kavod in the eyes of the Torah. And therefore the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva are blamed only because they weren’t good enough. And that’s the plain truth. They should have been more respectful and more appreciative of each other.
But don’t get any idea in your head that there is any place today where they are as polite and as considerate and as thoughtful as Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim were to each other. But that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough for great men. Like it says (Tehillim 50:3) וסביביו נשערה מאד – “All around Him it is extremely turbulent.” All around Hashem, the closer you get to Him, the more stormy it is. It’s stormy close to Hashem! When you’re close to Hashem you have to watch yourself. On that possuk the Gemara says: מלמד שהקדוש ברוך הוא מדקדק עם חסידיו כחוט השערה – “With those who are close to Him, Hakodosh Boruch Hu insists on correctness even to a hairsbreadth”(Yevamos 121b). So that’s why it’s dangerous to be good. It’s dangerous to be great. The bigger you are the better you have to be. And these men who were close to Rabbi Akiva were expected to be much better. But don’t make any error and think that they were rough or impolite to each other in the sense that people think of today.
TAPE #215 (April 1978)