What were the origins of Rabbi Akiva? They say that he was forty years old and had still not learned anything. Once, he was standing at the mouth of a well and he said: Who carved a hole in this stone? They said to him: It is from the water, which constantly [falls] on it, day after day. And they said: Akiva, don't you know this from the verse (Job 14:19), “Water erodes stones”? Rabbi Akiva immediately applied this, all the more so, to himself. He said: If something soft can carve something hard, then all the more so, the words of Torah, which are like steel, can engrave themselves on my heart, which is but flesh and blood. He immediately went to start studying Torah. He went with his son and they sat down by the schoolteachers. He said to one: Rabbi, teach me Torah! He then took hold of one end of the tablet, and his son took hold of the other end. The teacher wrote down aleph and beit for him, and he learned them (aleph to tav, and he learned them; the book of Leviticus, and he learned it). And he went on studying until he learned the whole Torah. Then he went and sat before Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua. My masters, he said, open up the sense of the Mishnah to me. When they told him one law, he went off and sat down to work it out for himself. (This aleph – what was it written for? That beit – what was it written for?) Why was this thing said? He kept coming back, and kept asking them, until he reduced his teachers to silence.
He was forty years old when he went to study Torah, and after thirteen years, he was teaching Torah to the masses. It was said that he did not leave the world until he had tables full of silver and gold, and he could go up to his bed on golden ladders. His wife would go out in a fancy gown and with golden jewelry with an engraving of Jerusalem on it. His students said: Rabbi, you are embarrassing us with what you have done for her. He said to them: She suffered greatly with me for the sake of Torah.