Getting a 96% in Oral Communications, does not make preparing and delivering a Dvar Torah before a full room any easier.
Because just thinking about the speech made me want to stick my head in a freezer, I attended a learning session to- at the very least- recall the name of this week's Parsha.
I discovered this week's double portion,Bechukotai, is ridden with calamity to a War of the Worlds caliber.
Even with tangential conversations about the capital of Macedonia (would you expect anything less of my friends?) and the smell of oily pizza endeavoring to steal my attention, I was completely absorbed in the horrific words I read. I sat hunching over the verses until the room cleared out, and though my Final's To Do List screamed "Move Bessy" from my backpack, I sat in that white folding chair for nearly two hours reading about G-d's lurking wrath.
Cities lain in ruin.
Wild beast stampedes.
Carcasses strewn across pagan idols.
-A muffled cough at the end of the table-
My head snapped up, taking in a woman of about 25 years old. She balanced a bun atop a bohemian scarf, using her Teva sandals to anchor herself amid a two legged chair-lean.
(Did my mom know that when she taught me to A. always be my "fun, smiley self" and B. not to talk to strangers, I would naturally confuse the two and de-strangerfy every person I met? This is why conversations with her go something like this, "hey mom, I made friends with this magician on the Metro today, he got blinded in one eye and was bitten by a dog as a kid, so now he walks with a limp.")
"Have you read through the Torah section?" Sharon asked. I nodded, waiting for her to continue.
"Why do you think G-d gives all these threats? I mean, doesn't it seem a bit harsh to you?"
I smiled inwardly, grateful someone someone else shared my concerns. I regurgitated the same passe non-answer I had received earlier when I had said the same thing to a friend: history has proven that when things are good for the Jews, they become ingrates, they spoil it. They respond better to a heavy hand, than to a light one.
But even as I said it, I didn't fully believe it.
She asked me if I thought the punishments were just. Did I think that just because people deviate from the Commandments they were deserving of brutality. I thought, and asked if she was a student here. Yes. A grad student. In the School of Policy.
"Well," I said, "say you have a paper due in one of your public policy classes. Your teacher doesn't just assign you a paper and say 'write whatever you want.' He always gives you a rubric. He tells you you'll get 5 points for clarity, 5 points for citations, 5 points for a persuasive thesis statement, and so on."
"The teacher gives you explicit directions of his expectations--what you need to do to get an A. Ya, you can always cut corners, say 'screw this rubric' and turn in whatever you feel like doing, but you have to expect poor results."
"So, the Professor, or God, or whatever, won't let me make my own rubric? Can't I explain my reasoning? Doesn't my intent matter?" she said.
"Of course you can, you can always appeal your grade to God. He's always willing to listen to you. He doesn't work on office hours," I said.
She smiled. "But do you think we can personalize our own rubrics, I can choose my own commandments to follow, and they might not be the same ones defined on His rubric, or maybe even the same ones on yours. But He'll still accept it?"
"Students don't get to make the rubric, we are all commanded of the same things." She grimaced.
"But," I said slowly, God doesn't expect us all to finish at the same time. We all have different due dates."
And that's how I spent my Tuesday night.
For an hour, in a sea of empty folding chairs, two complete strangers spoke candidly about shomer negiya, acid trips, relationships with parents, homosexuals, shabbat, kashrut, justice, slavery, and the world to come. When it was over she offered me a ride home so I wouldn't have to walk back to my apartment alone.
What I learned from this experience, is that alone, we face these religious blockades and often keep our concerns inside, becoming bitter or sad, simply because we think no one else feels the same way. But when we speak them aloud, and work through them with others, we find that the answer was there all along. That we cant close the book on them just yet.
Needless to say I strategically didn/t give Policy girl my last name. She wont be reading this.
specializing in de-stranger-fying