Posted on September 7, 2014 by Suzanne Hutt
A cistern that has been converted into a multi-level, modern apartment, but a cistern nonetheless. Sometimes I sit on the couch and gaze up at the skylight, musing to myself that not so long ago, this whole thing would have been filled with rain water; I imagine buckets being carefully lowered through that hole to gather water for a number of practical uses.
I arrived here in Jerusalem less than two weeks ago and have already been swept up in the whirlwind that is adjusting and adapting to life in a new place. Stripped of my familiar, local Chicago haunts, I am now faced with the task of finding new supermarkets, cafés, drug stores, book stores, and so on. And while everything seems to be unfamiliar and new, there is also a special kind of familiarity that comes with being in Israel, in Jerusalem, in the land of my forefathers.
With one week at Pardes under my belt, I feel that the whirlwind visual still very much applies. Every day I am encountering so much newness, not just on the streets of Jerusalem, but in the Hebrew texts and insights we are exploring in each class in the Beit Midrash. I am diving in headfirst and it feels amazing.
Amazing, but also incredibly daunting. After our first full day of classes last Sunday (classes here start on Sundays – how preposterous!), my roommate, Elana, said something so relatable. She said, “I feel like I am preparing how to learn how to begin,” and I couldn’t agree more. Every question that arises contains within it ten more questions that I didn’t even know I had. There is an overwhelming feeling that no matter how much I study – in the realm of Torah, Talmud, Tanakh, Rambam, and so many more terms that are swimming around in my head – and no matter how many hours and brain cells I devote to that study, I will only be scratching the surface. In the Beit Midrash, when the teachers at Pardes wave their hands across the shelves and shelves of books, indicating that all of these are at my fingertips, and that I can take personal ownership over any one of those holy volumes, my eyes well up with tears. It’s an instantaneous response. I feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, marveling at the realm of possibility contained in one magical room and the wealth of knowledge suddenly available to me. But it’s more than that, because while I am filled with awe and respect and excitement, I am also filled with the undeniable awareness of my own limitations. A reminder that I, like all humans, will someday die, and chances are that I will die before being able to read and understand all that is contained in this one room of books.
When I snap out of this existential crisis, I remind myself that the point of my studying at Pardes and my coming to Israel was not to read every book in the Beit Midrash. Rather, it is to fill myself up with knowledge that wasn’t there before. It cannot be a coincidence, then, that I live in a cistern. Like this cavernous space that once served as a container of water, so too do I hope to fill myself to the brink with as much new knowledge and experience as possible, gathering the tools that will help me continue to answer more questions as they arise, and they most certainly will arise. By filling myself up in this way over the next five months, I will amass a collection of knowledge that I can draw upon in the future, like a bucket dipping into a cistern full of thirst-quenching water. As I embark on this very new experience, I feel hopeful that each day will bring new adventures, new books, and most importantly, new water metaphors.