The Student in Row Twenty-four
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I continue to write a poem about each of the Masechtot of Talmud in the Daf Yomi cycle.
January, 2022, marked two years since the cycle began. At every turn there is something new to learn. Each page leads down unexpected paths and leaves the learner with something new to turn over. In another post I will do a short review of the many interesting things that we learned Masechet Megila, which is about the holiday of Purim, but so much more; but for today I will just publish this poem.
On Daf 28B, which comes out of a discussion of the role of synagogues, the text speaks about eulogizing. Tucked at the end of the page is the brief story of the student in row 24 of the study hall, his death and his eulogy by Reish Lakish. This story struck me, perhaps as student who struggled mightily with math and science, that Reish Lakish understood that learners come with strengths and weaknesses and not all students reach the top of that esteemed mountain of learning.
As I do each time we begin a new Masechet, I invite new learners to learn along with me.
The next Masechet is Moed Katan and begins today!
רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ סַפְדֵיהּ לְהָהוּא צוּרְבָּא מֵרַבָּנַן דִּשְׁכִיחַ בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל דַּהֲוָה תָּנֵי הִלְכָתָא בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבַּע
שׁוּרָתָא, אֲמַר: וַוי חָסְרָא אַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל גַּבְרָא רַבָּה.
Reish Lakish once eulogized a certain young Torah scholar who was frequently present in Eretz Yisrael and who used to study halakha in the twenty-fourth row of the study hall. He sat so far back because he was not one of the principal scholars. Nevertheless, when he died, Reish Lakish said: Alas, Eretz Yisrael has lost a great man.
The Student in Row Twenty-four
The student in row twenty-four is no more.
His space in the study hall is empty.
The bench grows cold awaiting him.
The student in row twenty-four did his best.
He repeated his lessons
over and over again;
just as he had been taught.
But the phrases jumbled,
words were lost
and no matter how the student tried
he couldn’t get the ideas straight,
but he persevered;
for it was important, no?
He would enter the study hall early each day,
repeating words, snippets and phrases;
hoping to recall.
He wished to connect thoughts,
be as sharp as the blade of a knife.
To shine as a star in the sky,
to climb that tall mountain.
To be a scholar,
But each morning the student in row twenty-four
entered the study house, sat on his bench
and promptly forgot
the lessons of the night before.
They spread like dust blown in the wind,
scattered like feathers.
His head low, his cheeks reddened,
he knew he would not recall,
not today and not tomorrow.
Another day of shame;
his self esteem sinking like the sun
in the western sky.
But he lifted his head.
He faced another day,
tried yet again to get it right.
The student in row twenty-four listened
To his teachers
stumbled through his arguments
And vowed to repeat his lessons 50 times that night,
To learn L'Sheym Shamayim,
but he never reached the top of the mountain,
but he tried.
His seat is empty now.
When he was no longer present,
When he no longer needed to recite, to remember,
Reish Lakish remembered him
as a great man.
There are many students who sit in row twenty-four,
who do not make it to the top of the mountain,
but perhaps it is just a different mountain that they climb,
or perhaps they climb that mountain on a different route.
Perhaps it is not reaching the top of the mountain,
but the journey up that makes a student great.