Saturday, March 27, 2004

Why do Jews need teachers?

For starters, "the sea of Talmud" is not an empty metaphor. There is a terrific about of material to learn, to become a well-educated Jew. Tackling it alone is impossible: too much of it has come down to us in very specialized language, very compact form, and sometimes fragmentary form, and one simply cannot sit down and read it, and then come away with much. I spent most of yesterday on a single bit of Midrash, which looked at first like a string of random citations connected by a few words, which I could translate but which still made no sense at all. It was only after I went back to my notes, reminded myself of what my teacher had told me, and looked again at the text, that I began to see the sinews in the connecting words. I'm still not sure I've got it; I'm going to take another shot at it when Shabbat is over.

So there's lots to learn, and it isn't easy: both good reasons for having a teacher.

Last night I got a lesson in another reason that I need teachers. I've been looking at my to-do list, the Midrash paper (see above), the regular preparations for class in Bible, Midrash, and Commentaries, the other two papers that are due before Passover, and all the preparation for a weekend and seder at my student pulpit, and feeling as if there is simply no way I can possibly clean my house for Passover, too. I was invited to Shabbat dinner at the home of one of my teachers, a woman about my age, with two school-age children and a husband, all of us as students, and academic work of her own, as well. She'd spent her Friday cleaning for Passover.

I didn't mention that I had just been thinking that I couldn't do it, but there she was, doing it. WITH kids, WITH classes to teach and papers to grade. I learned Torah from Dr. Weisberg at her Shabbat table about how to keep house and be a Torah scholar too. I listened to her talk about her week, and watched her interact with her children and her husband, and set some goals for myself.

It is important to study Torah; the world depends on it. It is also important to live Torah, because if you study it and don't live it, then what's the point?

My goal for this week is to do my work. When I reach a point where I have to stop, then I'll clean house. I spent today reading up on making a house ready for Pesach. I've thought about priorities: given the late start, where I shall begin, and what constitutes "enough." I figure that if I have a regular oscillation from study to cleaning all week, I'll learn far more Torah than if I only studied. I'll learn, and I'll do, then I'll learn again.

And that is why I needed a teacher.

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