The Quality of Infinity and the Pardes
And then there is the episode in the Talmud(Chagiga 14b):
Just to briefly touch on the other two in the Pardes: the episode of Acher was one R' Silverstein regularly taught in his Michlalah course. There is a lot of background information to explain how it is not an episode but one's very base that is the actual source of loss of faith. His verse is the one from Koheles, "Tov acharis davar mereshiso," which, in context means, that the end of something is good if it is good from its beginning. As Elisha ben Avuya's father decided to that his son would be devoted to Torah because he saw its great power, there was a deficiency in motive from the beginning. (Then we went through the discussion of the encouragement to learn lo lishma versus the pronouncement of better for the fetus to have been smothered in the womb than to learn for the wrong motives. This thought just came to me now: After Acher's apostasy, he tells boys they should become tailors, builders, etc., rather than devoting themselves to Torah study. That is seen as his new devaluation of Torah, but perhaps it is a recognition of that quality of lo lishma in others that made him really believe that they should be pursuing other things. )
Of course, the hero in this story is R' Akiva whose reshis is good, as he enters in shalom and [consequently] leaves in shalom. Shalom, of course, means peace but is also based on the root shalem [whole]. R' Akiva left intact because he entered with a sense of wholeness. I would think that means that he was not missing something that he sought to obtain by attempting to "take in" the experience of Pardes and thus try to capture the infinite. He was the one who warned the others not to attempt to define what was revealed to them in their usual terms which would prove false in this context. He had the ability to see and appreciate the Pardes for what it was without forcing it into a more limited form of human understanding. He did not attempt to name what he saw. He doesn't even say that he gazed [perhaps that could mean scrutinize, attempt to analyze by observation]. It says merely that he entered. Thus I would say that R' Akiva had the ability to enter into the Pardes and was not attempting to make it enter him, so to speak. He had the "negative capability," (indulge me in the Keatsian term) to suspend the limitations of his human judgment and appreciate the Pardes for what it was without forcing it to conform to his own ideas or outside experience.
"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" is one of the most famous quotes from Browning. The idea is that man pursues with the knowledge that he will never attain. It is the attempt to pin down the infinite by defining it in our finite terms that is doomed.
Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/03/rabbi-akiva-said-of-himself-that-before.html