By: Emmett Gilles, Current Mayanot Student
Among my otherwise unremarkable luggage, I brought two items of especially personal value to Mayanot. The first was my bicycle, a ‘cyclocross’ model designed to handle well on a variety of terrains, from road and light rail tracks to cobblestone and dirt. The second was a slight Robert Frost collection with dark print, generous spacing, and thick cotton pages. As a returning student at Mayanot (I first attended in the summer of 2014), I knew from experience that diving deeply into yeshiva learning, and the consequent reorientation of a person’s outlook and inner world within an environment of Torah and Chassidus, requires a healthy oxygen supply of familiar attachments to bolster the diver’s spirits and lessen the ‘bends’ attendant upon future surfacing. Biking, with its combination of exertion, balance, speed, and exhilarating freedom culminating in satisfying exhaustion, afforded a fulfilling afterlife to my former athletic career, while Frost’s homespun, thought-provoking poetry maintained a cherished link to my New England roots and University literary studies. So into yeshiva I plunged, bicycle, book and all.
Several months later, pausing for water outside Jerusalem along a Friday afternoon bike ride, I surveyed a vista of meandering stone walls in the valley below me, marking the boundaries of long-absent neighbors. The ancient stone barriers brought to mind the boundary-marker construction cases I’d been studying in Bava Basra, along with the line “Good fences make good neighbors,” inherited wisdom a taciturn neighbor invokes in ‘Mending Walls,’ one of my favorite Frost poems. Biking back to yeshiva, I considered how the boundaries within which we live, whether simply as neighbors or more richly as Torah-observant Jews, nourish and sustain us. In the months that followed, as I gradually progressed at parsing Rashi, then deciphering Tosafos’s articulations, I came to love the Gemora’s language, arguments, and speakers with a deepening familiarity that rivaled my connection to cycling and poetry. Meanwhile, I began to see the fruits of my Ulpan labors in increasing reading competence, and as my study of Chassidus advanced I made independent forays into the translated Hebrew edition of Likutei Sichos on the bookshelf beside my seat in zal. Step by step, in chavrusa and increasingly with only my trusty dictionary, I learned to hear, and love, the words of the Chabad Rebbeim speaking from the page. With greater authority than any suggestion of principle or duty, that romance of student and text has made my learning at Mayanot profoundly real and personal.
My hope and prayer, for myself, for the Mayanot family, and for the Jewish people as a whole, is that our common love for our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, for the Jewish people, for the eternal covenant we keep in all its cherished traditions and rich particulars, for our holy texts, our visionary leaders, our promised land, and our dearest friends and family— that this love should root us in the deepest sense of who we are and what we are tasked with doing in this world, such that amidst all the turbulence of the world, we retain “the power of standing still.”