Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Road Diverges, Where's Chavi Going?

I'm worried that I've lost hope in the future (or the present) of mankind. All it took was a small stack of exams given to me to grade, and I was scratching my head, shaking my head, opening my mouth in utter surprise. All I could think was, "This isn't rocket science, folks," as I marked down points that would make even a regular ole D student cry. I mean, these exams? They're bad. They're really bad. And as I scribbled notes into the margins -- the same idea about 20 times, that is -- I began to wonder, to really wonder, if I could handle being a professor, knowing that the words that I might speak on a daily basis would be sucked into ears, processed in some absolutely mindless filter, only to be regurgitated out on paper like this.

Ever since I returned from Middlebury, I've been thinking, reconsidering, where I'm going. My desire to teach hasn't changed, don't get me wrong, but I am trying to figure out what's practical and possible for me at this point in my academic journey. I started out thinking modern, after all, my big-time term paper in my undergrad was on Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews. I slowly moved backward, thinking about Rashi and his daughters, considering Medieval Jewry. I read books and more books and the text that discusses the rabbi who decreed that if you're yawning in shul you better cover your mouth had me delighted. And then I came here to Connecticut and I found myself drifting even further back, to the Talmud, the rabbis, and the Second Temple Period as we know it today. But as the past year showed me, I'm so far behind it might take me years to catch up. In a perfect world, I'd be reading-fluent in Aramaic, Greek, French, German, and of course Biblical Hebrew. I'd read the texts in their originals, because that's what a scholar does. I vowed after realizing that the author of Rashi's Daughters didn't do any of her own legwork that I wouldn't be like that -- I'd work from scratch forward. But the reality? It might take me years.

I keep telling myself that I have all the time in the world. Tuvia has granted me that time, knowing that I want to follow my heart and really throw myself into that which I am passionate about. He's patient and kind like that. And in reality, I could probably toil away at school for the rest of my life studying those languages and working the texts until I'm blue in the face. Even if I don't pursue academic Talmudic work or what have you, I'll still do that in the outside world -- after all, my inquiring mind doesn't let me sit still on the sidelines when it comes to my Orthodox Judaism. I seek, read, and learn.

But the reality of the situation is that I'm reconsidering my situation. Life is a series of reconsiderations, you know. And after Middlebury, and even before, I was considering a future in Hebrew language. My time in Middlebury allowed me to gain a fluency I couldn't have dreamed of. But it was just a start, and much like my hungry neshama, my hungry brain wants more. Speaking Hebrew feeds my mind, my heart, and my soul. It's like I'm speaking in the voice of generations past and future. It empowers me and it makes me happy and excited.

And for all intents and purposes, it's practical and doable. At least, I think so.

So I sent an email off to my morah (teacher) from the summer, to see what she thinks and whether she has any advice. I would continue on with a PhD, but it would be in language -- Hebrew language. I'd rehash all the grammar rules I've forgotten (from English, that is; who can tell me what a past participle is!?). I hate to say it but although I've got mad editing skills, when it comes to the vocab and the nitty gritty, even the best editors are lacking. I want to perfect my language skills so that I can take what I know to a university or day school level and INSPIRE people. Inspire them to use and love the living language of the Jewish people. And furthermore, at least with a language, there are rules and measures and styles and words that mean exactly what they mean. I don't have to explain themes or devices to students. Language is like mathematics -- 99 percent of the time, there is really one right answer.

And maybe, once I've got that under wraps, I'll turn back to my dreams of being a Talmud chacham.

Of course, I want to be a mother, too. A mother, a wife, a community member, a shul member. A friend and a confidant. There are many things I want to be, and I find that as time goes on, my desires change along with my needs. What the soul needs to be comforted changes as new people come into our lives and also when we realize we need to reassess a situation. Unfortunately for Tuvia, being Morah Chavi the Hebrew teacher might not be exceedingly lucrative, but if there's one thing my father taught me, it's to do what makes me happy.

I've learned that, in life, you can't waste your time on the things that don't excite you. If it isn't one of the first things you think about when you wake up and when you go to sleep -- positively, with absolute excitement and eagerness -- then maybe you should reconsider where you are and where you're going. Life's to short to waste your time and energy. As Qohelet tells us,

So enjoy what you have. (Note: Many read Qohelet/Ecclesiastes as a text about the futility of life. I do not read it this way. I read Qohelet as an old man, full of wisdom, relating to us how to live one's life in order to gain the most from it. To seek happiness in all things and to not toil over that which is wasteful or futile. Rather, seek happiness in all that you do, here, in this life!)