Vayikra: 25: 8-13
Based on a true story. Circa 1987
“Lenny, the chassan’s here!”
“Mom, what are you talking about?”
Lenny Steiner came down the stairs of his childhood home in Teaneck in his pajamas, and sure enough, there stood Yehuda Samson, five hours before his wedding.
“Yudi, what on earth are you doing here? Haven’t you got important things to do? How did your mom let you out of the house?”
“Hey Lenster. I need to return something to you,” Yehuda said, with his hands behind his back.
They had been friends since the early days of Teaneck, back when it was difficult to make a minyan at Bnai Yeshurun on a Shabbat morning—hard to believe. Now there are restaurants galore, but back then Teaneck was a backwater. No kosher restaurants, no mikveh, no Jewish bookstore, one Orthodox synagogue. Lenny’s father used to point out that back in the early days, if their family wanted to go out to get something to eat, they would drive across the G.W. Bridge to the Y.U. cafeteria. Good times.
Yehuda and Lenny played together most Shabbat afternoons. Truth be told, there really were few other kids their age. Yehuda crossed the Hudson to Washington Heights to attend Yeshiva Samson Raphael Hirsch (Breuers) and Lenny went to Yavneh Academy in Paterson, but on Shabbat, they were often together. Trouble, Monopoly, chess, Risk, Stratego. Their afternoons were spent pitted in mock mortal combat.
Yehuda’s parents were born in Czeckoslovakia. Lenny’s in Germany. Most of the kids in Teaneck in the early days were first generation Americans. And everyone’s parents were from somewhere else. No one found that unusual at all.
Now they were all grown up. Yehuda was completing semicha at Y.U. and Lenny was home after his first year in medical school. Yudi was the first in their group of friends to get married. And to Leah Forman, no less! She had been Lenny’s classmate and close friend at Frisch. Strange times.
They had not spoken in a few months, their paths in life having taken different directions, but the close bond between them would always be there.
Now the chassan stood before him with a sheepish look on his face and concealing something behind his back.
“What could you possibly need to return that is so important that you had to come over here on your wedding day? Shouldn’t the makeup lady be at your house by now?”
“Very funny. You know what it is that I’m returning, Steiner. You’ve been asking me about it for years.”
Lenny stared at his childhood friend for a few seconds, wondering what it could possibly be, and then the lightbulb popped on.
“You can’t be serious.”
“But I am.”
“After all these years?”
“You know it, Lenny.”
Yehuda pulled from behind his back an old, worn book. Lenny couldn’t believe his eyes. It was Lenny’s copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. It may have been published in 1964, but this particular volume had last been seen by Lenny in 1972.
“You still had it, after all these years. Impossible.”
“You nudged me all through grade school and high school to return it. You must have thought I still had it.”
“Yes, but still. I think you borrowed it in second grade.”
“Third. Don’t make it worse than it is already.”
“So then how many years ago is that?”
“Well, if it was third grade, then it’s…fifteen years.”
“I know, right?”
“So then what on earth makes you come and return it today, on the day of your wedding?”
“Well, first of all, my mother made me clean out my room before I left home, so there was no way I could avoid finding the book anymore.”
“I hear that.”
“Second of all, Leah and I are making aliyah in the fall, and as much as I love the book I really didn’t want to drag it with me to Efrat.”
“You might have kids someday. It could come in handy.”
“I’ll manage. And besides, there is a third reason. It has to do with this week’s parsha.”
“You’re such a rabbi.”
“O.K., let’s have it, Rabbi Samson.”
”Parshat Behar deals with yovel, the jubilee year. It tells us how all items go back to their original owners when you have counted seven cycles of seven years, and that fiftieth year of freedom comes along. It has that beautiful pasuk that’s on the Liberty Bell. Ukratem dror ba-aretz lechol yoshveha, you shall declare liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”
“Nice pasuk, bro.”
“Thanks. I didn’t write it. I’m just quoting it.”
“I hear you.”
“Anyway, Hashem is essentially telling us that everything in the world is actually His, and that ultimately everything should be returned to the people that He gave it to originally, because He says so. Ki li kol haaretz, because all of the land is Mine. It is a message of humility for man, to tell him that material possessions are not the be all and end all. People think they run the world, when actually our grip on things is tenuous at best. You know, ‘man plans and G-d laughs.’”
“And that’s why I’m getting my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory back so many years later?”
“That is correct. It may not be fifty years, but it’s close enough. And besides, I had to return the book while I had the chance. After my wedding today, and with me moving to Israel, who knows when our paths will cross again? I may not see you again until you get married, and judging from your dating history, that really could be fifty years.”
“See you at the wedding later?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”