Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover!

As a rabbinical student, and an avid reader, going into a book store of any sort is like entering a playground and not knowing what to play with first. I often have to hold myself back from even entering for fear of sensory overload and exhaustion. But, here in Israel, how can I resist. I often wander into stores, pick up a book that has a beautiful maroon and gold cover and binding, and hold it in my hands. Knowing very well that the pages within it are pages written by those much wiser than me, much more learned. The pages are filled with the wisdom, thought processes and teachings of the rabbis that came before me. Sometimes the book has a beautiful cover, and sometimes it looks very plain. Either way, I pick it up, read a page or two, and put it down.

It is intimidating to pick up these books filled with so much. But, I know I can handle it now. My Hebrew has improved by leaps and bounds this year. My textual skills are honed, my reasoning about as logical and illogical as the Tanaim and Amoraim. I am ready. But still, I find myself so intimidated by these books. I have the keys to unlock their secrets, but am I ready? I think I am ready, I am able, now, I just have to decide which ones to open first.

Last week, as part of my packing and finalizing my year in Israel, I took myself on a book buying adventure. I had done my homework, emailed rabbis and asked what books to buy, what books would be helpful, what books they love. I had made a list of all the books I wanted to buy, in order of importance to me. I made my list and then shopped out the prices, checked them out in the stores, made appointments to check them out again, and eventually purchase. And, on Wednesday I went to the store that offered the best prices and confidently announced that I was ready to make my purchases.

The owner advised me to meet with his seforim specialist, but I, having done my homework politely declined and began to tell him my list of purchases. The first few were no problem, a Mishnah with Bartenura commentary, Otzar Roshei Teivot, Alkaly Hebrew to English, a Tal-man version of the Vilna Shas (full set of Talmud), here is where my problem was. Did I want the big size or the slightly smaller size? Did I want the extra “Boys in the back” (commentators)? Did I want the 36 volume set or the 20 volume set? With this, I was lost. In all my research, all my question asking, no one even brought this up to me. I had no idea what to do. I guess I needed to think more. I met with the specialist, and decided on which set to get. The larger sized, extra “boys in the back” 20 volume set.


An overpowering and overwhelming experience to be sure. I couldn’t help but tell everyone I talked to for the rest of the day. I did it, I bought myself a shas. I own it.

When I first began rabbinical school 3 years ago, I was terrified of the Talmud, scared of the Mishnah, overwhelmed by the Aramaic, Hebrew, logic, structures. And now, not only can I figure it out, I have the tools, skills and confidence to wrestle with any text. And so, I feel ready to own the Shas, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally. Now, I have grown, now I have learned. Now, I am getting there.

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