So I have made a list. Because lists are easier.
- I used to learn to escape from deep truths and the emotionally difficult parts of my life. I loved learning and did it a lot. It was a great escape on many levels, especially studying Mishna.
- Then I decided to stop escaping from deep truths or I stopped being able to escape.
- Then I disliked learning Torah, since I only knew how to learn in this bifurcated, sanitized-from-emotions, way. Learning Torah reminded me of that former life of escape from emotions that I had rejected. Also, whenever I learned (and I think this is related), it felt boring and irrelevant. Cut off from the meaty part of life, somehow.
- So I didn't learn for a long time (1998-2004).
- But I missed learning.
- When I started learning again, I found that I didn't feel like I was leaving my emotional life at the door, so to speak. I felt like I was somehow bringing my whole being to my Torah study. And I found that I loved learning as much as I had before (say, back at #1).
- But now I am not enjoying learning, to a large extent. It's like I'm back at #3. And I don't know why.
Do any of you understand what I mean by that? I tried to explain it to someone in person recently and he really didn't understand what I meant. Or, rather, he said that he felt that that's how all limmud Torah is, by its very nature. He didn't understand what the alternative was, that I was rejecting, which made me feel he didn't understand what I was saying.
The kind of learning I am interested in doing is the kind of learning that informs and is informed by the actual lives we live. By my life, and my struggles, and my values. I want Torah study that illuminates rather than represses, that connects and unifies rather than divides. I want Torah that engages me at my core. I want to be able to learn Torah the way that I talk to my closest friends or read the newspaper: with my whole being, informed by everything I've done and that has been done to me, by my feminism, my attention to detail, my liberal proclivities, my concern for humanity, my interest in how legal systems can create positive change in the world, by my need for creative expression. This is my Torah, and more that has yet to be written.
I feel guilty articulating this. I was raised with a certain rigorous intellectual standard for Torah, and the accompanying feeling that anything that actually touched or affected people was fluffy nonsense. Gemara should be about pure Gemara (or, sometimes more accurately, about rishonim). Halakhah should be about serving God, not articulating deep emotional truths. I still cringe when people try to make Torah about politics or current events. How is that different from what I want? I don't want some watered-down version of Torah just for the sake of making it personally meaningful--do I? Am I just a casualty of the "me generation," where if it isn't about me, it isn't worthwhile or important? Just how self-absorbed am I, anyway?
I have two other goals besides learning Torah in a way that engages my whole being and that involves bringing my whole self--warts and all--into the beit midrash. (No, I don't have actual warts. Just metaphoric ones.) Another list:
- I also want to know everything. Really. I want bekiut that I don't have at the moment. And I want to acquire it in some way other than, say, reading through the Shulkhan Arukh, which I find to be boring. Maybe I just haven't found the right way to do it or the right person to do it with. I don't know.
- I want better skills. I want a larger Aramaic word bank in my head. I want to be able to read through a page of Gemara with less difficulty, and even to attack Tosfot with some expectation of success.
Does this sound like anything any of you have ever felt? I am hoping that if people ask me questions or challenge me to be more articulate, I could better explain what I mean.
Someone help me, please!