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Jewish learning Teen Beit Midrash:
Looking at Loneliness

By Itamar Leibowitz
branch covered in ice and snow

itmar-leibowitzTeen Beit Midrash of Hebrew College — a pluralistic and inclusive afterschool program for teens in grades 8-12 — brings together a dedicated and diverse group of Jewish teens who are excited to delve into traditional Talmudic text and find contemporary meaning relevant to our lives. At the end of every academic year,  the teens review all the texts that they learned and are given a wide berth to respond to their favorite one.

Here, student Itamar Leibowitz responds to his chosen text with his original poem. The text, a mishnah, talks about the sanctity of life and sparked a discussion with his cohort about the death penalty, being made in God’s image, and what that might mean.

1.לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי
But why? ?לפי מה
The creation of Adam has set forth the reality,
that all human beings are lonely,
‘Tis the burden that all are tasked with carrying on their frail shoulders.
No matter how much one tries,
To rid themselves of loneliness,
That the echoes of their isolation roar even louder.
One can never fully resolve their solitude,
For the only person that they can ever fully empathize with, and understand,
Is their own self.
Perhaps the unrelievable ache of loneliness,
Is a reminder that we must all repeat Abraham and recognize that
2“וְאָנֹכִ֖י עָפָ֥ר וָאֵֽפֶר”
That the life I have lived and its meaning,
Is equivalent to the worth of dust, for I will never be whole.
The false sense of community that we have created is nothing,
But a temporary distraction from the insecurity of loneliness…

Or perhaps our solitude is bliss and we ought to profess
3“בשבילי נברא העולם”
For in our loneliness there is a freedom.
As we are taught from דיני נפשות,
4“.וכל המקים נפש אחת מישראל, מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו קים עולם מלא”
That a lone soul will sprout into a lineage spanning wide as a whole world.
That Adam was created in isolation to remind us,
That loneliness is temporary and generation overcomes it.

What if its both?
What if our loneliness is an eternal affliction, but one that is necessary and even blissful?
What if “Loneliness, the sensed lack of human connection, touches on our essence as social animals…
Our sociability is our humanity and this is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past”
As humans we are far from complete on our own.
We are riddled with anxieties, insecurities and imperfections.
We need each other to fill the gaps which we are comprised of.
That’s why we dread loneliness.
Its unfair nature leads us, again and again and again, to crave human connection.
Just as thirst leads us back to water, or as exhaustion leads us to rest.
Loneliness is the ever so needed agony that brings us together.

1 Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 “and that is why the Human was created alone/singularly”
2 Bereshit 18:27 “I am but dust and ashes”
3 Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 “therefore the world was created for me”
4 Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 “anyone who saves a life, the Torah considers that person to have saved an entire world.”

 Itmar is a senior at Brookline High School in Brookline, MA.

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