There’s a song in the show Rent called Seasons of Love. In it, the characters to measure a year. Finding the task nigh impossible, the characters attempt to gauge by an equally immeasurable item: Love.
Like the characters in Rent, I have difficulty “measuring a year” – particularly this one. And like the characters in Rent, the only way would be to measure by equally intangible things – Growth, Spirituality, Knowledge, Respect, Strength, Self -Awareness. However, though the struggle to find an objective measure with which to gauge the year remains largely fruitless, I may give a deeply subjective assessment of what Shana Ba’aretz has given me.
First and simplest to discuss is raw knowledge itself. I have learned an incredible amount this year in numerous fields; Talmud, Tanakh, Jewish thought, philosophy, Halakha, etc. I have found that in Judaism, many texts cross-reference. I have found many pesukim from my Tanakh night seder used to prove a point in Talmud, and fragments of Talmud from my morning seder in a Jewish philosophy book. The overall effect is enlightening, allowing me to see Torah as fuller, deeper, more beautifully orchestrated big picture. In Migdal Oz particularly, I have come to ask myself what Torah means to me – not only in a general sense, but also on a passage-to-passage basis. I have found moral lessons in the Bible; statements on social activism in Talmud; self-improvement in Halakha. Where I least expected to find connection, I now feel it deeply. In contexts where I have never considered myself part of the equation, where I understood these texts as external (though holy) writings, I now find personal application and fulfillment for my daily life.
After that comes an entirely different set of knowledge – knowledge of self, a deeper and therefore more amorphous kind of wisdom. Self-discovery is one of the greatest opportunities this year has to offer, and I have found a treasure trove in myself. Through learning, song, passionate discussions and quiet introspection, I have slowly but surely revealed the person I am, have been, and hope to be.
Spirituality is an experience we paradoxically fear and crave. By nature, we fear the unknown; is there an unknown more hazy and unclear than spirituality’s ghosted passageways? Rituals bent on the expression of a relationship to a higher being and therefore a higher existence, shrouded in the ultimate mystery of G-d? It is no wonder that we shrink before such inconceivable greatness…and what I have learned this year is to stop being afraid. Spirituality is both latent and learned. Once I embraced it, and rejected the fear that clung to it, I was able to both discover the enormous wealth of spirituality within myself, and build upon my existing basis. I have found that one medium to spirituality is music. In song we dive into unknown worlds and parts of ourselves. Strangely, in the world of music, fear loosens its grip – and when I tried hard enough, I found I could shake it off and lose it entirely. I then was able to find spirituality in prayer, a close cousin of song; in nature; in thought. Eventually, I found it in my learning as well.
With that said, I turn to practicality, and acknowledge that with all the enormous benefits of Shana Ba’aretz, it is a weighty expense. I applaud and thank Torah LeTzion for recognizing the importance of this experience for the entire spectrum of Jewish chutz la’aretz youth, and for doing all they can to make this year a reality. Know that you are taking a share in some of the most pivotal stages of education in a Jewish young adult’s life. Your donations help to prepare and form today’s youth to be proud, upstanding people who will be the leaders of tomorrow’s accomplishments, in Judaism and elsewhere. Over the course of this year, we have put down roots in our Judaism strong enough to withstand the turbulent world around us that beckons, full of potential. This year, I believe, has given me and countless others the strength and opportunity to take all that the world offers while remaining grounded and true to the principles with which we were raised. Thank you, Torah LeTzion, for helping to make a dream possible.
Student who studied at Migdal Oz