When the great Rabbi Eliezer fell ill, his devoted disciples came to visit him. He said to them, “There is a fierce wrath in the world,” implying that G‑d was punishing him.

The students broke into tears.

Looking up, they noticed that Rabbi Akiva was laughing.

“How can you laugh at a time like this?” they inquired.

“Tell me,” countered Rabbi Akiva, “why do you weep?”

They answered, “Shall we witness a veritable Torah scroll lie in pain, and not cry?”

“That’s exactly why I am laughing,” replied Rabbi Akiva. “As long as I saw that our master’s wine did not turn sour, his flax did not go bad, his oil did not spoil and his preserves did not become rancid, I thought, G‑d forbid, that he might have received all his reward in this world, leaving nothing for the next. Now that I see suffering, I rejoice, knowing that his reward will be given to him in the world to come.”

Hearing this, Rabbi Eliezer said to his prized student, “Akiva, have I neglected anything of the whole Torah? Why should I deserve even this suffering?”

Said Rabbi Akiva: “My master, you yourself have quoted the verse to us, ‘For there is not a just man upon earth who does good and does not sin.’”1