Posted on June 5, 2019 by Amalia Mark
This blog was written by Amalia Mark (PEEP ’16-’17, Year ’18-’19)
“I am a product of my upbringing; a world of black hats and streimels, a world of Hassidic tales, a world of Eretz Yisrael not Medinat Yisrael, and a world of gendered lines.”
Two years ago, I stood in the same spot, at this exact moment, giving the last take five of the year. I spoke these words about my parents two years ago.
I spoke about how much I wished that my parents had had the opportunities I have been given here at Pardes.
Would they be different people?
Would my parents be tempered from the rigidity of what they consider, ‘the immoveable bonds of halacha’?
Two years ago I was obsessed with the text from Chagiga 14b: “Arba N’ichnsu B’Pardes–Four Entered the Pardes”. I saw myself in each of the figures that entered the orchard. I was simultaneously Rabbi Akiva, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, and Acher.
Internally, I wanted to be Rabbi Akiva, who left the Pardes in peace.
Actually, I was desperate to be Rabbi Akiva, to prove that my Judaism was not one that had been corrupted, but that my faith and love of learning Torah was the fruit my parents had successfully borne.
I wanted to know that I could face the pain of rejection and emerge whole.
Externally, my parents made it very clear that they saw me as Acher.
My parents see me as a heretic and as someone who has corrupted the truth of Torah.
As they often say, “where did we go wrong? You know better”.
Two years later, as I ready myself to leave Pardes once again, I’ve left some angst behind.
My heart is still, and perhaps always will be, broken, from my parents rejection of me and the Torah I hold dear. For every tree they think I’ve chopped down, I’ve tried to plant another seed of Torah within me.
I did my best to embody Rabbi Akiva this year. I felt a desperate need to be in class, in the Beit Midrash, within the walls of Pardes, soaking up Torah. The thirst inside of me couldn’t be quenched and I swam in the waters of Tanach, Gemara, and Halacha.
I have felt a constant sense that time was running out, that I wouldn’t ever have this uninterrupted time again to just…learn.
Every class I left feeling simultaneously completely full and completely empty, cognizant that I still knew so very little. I wanted to sleep for a week but only if I could stop time; every moment of learning I missed is one I couldn’t make up.
Learning was like running a marathon and I never wanted to reach the rapidly approaching finish line.
And yet, here we are today.
I know this year wasn’t my be-all-end-all of learning Torah. I know I have a lifetime.
I am so full of Rashi, Tosfot, and the Shulchan Aruch, and I’m dying of thirst for the Sfat Emet, Mishna Berura, the Bavli, Rashi, Tosfot, and the Shulchan Aruch.
The Torah I’ve embraced this year has brought its own balm. The walls of the Beit Midrash have held me in their embrace for two years. My teachers have created spaces in their classrooms where my soul has been nourished and my face set aglow from the light of Torah.
Perhaps we all have an internal Acher and Rabbi Akiva, and our study of Torah determines which we become.
As it says in our sugya in Chagiga 14b,
רבי עקיבא יצא בשלום “ Rebbe Akiva yatza b’shalom’, “Rebbe Akiva left in peace.
I have found peace in this place, with each of you, and with our holy study of Torah.
I offer the following pasuk from Kohelet that I’ve been holding in my heart as the year ends and we ready ourselves to leave the orchard:
כָּל־הַנְּחָלִים֙ הֹלְכִ֣ים אֶל־הַיָּ֔ם וְהַיָּ֖ם אֵינֶ֣נּוּ מָלֵ֑א אֶל־מְק֗וֹם שֶׁ֤הַנְּחָלִים֙ הֹֽלְכִ֔ים שָׁ֛ם הֵ֥ם שָׁבִ֖ים לָלָֽכֶת׃
All streams flow into the sea, Yet the sea is never full; To the place [from] which they flow The streams flow back again.
May we never be full from Torah and may we always find our way back to the source.