Rabbi Akiva sailed from Israel to Cyprus. Before he left port, he saw his prized understudy, Rabbi Meir, board an older vessel, also sailing to Cyprus. In the midst of their journey, a terrible gale struck the Mediterranean. Rabbi Akiva's heart broke as he gazed into the distance, wincing while the storm lashed into the decrepit craft that carried Rabbi Meir. In a matter of minutes, the latter's ship was utterly destroyed...
A tear slid down Rabbi Akiva's cheek. "What a waste of a brilliant mind!" he lamented.
Several days later, upon reaching the shores of Cyprus, Rabbi Akiva entered a local synagogue and house of study. Flabbergasted, he froze in the doorway. Rabbi Meir was in the middle of a lecture to a group of Cypriot Talmud students. Seeing his esteemed teacher and spiritual guide in the doorway, Rabbi Meir ceased lecturing. "Rabbi Akiva, my honored master, please come inside!"
Rabbi Akiva could barely speak. "M-Meir! Y-You're still alive! H-How did you get ashore?"
"Simple, my master. Instead of focusing on the stormy sea, I rode one wave at a time. I caught wave after wave until I reached the shore!"
The Talmud offers this practical homiletic advice on how to survive under extreme stress.
Had Rabbi Meir attempted to battle the entire tempestuous sea, he would have expended his strength in a short time. Instead, he used the centuries-old formula of "divide and conquer"—Rabbi Meir knew that he couldn't overcome the sea, but he could surely cope with one wave at a time. Even more amazing, he arrived ashore before Rabbi Akiva!
The 2nd-Century CE sage Rabbi Meir teaches us the secret of staying on top when we seem to be buried under an insurmountable load of stress. Don't fight a whole raging sea, and don't try to move a one-ton boulder that's in your way. Take a 5-lb. hammer, and break chips off the boulder. Before you know it, the boulder—that ton of stress on your shoulders—is no longer there!
The secret of handling an overload of stress is dismantling—don't try to deal with all your pressures simultaneously. Ride one wave at a time, and you'll make it safely to shore, too.