Sunday, February 26, 2006

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.


1 comment:

Mortart said...

I've been appreciative of your kind comments on my blog ( But I was unaware of your unusual background before entering rabbinical school.
As I have written, my father was trained in an Orthodox yeshiva in the early 1900s in NYC. He, along with other yeshiva bucharim (sp?) were offered scholarships by the late Stephen Wise to go to Cincinnati and become Reform rabbis. My grandfather, a Gerer Hasid and rabbi, refused to let my father accept. To him, becoming a Reform rabbi was tantamount to becoming a Catholic priest. And the rest is history.