These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

PEP Cohort 11 Graduation speech

Posted on June 14, 2012 by Cheryl Stone

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By Cheryl Stone, PEP ’12

June 4, 2012

When I began contemplating what I would write, I went in search of the perfect ‘teacher quote’ and found this: 

אם יהיו כל השמים יריעות וכל האילנות קולמוסין וכל המים דיו, אין כדי לכתוב את חכמתי שלמדתי מרבי:  ולא אצלתי מחכמת חכמים אלא כשם שזבוב הזו הטובלת בים הגדול ומשהו מחסרו.

 מסכת סופרים טז:ח


If all the heavens were sheets [of parchment], all the trees pens, and all the seas ink, they would not suffice to record the wisdom that I acquired from my masters; and yet I drew of their wisdom no more than a fly, dipping a foot in the Great Sea diminishes the sea of the tiniest drop.

(Sofrim 16:8) 

I see this quote not so much as the perfect ‘teacher quote,’ but rather the ideal ‘student quote.’  What was said by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai about two thousands years ago, epitomizes in so many ways how I feel today as I stand before you. 

On the one hand, I have learned volumes from my teachers and my mentors, things tangible, a chiastic structure, a close reading of the text, biblical grammar, Aramaic vocabulary, and so on and things intangible, making the text meaningful and relatable, caring about the individual student not only in their academic progress but in their personal lives as well, and, most impressively, shining in their brilliance through their humility.

And yet, I am certain, just as certain as I am that I have forgotten more than I remember, I have learned just the minutest amount from the combined intelligence and wisdom of those that surround me.

However, this quote only speaks to half of the equation, to truly learn, we must learn not only from our teachers but rather within a community. 

To illustrate this point, I have created a small art project.   Each of these flowers represents one of us, a world unto itself, a volume of Torah knowledge, multifaceted and infinite.  (As a side note, most of these flowers are native to Israel, and all of these photographs were taken during my time learning here.)

The quote has been divided up between the images, each portrait containing only a portion of the whole.  It is only when we bring them together can we see the full meaning of the individual words.  So too, when we study together, in a class, with our chevrutahs, and with our teachers that we can discern the true, deeper understandings of all that we have learned.

I would like to take a moment to thank all my friends, family and mentors who have been there throughout this sometimes laborious process.  I hope that you know that should you need me for anything that you can depend on me, and I will equally try to remember to depend on the support structure that we have created.