This past week or so has been a week of challenge.
Robert Fulghum wrote a book he titled, "I Knew It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It." I confess that I have not read the book, but I love the title. I love it even more after 3 1/2 years of this rabbinical school adventure.
Yes, I knew it was on fire when I lay down on it. I sensed that rabbinical school would be the challenge of a lifetime, and the cautious encouragement I received from friends and mentors confirmed my suspicions: rabbinical school is not for sissies.
However, I had done other things that are not for sissies. I'd given birth twice without chemical assistance. I got my master's degree in half the time usually required, because that was the time I had. A pair of muggers tried to grab my bag on the streets of Chicago, and they regretted trying. I've run my own business, and turned a profit as a working artist. I got my kids out of a house that was falling down in an earthquake, and rebuilt the house afterwards. I pride myself on a certain degree of toughness, and I loved it when one of my sons referred to me as a "titanium magnolia."
Truth be told, I'd gotten a little bit overconfident. The secret behind all those things that I'd done well is that they all played to my gifts. Rabbinical school is another sort of adventure entirely; it plays to my vulnerabilities. I'm shy, I'm insecure, my hearing is not good, I have learning quirks that make languages with different alphabets difficult, and I have mobility issues. None of these things are assets for a rabbinical student.
This week it was the language stuff. I do not question that I need the skills that are so difficult for me to acquire. I know that with enough effort I can take my skills to higher and higher levels. I've been blessed with a Hebrew tutor who is a genius with special-needs students, and with friends and family who cheer me on as if this were an Olympic event (which is what it feels like.) By week's end, I was already seeing improvement. By term's end, I trust that I will be where I need to be, if I keep working.
Certainly, the main purpose of rabbinical school is to train rabbis. I trust that by the time I am ordained, I'll well and truly be a rabbi. But even now, even just 2/3 of the way into it, I like what I see when I look in the mirror: I see a woman who who loves Torah enough to struggle for it, who is tough enough to be the dunce in the class. I see a woman with a lot more compassion than she had at the beginning. Last but not least, I see a woman who can read the Shulchan Arukh out loud with fewer mistakes.