I giddily pranced into Tiferet in the fall of 2015, my year after finishing public high school, eager to finally be able to devote endless hours to learning and delving into the intricacies of Tanach and Talmud, as I had been waiting for for many years. I begged my parents to allow them to let me go to seminary, and I finally felt triumphant that I had succeeded. Here I was, in the Holy Land, able to discover my true Jewish identity and passionate love for Israel.
Around 2 months in, I realized I did not like Tiferet–at all. I was so thirsty for textual Torah and Talmudic knowledge that I scheduled several chavrutas during every lunch break, and remained in the Beit Midrash for several hours into the night, devouring the texts and books presented to me. Yet it was never enough. I always yearned for more, and I felt hopeless, like nobody could fill in the gaping hole of Torah knowledge and study I felt within me. I started seriously looking at other seminaries and making phone calls to move to a different one.
That’s where Dr. Avigail Rock turned my year around. I had learned about her Megillat Esther shiur from the Rosh Yeshiva, and was slightly intimidated by the high caliber he told me the shiur was at. It was the highest level of learning Tiferet had, he said, and I agreed, with nervous excitement, to come to the first class.
When Dr. Rock walked in the room, with her all-blue outfit, complete with dangling earrings of the same color and excited yet stern expression it felt as though the Beit Midrash shook. This was a person of great importance and we were to treat her as such, and give her the utmost respect. You just couldn’t not.
This class only had around 5-10 students, on a good day. It was not for the daydreamer or occasionally dozer. Dr. Rock meant business and made sure her students understood that. Immediately, the first class, she had us open our Megillat Esther’s and took no time to waste. She set up the intellectual complexity of the story and the tyrannic governmental structure of Ancient Persia in a few minutes flat, then immediately began to read and have us read straight in the text. This was a woman who learned deeply by the text–and after the first class, I was in awe. There was no way I could leave Tiferet now, not when I have a Gadol like Dr. Rock in my midst.
Twice a week, I left her shiur mindblown and in awe of the secrets of Megillat Esther she had bestowed upon me. I made it a point to ask her some question at the end of every shiur, following her as she stepped out of the Beit Midrash and onto what once was Tiferet’s front courtyard, and she always had a quick yet brilliant answer and then I had that mindblowing experience 10 times over again. She would shout phrases like “imagine the fear of death Esther must of had coming up to the king unannounced!” or “and what a lesson we learn from this!!” or “this was a corrupt government which ran with much rumor and secrecy behind it!” and other modern applications to understand more the intricacies of Megillat Esther.
I have never looked at Megillat Esther the same way ever since. Every time Purim comes around, I think of Dr. Rock. I always think to reach out to her yet don’t act on it, and now I wish I did. I can still hear her serious voice in my head, giving a shiur with a slight shout to convey intensity, followed by a proud smile upon finishing her though to connect to her students. She is an unforgettable woman.
With the months of learning that ensued in Tiferet, I began to connect with Dr. Rock more and stayed at her home in Bet Shemesh for a shabbat. She went out of her way to accommodate my 2 friends and I by moving her kids to sleeping in the downstairs living room, and allowing us to sleep upstairs in the bunk beds the kids usually slept in. When asked what gift we could bring to her home for shabbat, she replied, “a Dvar Torah, from each one of you!” Nothing says Dr. Rock more than that!
We sang many zmirot that Friday night, and I remember her young son and I singing with such enjoyment that it truly felt like an oneg shabbat to me. I remember waking up early for shul that Shabbat morning, something I never do, just so I could have the opportunity to sit by Dr. Rock in shul and be in her presence and daven next to her. She was quite an inspiring woman, and I was so eager to learn everything I could about her brilliance in all its facets. At the end of each shiur, a few girls and I were always hungry for more, and Dr. Rock generously agreed to have a Thursday night mishmar at her home, where we would read more text, like Shir HaShirim and Kohelet. Every Thursday at Tiferet following that conversation I remember waking up in exuberance, excited for that evening’s profound dose of Dr. Rock’s Tanach shiur.
I was so drawn to her and her family’s intellectually-driven Torah-loving way of life that when her daughter, Nechama, went to summer camp in California, and she asked me if I could host her at my home in Los Angeles, I was so excited to get to connect with not only her, but her family as well.
I will miss Dr. Rock sincerely. She was a pillar of Torah Knowledge, a wellspring of profound wisdom, generosity, wit, and Chesed, and I am devastated to hear of such a tragic loss. I will never forget the inspiration and hope she gave me when I needed it most, and I wouldn’t be so in love with the text of the Tanach if it weren’t for her. I wish I could tell her one last time what a giant impact she had on my Jewish identity, and I can never thank her enough for that.
Thank you, Dr. Rock for inspiring me so deeply and may your husband and wonderful children be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
ברוך דיין האמת
With great love and respect,