a second century sage
Said this while standing at the mouth of a well: “who carved this rock?” they said to him, “the water that consistently falls on it every day.” They said to him, “Akiva, did you not read water wears away stones (job 14:15)?” immediately Rabbi Akiva ruled…:
Just as the soft sculpts the hard, words of Torah, which are hard as iron, will all the more so carve my heart and mind which is but flesh and blood! Immediately he turned to learn Torah. (avot d-Rabbi Natan, commentary on Pirkot Avot 1:4, translated by Rabbi Kililah Miller)
I would say, it is true that the hard words of Torah sculpt the soft flesh of the human heart and mind, and it is also written in wrath O Lord remember mercy, so Torah is gentle like water, gently cleanses us, removing impurities over time as it is read and meditated upon and applied. when we continually and consistently run to Torah for answers, and impress it repeatedly upon our stony hearts , it is like water running over rock wearing away hard with soft. Akiva says the words of Torah sculpts hearts with hard words , I say Torah sculpts hearts with words of grace and gentleness.
It is written, ‘The Lord will replace hearts of stone with a heart of flesh by the sprinkling of his word.’ Ezekiel 36
And maybe the point is not whether the words of God are soft or hard, cutting or gracious, both are true. What is important and truly effective in shaping our hearts is the continual exposure to God’s word, in all seasons, day after day, hour by hour, new moon to new moon, coming in with force at the changing of the tides of life, lapping gently against our sides, but never the less always present and powerful to transform us.