Photo by Fir0002
Four years ago I was faced with the hard question. I had been studying in yeshiva for two years, and I had run out of money. The question was whether to find a source of income, which meant pulling myself out of the four walls of the yeshiva, or hit up my family for the money to keep learning. I set my sites on the middle path: split my day in half, play the roles of business man and yeshiva man at the same time.
Other factors compounded the question. I had lost the yearning to learn, at least the way I had been learning. Other friends bounced from yeshiva to yeshiva looking for the spark, and I was tempted to follow, but the wanderer’s life, as attractive as it was, didn’t solve my money problem. Moreover, I had managed to keep my head nestled in holy books while the economy outside went haywire and any monkey that could type was paid outrageous sums, but the economy ate itself alive just as I was beginning to look for a job.
I ended up, after months of searching, with a full time job, and that’s where I’ve remained. They suffer my strange schedule, as I aim to pack my learning into the mornings and wander in to work in time for a late brunch.
In the meantime, I’ve been blessed to gain some insight into what that missing spark is. My yeshiva had focused, quite rightly, on the skills to learn text - grammar, vocabulary, who is speaking, why is he speaking, where’s the burden of proof… They did an excellent job, but in the end the big question remained – why is this relevant to me? How does it help the world?
Rav Kook writes about connecting the details of Torah to the whole of Torah. We understand (to some extent) the big picture – God is One, he wrote us a holy letter and through that we understand his will. The question is - when Abaye and Rava are discussing the details of a person throwing a ball on Shabbos, how does that connect to the big picture? How does it affect my understanding of reality? How does it change how I act? How I pray? That’s what was missing.
There are a few precious teachers I’ve found who really focus on the whole range – not the big picture, not the small picture, but the whole picture. There are a precious few who help you answer the honest and real question of ‘what does this mean to me.’
I’ve spent four years rolling around the world with a computer. I’ve tried to make Torah the first priority even though it occupied a small fraction of the day. The intensity of the learning in those short times was sometimes amazing. The level of focus sometimes far surpassed what I was capable of in Yeshiva. But there is something to be said for immersion. When I went to Yeshiva, I jumped into the experience and didn’t know how I was going to come out. There was a trust in God, in the experience, in myself, that acted to birth the person that I am today.
So I’m going back.
I haven’t quit my job, but I’ve asked them to do without me for a good seven weeks. I’m heading out to Bat Ayin, a place I’ve flirted with for about seven years. This time it’s not about the skills, it’s about the soul. It’s about the prayer, about connecting the details of the Torah back up to God, and finding that ear in my chest and teaching it to listen in the deepest way. It’s about trusting God and giving birth to myself again.