Sometimes the moments line up just right. For more than a year I have been coming to morning tefillah (prayer) at Hebrew College, since long before I started school. It was part of my grounding practice while I was in between, and it was instrumental in helping me to make my decision. In the course of that practice, especially at the beginning, I felt lost more often than not, sometimes extravagantly so.
There was one day that was so unsettling that I wrote about it here. On that day, there were no guideposts in prayer, just an open space and a lot of people doing their own thing with what looked to me like unattainable competence. It was so unnerving I considered leaving, but was afraid people would notice me leaving and it might affect my chances of being admitted to the program.
Fast forward about a year.
This morning, just days from the end of my first semester as a rabbinical student, I came in for tefillah a few minutes late to find there were three other people there. All faculty. All engaged in their own personal, mostly silent prayer. There was a little mumbling, a little humming, an occasional snatch of recognizable text, a lot of page flipping.
I walked in, opened my siddur, and began to pray.
This afternoon I went to see one of my professors for a quick question. So I thought. Nearly two hours later, I left his office, having moved from the so-called quick question to a deeper conversation to impromptu study of a famous text about Rabbi Akiva. Akiva is one of my favorites, for two reasons: he happens to share a name with my beloved elder son. And he started studying as an adult.
The text I studied with my professor depicts a moment where Akiva contemplates the mouth of a well and muses to his companions: How did this stone get worn away? They tell him, The water falls on it every day. Haven’t you read that water can erode stone?
Akiva extrapolates a judgment for himself: if something soft can sculpt something hard, how much more can something hard, like words of Torah, shape something soft, like my heart?
And presently he began to study Torah.
One thought on “A Progress Report in Two Parts”
Excellent post and very instructive as to the efficacy of a regular and consistent practice.