Practical End of Academic Life as a Professional Linguist-Shminguist

The first year of my two-year sabbatical is coming to an end soon at the end of this month. Since its second year is, to be more precise, special leave (with basic salary but no research budget) rather than sabbatical (with full salary and research budget), and I'll be exempt from not only teaching but also research, my academic life as a professional linguist-shminguist is also coming to an end to all intents and purposes.

By sheer chance I finally got certified as a professional life coach this week by both the school where I studied Jewish life coaching for one year on Sunday evenings from last July to this June and one American association of professional coaches, and I had my last academic writing published last week - a chapter on Modern Hebrew (PDF download) I had been invited to contribute to the Cambridge World History of Lexicography. I'm glad that my last academic publication is in the area of lexicography, which is what has mainly occupied me professionally in the past several years.

So together with the fact that we are approaching the Jewish New Year, this seems to be the perfect time to reflect upon my academic life, especially its last period, that ultimately started when I decided to become a Hebrew linguist at the age of 19 and whose days are practically numbered.

When I started learning Hebrew by myself at the age of 19 back in Japan, I didn't even dream of becoming a tenured lecturer in Hebrew linguistics at an Israeli university. And when I finally received this coveted position and then even tenure, I dreamed even less of leaving academia of my own free will. But not only the internal "noise" inside myself but also various external signs became louder and louder, until I couldn't silence and ignore them any more. After all, the most difficult person to cheat is ourselves.

But on the other hand, the fear of uncertaity outside academia was overwhelming. If it had not been for one "dark night of the soul", I might not have been courageous enough to decide to leave this "comfort zone" of mine. This decisive life experience was my divorce, which came as a total shock when it was initiated by the other party involved. But in retrospect it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise not because I wanted to get divorced after such a short period of married life I had dreamed of but because it has cracked open the shells of my ego.

This has lead me to new discoveries and understandings about myself, which have been intensified through the formal study of Chabad Hasidism on this sabbatical. I've come to find less and less significance in academic life, which is after all nothing but the rat race, and linguistics, which studies language and languages, which in turn have come to seem less and less appealing to me as they belong to a more shallow layer of our human psyche and are both limited and limiting tools. I've also realized that there is a vast hidden world that far transcends our mind which is mainly served by language.

Though I started studying Chabad Hasidism to complement my new practice of Jewish life coaching, it has come to fascinate me in itself. Its teachings are far deeper than I imagined out of my utter ignorance. The following passage by one of my teachers and his teacher can also epitomize my decision to get "divorced" from academia:

"The mistake of the modern academic approach to the Torah is that it places its trust in human reason (i.e., deductive reasoning based upon axioms created by humans) above its trust in the Divine origin of the Torah, the infinite wisdom of the Creator which supersedes the logic of finite human reasoning. This mistake is what turns the Torah into just another field of human study, on par with all other fields of inquiry. The end-result is that mistaken generalizations (fostered by an egotistic certainty in one's logical abilities), which contradict the Torah, come to taint one's outlook on the Torah and one's ability to experience it as the source of life: the Tree of Life."