4:55 Monday evening and the saliva begins to well up in the crevices under my tongue. Yoni Cooper and I unfold the top of the crinkled white “Holy Bagel” bag and reach our hands inside. We each take out a muffin. “ Baruch Atah... Boreh Mineh Mezonot ” (the blessing for eating cake) we slowly sing to the melody traditionally reserved for lighting Menorah candles. The first bite. To quote Auguste Gusteau from the movie Ratatouille, “A symphony of flavor.”
Yoni and I maintain a tradition called “Muffin Monday.” Every Monday we buy a muffin at around 1:00pm and eat it at 5:00pm between Chumash (Bible class) and Rabbi Aaron’s class on prayer. It sounds like an easy practice, but we find ourselves constantly combating criticism. They shout, “It doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to only one muffin a week. If muffins make you happy you should have as many as you want!” Yoni and I merely look at each other silently and smile. There is no way to respond. They just don’t understand.
Orayta is credited with sharing entirely new perspectives of Judaism with its students. The rabbeim (Rabbis) teach us how to think critically and analytically about Jewish texts and philosophy. But most importantly, they encourage us to explore the meaning of our humanity and practice appreciating the small things. The goal is to define and ultimately strive for lofty living.
This past week was “Parents Week” at Orayta, which reminded everyone of how much we miss our families. It was a beautiful sight in the beis (study hall): entire families engrossing themselves in texts. Watching my friend learn with his father, I thought about how important it is to not take our families for granted. Upon leaving home for college or study abroad, it can be easy to forget everything our families have done for us and move on with our lives. But we need to always be grateful, to always appreciate what we have been given. The parent-child learning in the beis this past week proved that Orayta students have clearly maintained healthy, loving relationships with their families even from thousands of miles away.
As part of Parents Week, Rav Binny led the yeshiva on a tiyul (trip) to the Gush (group of Jewish towns south of Jerusalem). He brought us to several historical battlesites and relayed the inspiring heroics that define Israel. The trip challenged everyone to appreciate the seemingly mundane. The creation of a Jewish state in Israel only half a decade after the worst Jewish genocide in history is a mind-boggling reality. Yet many of us take it for granted. I find myself constantly complaining about the weather or the interesting smell emanating from somewhere in my room. I rarely take a moment to think about where I am and how meaningful it is to be able to learn Torah in the most inspiring place in the world.
Beyond learning how to live appreciative lives, we also learn the value of discipline and choices. The life of a Jew is riddled with paradoxes and intellectual challenges. The questions that could be asked on halakha (Jewish law) and God are endless. As I begin to gain clarity on a certain issue, another theological problem pops into my head. Having tackled deep, philosophical questions for half a year, my friends and I have uncovered more theological crises than we ever imagined possible. Yet it is also at this time of year that the energy of the beis reaches its peak. What motivates our learning? It certainly is not total clarity. No one is without struggle. But the value of honestly weighing the benefits of a Jewish life, choosing to internalize those values despite the endless questions, and exercising the discipline to act on those values drives Orayta students to be the best they can be. We finally realized that it is only possible to experience Judaism through action, not philosophical questioning.
This brings me back to Muffin Monday. People always criticized Yoni and me for placing limitations on our muffin consumption. We could try to explain the value of self-control and delayed gratification. But in the end of the day, they will never know until they jump in and try it. Now it’s 5:15pm Monday evening. Yoni and I each put the last bite in our mouth and suck on our fingers to get every last crumb off of them. We chew slowly, carefully focusing on every flavor the muffin has to offer. Focusing on how lucky we are to even have a muffin and to be able to eat in Israel. We each swallow. Its finished, but Yoni and I aren’t. “ Baruch Atah... Al Hamichya VeAl Hakalkala ” (the blessing after eating).
Jeremy Fisher is from Newton, MA and attended Maimonides. He will be attending Washington University next year.