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Vayikra: 14: 33-42
Once in the town of Alpine there lived a man who did not love his general contractor. Now, I know what you’re thinking. He didn’t love his contractor? How is that possible? Everyone loves his contractor! But truth be told, not every house owner/contractor relationship was made in heaven, and clearly this one was not.
The home dwellers, whose names were Emma and Benny Steinglass, had wanted to redo their house for a long time but kept putting it off. The Steinglasses had four children, and for years they had been fine with sharing bedrooms. But at the age of eight their daughter Toby started sneezing and claimed she was allergic to her younger sister Chana. Emma assured Benny that it was just a phase, but Benny had taken Toby’s allergy as a sign that the time had come to add on rooms to the house, or at the very least to finish the basement.
Friends gave them many suggestions for contractors to hire. The Schwartzes recommended their guy, but although he seemed quite competent, and casa Schwartz was beautiful, his price came in way too high. The Birnbaums highly touted their contractor, but he came across as arrogant and unwilling to compromise with his clients. When Benny and Emma were almost ready to give up, they called upon Frank Dennis from WYSIWYG Construction (What You See Is What You Get). Their neighbors the Cantors absolutely loved Frank and were confident that the Steinglasses would as well.
Frank Dennis came across as very warm and caring. He had a big bushy moustache, and when he smiled his eyes sparkled in a way that instilled confidence in the couple. He seemed genuinely interested in what Emma and Benny had to say, and he was very nice to their children. He even suggested changes to their original blueprints that might make the project work better and save them money. The Steinglasses were duly impressed. And when Frank’s quote came in significantly lower than anyone else’s, they were sold. Friends warned them that any quote that seemed too good to be true probably was, but Frank gave them a good feeling, so they went with him. Besides, the Cantors would never steer them wrong. They signed the contract to redo the basement in November, and work was scheduled to start in January.
The work started out auspiciously. Frank’s team broke through the walls in early November and digging equipment was brought in to excavate for new foundation. The Steinglass’ six-year-old son Motti was thrilled to watch the backhoe loader burrow through their backyard and create a hole for the new bedroom. Even having a port-o-potty in the front yard brought Motti joy. As November turned to December, everything was going smoothly.
It was in January that the floods began. Water came leaking into the basement through the new foundation every time it rained or snowed, and the entire floor was inundated with a brown, ooze-like sludge. Frank reassured Benny and Emma that everything could be fixed, but nothing seemed to work. The men from Wysiwyg Construction filled gaps in the foundation with hydraulic cement, but the leak continued. They waterproofed the outside of the new foundation, but there was no change. They even treated the interior walls of the basement with Xypex, a professional-grade sealant, but to no avail. The basement remained flooded. Soon a greenish-red mold began to develop on the walls, and the basement took on a smell more suggestive of a swamp than a suburban New Jersey home.
The Steinglasses tried to keep cool. They understood that construction projects can have complications, and at first they did not blame Frank. But as the weeks wore on and the water in their basement did not abate, they began to grow testy. Benny began to tell his friends about their problems, and he pointed the finger of blame directly at Frank. Emma tried to counsel her husband to be patient, but Benny had no patience left. Soon he posted his feelings on Facebook and Twitter, and everyone in Alpine was abuzz about the Steinglass’ swamp and that Frank Dennis was to blame for their woes.
Frank and Benny could barely say a civil word to each other. The tension between them was palpable. Finally, in late February, Frank sat down with Benny and Emma to discuss the situation. Something had to be done, and soon, to make things right, or the whole situation could end up in a courtroom.
Emma poured Frank a cup of coffee.
“Thanks for meeting with me today,” Frank said. “So how would you say things are going?”
“How would I say things are going?” Benny said with incredulity. “Really?”
Emma held her hand up in front of her husband to stop him from saying something he would later regret. “I guess we’re feeling that things aren’t going so well, Frank. Our basement has been filled with water for over a month, and the walls are starting to get moldy. It looks pretty bad to us.”
“I can understand that,” Frank said. “But everything that has gone wrong can be fixed. I guarantee it.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Benny said, having regained his composure.
“I would say that the water on the floor is not the big problem, though,” Frank said. “What worries me is the mold on the wall, or at least what you’re calling mold.”
“It’s not mold?” Benny asked. “What else could it possibly be?”
“To be quite honest I think that it looks a little hinky. I don’t like the color of it. I think it’s some version of tzaraat-affliction on your house.”
“You know, a supernatural affliction on the walls of your house.”
This time Emma spoke with sarcasm. “Seriously? The floors are covered in water, something starts to grow on the wall, and you think it’s supernatural tzaraat? Are you a contractor or an exorcist?”
“Hey, I call them the way I see them.”
“So then why do we have tzaraat on the walls of our house?”
“Well, the gemara in Erchin lists seven reasons why one can get tzaraat, but the most famous one is lashon hara, speaking badly of others.”
“So then we’ve been speaking lashon hara?”
“I’m afraid so. To be blunt, you’ve been speaking lashon hara about me.”
“And what are you basing this on?”
“On your Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. Oh, and what your neighbors have told me.”
Emma looked down at her hands. “I suppose that it’s true that Benny and I have not been kind to you in our posts and personal correspondences, but can you blame us? This house is a wreck.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t give you the right to slander me in the neighborhood and on the Internet.”
Benny and Emma exchanged a guilty glance.
“You have a point there. So what would you recommend we do about our leaky basement and our spiritually corrupt house?”
Frank smiled. “Well, in the time of the Beit Hamikdash we would have called the Cohen Gadol right about now, but in today’s world I think we will need to be a bit more creative.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Some might say that the opposite of lashon hara is not saying anything bad, but I believe that the opposite of lashon hara is lashon hatov, good speech. You both need to say good things about me to your friends to counteract the previous bad speech.”
“I see,” Benny said. “I guess we can do that.”
“But I need it to be true and verifiable lashon hatov.”
“How do we do that?” Emma asked.
“I will know that you have fulfilled your lashon hatov obligation when I get three referrals for jobs from people you know who mention you by name.”
“If it’s the only way, then we’ll do it,” Benny said. And Frank and Benny shook hands.
And so, like the Cantors before them, the Steinglasses spread the word amongst their friends how wonderful Frank was and how great a job he was doing on their house. It was how the Jewish general contractor system worked in Alpine. And so the Hershkowitzes hired Frank to redo their master bathroom. The Berkowitzes called him to add a deck onto their dining room. And the Dwecks hired him to add an entire floor onto their house. All these families knew that the Steinglasses loved WYSIWYG Construction, and that they would never steer their friends wrong.
Frank installed French drains in the Steinglasses basement which prevented any water from penetrating the new foundation. He scraped off the spiritual contamination and repainted the walls. And all were dry and content in the houses of Alpine.
Director: Come in, come in.
Actor 1: Thank you so much for taking the time to see us.
Actor 2: We’re really sorry to bother you. Really, really sorry. You have no idea how sorry.
Director: I only have a minute. I’m late for a meeting with the set designer.
Actor 2: This should be quick.
Actor 1: We’ll see.
Director: What is this about?
Actor 1: First of all, I really appreciate the part you gave me in the play.
Director: That’s very kind of you to say, but it’s not really much of a part.
Actor 1: On the contrary. I think it’s the boost my acting career has needed.
Director: Um, OK.
Actor 1: But I have a few questions about my role. I need to understand my motivation.
Actor 2: Yes, he’s having some issues with being a kruv.
Actor 1: Yes. I just don’t understand how a kruv should act. Is he an angel? What is he thinking?
Director: How do you mean? In this scene, Adam and Eve are being cast out of Gan Eden. G-d says that the kruvim will guard the entrance to paradise so that they may no longer enter. I would say you should be acting like a policeman, like you mean business.
Actor2: That makes sense to me.
Actor 1: I don’t know…
Director: Why, what were you thinking?
Actor 1: Well, when you think of a kruv, you of someone cherub-like. You know, like a small child. Innocent. Tradition suggests that the kruvim had the faces of a young boy and a young girl. Perhaps that is what I should be projecting.
Director: I suppose that is a reasonable interpretation, even though in Bereishit they’re described as carrying flaming swords to guard the Tree of Life. Still, if you want to go with innocence, that’s fine with me.
Actor 2: That sounds great. Thanks for your time.
Actor 1: And yet…
Director: What? What is it?
Actor 1: In parshat Teruma it is written that G-d states: veno-adti lecha sham vedibarti it-cha meyal hakaporet mibein shnei hakruvim asher al aron ha-edut eit kol asher atsaveh ot-cha el Bnai Yisroel. It is there I will set My meetings with you, and I shall speak with you from atop the cover from between the two kruvim that are atop the Ark of the testimonial tablets, everything that I shall command you to the children of Israel. So G-d communicated with the Jewish people from between the golden kruvim that were on top of the covering of the Aron. Maybe I should go with solemn.
Actor 2: Solemn sounds good.
Actor 1: And yet…
Director: Really? I need to get to my meeting.
Actor 1: Were the kruvim friendly or were they aloof?
Director: How do you mean?
Actor 1: Well, in the time of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the kruvim faced eachother, like they were harmonious, and in the time of King Solomon’s Beit Hamikdash they faced away from each other, like they were not getting along.
Director: That’s true. I heard that they faced each other when Hashem was happy with the Jewish people and looked apart when G-d was displeased.
Actor 2: Interesting!
Actor 1: And yet in the book of Yechezkel the kruvim are with G-d when Yechezkel has a vision of G-d’s throne. And there they are kind of fierce and powerful. So it’s more like in Bereishit again. I just can’t get a handle on this role.
Director: I have an idea.
Actor 1: What? What? Tell me.
Director: I think you’re right. I think that the kruvim played different roles in different times in the Torah. Sometimes they projected innocence. Sometimes they were fierce and stood for G-d’s judgement of man. Sometimes they were solemn and stood by Hashem as he spoke to the Israelites. Sometimes they were friendly and sometimes aloof.
Actor 1: And so?
Director: So I think you should play them as mysterious. You should both wear a blank white mask with your wings so that the audience can’t read your emotions. You will play the kruvim as enigmatic. It will work wonderfully.
Actor 2: That sounds great. I think that really works. I guess that’s why you’re the director.
Director: Thank you.
Actor 1: But then no one will be able to see me emote! All those acting classes!
Director: Marvin, you’re my first cousin, and you’re going to be on the stage for less than one minute. Get over yourself.
Actor 1: But still. This was going to be my big break.
Actor 2: It’s community theatre at the Jewish Center. I really don’t think Spielberg is going to be in the audience in Tenafly this week.
Director: But still, I like that you thought over this role so carefully.
Actor 1: So do you think there’s a future for me in the theatre?
Director: Let’s just say you’re an excellent accountant.
Actor 2: Exit stage left
Fade to black
It all started during the weekly Torah reading.
The first mention of the Choshen Mishpat, the breastplate that the kohen gadol, the High Priest, wears with his priestly garments, may have been during parshat Tetzaveh, but the idea for the art project only came to Naomi Bareket a week later, when the Torah reading was Vayakhel-Pikudei, the double parsha where the Israelites actually assembled the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Often she would drift off during the laining, but during the building of the Mishkan she always paid special attention. As an artist, she loved the story of Bezalel building the Tabernacle. In Vayakhel she noticed that the nesi-im, the tribal leaders, donated the precious stones for the Choshen. But in Pikudei she read about the stones that were involved.
There were four rows of three gems, one for each tribe of Israel.
Odem, pitdah, and bareket
Nofech, sapir, and yahalom
Leshem, shevo, and achlamah
Tarshish, shoham, and yashveh
To Naomi, they sounded exotic and filled with mystery, like something out of the Arabian Nights. No one was truly certain what gems they were, though the color of each was thought to be known. They were so valuable that they were donated by the tribal leaders, presumably some of the wealthiest members of the nation.
And the Choshen was laden with significance. Hashem would communicate with the Kohen Gadol through its stones, to answer questions of national import. The stones would light up to deliver G-d’s message.
That really captured Naomi’s imagination.
At present Naomi was working as the art teacher at the local Jewish day school, but she had an extensive background in graphic arts, with an M.F.A. from the School of Fine Arts in New York. She was always working on some new artwork. Some were by commission, and some were for fun. At present she was between projects, but that was always temporary.
It was during the Haftora that the idea came to her. She was listening to the story of King Solomon completing the work on the Beit Hamikdash.
“Then Shlomo gathered together the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral families of the children of Israel to King Solomon in Jerusalem to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem from the City of David, which is in Zion.” [Malachim I, 8:1]
It was then that she realized she was going to build a Choshen Mishpat for her community. It would be beautiful; it would be glorious; and just as in the time of the Mishkan, it would be unifying. Of course it was only a model of the original Choshen, but still it could serve the purpose of bringing everyone together.
She needed twelve gems, of course. And each would have to be from one of the Jewish tribes of her town. There were no longer the twelve original tribes, but there were Jewish tribes, nonetheless.
The most likely ally in her effort would be Rabbi Neiblach, the local Lubavitch rabbi. After all, what she was seeking was harmony, and no one was as respected in all circles as he was.
Rabbi Neiblach’s smile said it all. “I love it!” he exclaimed with his usual exuberance. “What a glorious idea. What a Kiddush Hashem. Naomi, you are a genius.”
The rabbi sent out the email to all the community’s leaders:
Wanted: Precious gems to build a model of the Choshen Mishpat.
Who: Naomi Bareket, local artist and visionary, and of course all of you.
What: A community-wide art project that, once completed, will rotate on display between each of our institutions. It will bring us all together for a project.
How: Scour your synagogue/temple/Jewish center/institution for any precious stones among your community members. Got any old jewelry sitting around? Now is the time to use it.
Why: Nu, why not? The original Choshen Mishpat brought all of Israel together with twelve stones on one breast plate. The amalgamation of all twelve tribes on one Choshen led to great miracles. Who is to say what it can do for us? And to be less dramatic, Naomi is very talented, and together we can create something beautiful.
When: If not now…
Please note: Unlike the original Choshen, your gems will only be on loan. Once the project is done, you will get them back. With interest (what’s the interest? A big Kiddush Hashem).
Rabbi Neiblach sent the email to the Jewish Sentinel, the local Jewish newspaper, as well as all the community leaders, and the idea pleased Harvey Charlop, the editor. He ran the appeal on the editorial page.
The first stone came from Rabbi Neiblach himself. It was the Rebbetzin Neiblach’s engagement ring diamond. Mrs. Neiblach, of blessed memory, had been gone over ten years, and the ring had been sitting in the safety deposit box at Citizens National Bank. He had no daughters, only seven sons, and none had wanted his mother’s rock when they got married. The diamond wasn’t big, but it was fine quality, and it would definitely suffice for the tarshish stone for the Choshen.
Harvey Charlop ran the article on the front page of the Sentinel: Community Choshen Off and Running. Rabbi Neiblach Donates Asher Stone.
Never underestimate the power of the press.
The next donation came from the Conservative synagogue. Mrs. Rosenstern donated a ruby that had belonged to her great aunt from Belarus. It had been the headstone of the tiara she wore at her coming out party in 1938. In the old country the Rosensterns had been very successful (in the new country, too). A big beautiful ruby would serve very well for the odem.
The Sentinel headline read: Rosenstern Donates Reuven. Generosity Knows No Bounds.
From the Reform temple a donation came from Hymie Schwartz. He had worked on Forty-Seventh Street in the Diamond District his whole adult life, and only G-d knew what he had stored in the wall safe in his house. The emerald he dropped off at Naomi’s house made her gasp.All Hymie said was, “It’s flawless. Enjoy it in good health, darling.” The emerald would make a spectacular pitdah.
The Sentinel went with: Schwartz Gives Shimon. Hymie Has a Heart.
By now the publicity had been building, and everyone in town was all abuzz about the project. The donors were being called the Choshen People, and everyone wanted to get onboard.
The Jacobson family were members of the Orthodox synagogue on South Maple Street. They were originally from Poland, but during World War Two they had fled to Shanghai, China. One of their souvenirs from their time there was a large black pearl. At the time they were relatively cheap, but now this particular sample was worth a small fortune. Tammy Jacobson donated it in memory of her grandmother Ida. It would make a wonderful shoham.
The headline read: Miracle on Maple Street. Jacobson Jumps for Joseph.
There was no great story behind the sapphire that Daniel Ruchami donated. He was a member of the Sephardic synagogue near the police station. It was not a family heirloom. It had not been smuggled from another country. He was a dot com mogul from the Nineties (something about an app that can find you the best drycleaner) and that was all anyone needed to know. Still, it was a beautiful stone. It would serve wonderfully as the leshem.
Daniel Donates for Dan. Tycoon Gives Google-Sized Gem, the Sentinel read.
At this point the donations were pouring in fast and furious. Mark Haimowitz from the Egalitarian minyan donated an amethyst for nofech (Judah). Rebeka Ben David from the Reconstructionist synagogue dropped off an opal as a yahalom (Zevulun). A Lapis Lazuli was donated by the Schreiber family from the shtiebel near the bus station for sapir (Yisachar). An onyx stone was donated by a completely unaffiliated woman who had read the story in the Sentinel and felt inspired. It would make an excellent shevo (Naftali).
Within weeks all of the stones were in. Naomi was completely overwhelmed by the donations. She imagined this must have been was it was like at the time of the Mishkan. Everyone was swept up in the excitement of the construction, and everyone wanted to give more. In the desert the original donations may have come in for the pure service of G-d. Here it was more a sense of Jewish community and general creativity that was driving the effort. Still it greatly inspired her and it drove her approach to the art work.
The Choshen was unveiled three months later at the Lubavitch synagogue on Main Street. Though the model was more modern than most had expected, it was unveiled to rave reviews, and was a great sort of pride for all the Jews in the town. Though no obvious communication from G-d came from the stones on the breastplate, the larger message of Jewish solidarity required no interpretation for the onlookers.
It was crystal clear.
Choshen Stone Chart*
Tribe Stone Color
Reuven Odem Red
Shimon Pitdah Green
Levi Bareket Black, white, red
Yehuda Nofech Sky Blue
Yisachar Sapir Midnight Blue
Zevulun Yahalom White
Dan Leshem Midnight Blue
Naftali Shevo Black, white
Gad Achlama Blush
Asher Tarshish Diamond
Yosef Sholam Black
Binyamin Yashfeh Many Colors
*The Mishkan, Its Structures and Sacred Vessels, Rabbi Avrohom Biderman, Mesorah Publications, 2011, pg 263
People say I’m paranoid, but I’m not. I’m just perceptive. I notice things that other people miss. Then I combine what I notice with other things that I’ve noticed, and the next thing you know I have a theory. Call it a conspiracy theory if it makes you happy. I just think I’m more observant than most. And just because people think I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
When I came to school today, I didn’t suspect anything was amiss. It was just a regular day. But in Chumash class, things started to get a little hinky. I noticed it almost right away.
Mrs. Weingarten started talking about parshat hashavuah, this week’s Torah portion, which happens to be Tetzaveh. She gave a dvar torah about how someone’s name was not mentioned in the parsha even once. His brother Aharon was mentioned, many times, but he wasn’t.
I didn’t think much about it at first, but then I noticed that Mrs. Weingarten wasn’t using his name either. She kept saying,”you know who,” when she spoke of him. That started to get me thinking a bit, but I really didn’t become worried until she actually said, and I quote:
“One has to wonder why He Who Was Not Named in This Week’s Parsha wasn’t named in this week’s parsha.”
Well, there you have it!
The next thing I knew, no one else was using his name either. My classmates were saying things like “the reason Mirriam’s brother isn’t mentioned in this week’s parsha is because after the sin of the golden calf. He said: Ve-ata im tisa chatatam, ve-im ayin micheini na misifrecha asher katavta And now if you would please forgive their sin, but if not then erase me now from the book that you have written. So Hashem took his name out of this week’s parsha because he asked to have his name erased from the Torah if Israel wasn’t forgiven. It is a sign of Yocheved’s son’s selflessness.”*
Another girl said, ”the reason the greatest navi of all isn’t in Tetzaveh is because the parsha is all about being a kohen, a priest, and he wanted to give respect to his brother Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, by stepping aside for the whole parsha and letting him be the star. The son of Amram was a very modest man.”**
Perhaps you should be asking yourself a more important question: who else never has his name mentioned? Who else remains anonymous throughout their story? Dare I say it?
Clearly I am referring to “he who must not be named.” Do you get it? The descendant of Salazar Slytherin? The Dark Lord?
Yes, I must write it, no matter what the consequences. I’m speaking of… Voldemort.
I know you must think I’m crazy. Surely there is no connection between the greatest lawgiver of all time, the man who helped free the Israelites from Egypt, the witness to the burning bush, a true tzadik, and the leader of the Death Eaters, the scourge of all muggles, Harry Potter’s nemesis, the epitome of evil? But am I really crazy? Neither is referred to by name. There must be some connection!
Personally, I have yet another theory for the mystery of the missing name in our parsha. I’m not sure, but I think that the real reason the son of Amram isn’t mentioned in Tetzaveh is because of the date when the parsha is usually read. It often falls out on the week of the 7th of Adar, traditionally the date when our greatest navi passed away. It is during this week that we note the loss of our greatest leader, and the absence of his name shows that loss. *** To me, that seems to make sense.
But that doesn’t explain the real mystery.
I still think there is some connection between he who is not mentioned in this parsha and he who must not be named. It just can’t be a coincidence. I just can’t put my finger on it. Maybe the reasoning is different, true good versus true evil, but you have to wonder.
I’m just saying…
*Ba’al Haturim on Shemot 27:20
** Midreshei Hatorah
*** Vilna Gaon as quoted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, Exodus, page 219.
It was a solid turnout for a rainy Thursday night. Almost every seat in the men’s section of the sanctuary was full. Some people had dressed up in their shabbat-finest, like it was a special occasion, while others had come in their everyday garb. But there was no question that it was a special night. You could feel the electricity in the room.
The new Aron Kodesh was covered with a white cloth that could be removed when the appropriate rope was pulled. No one had seen it since it was installed on Tuesday, and clearly people were excited. Until it had been moved to its new resting place at Ohav Tzedek, the newest shul in Livingston, it had been at Adat Chesed, an old synagogue in Union City for sixty years, and before that it had been at Bnei Yeshurun, a synagogue in Chernivtsi, a small shtetl in the Ukraine for hundreds of years. No one was certain exactly how old it was.
The décor of the new sanctuary of Ohav Tzedek was relatively modern. Yet the design committee assured the shul board that the old aron would fit in wonderfully. It was a classic. It would light up the room. The head of the synagogue interior design committee was Arielle Susman-Dansky, and she had such impeccable taste that everyone trusted her judgment. Well, as much as any shul board trusted anyone’s judgment. Still, until now all her decisions had been spot on. The sanctuary was beautiful, from the understated wood pews to the elegant brass lighting fixture above the bimah.
On this rainy February night, there were two centers of attention in the room. One was the Aron itself,hidden behind the cloth in front of the bimah. The other was Rabbi Chezki Susman, who sat in the frontrow between his daughter Arielle and his granddaughter Tal. He had been the rabbi of Adat Chesed before it closed, and he had been born in Chernivtsi before his parents had moved to the Goldene Medina. Rabbi Susman sat beatifically in the front row, staring up at the aron. The rest of his extended family took up the remainder of the row from aisle to aisle. They were a large group.
Tal looked over at her grandfather and eyed him curiously. Behind semi-closed doors, her mother and father had been whispering about how they thought he must be depressed. His old shul was shuttered and the wrecking ball was only days away. All his old congregants had either moved to Florida or gone on to that great synagogue in the sky. Those who departed were all parked in the same cemetery plot in Ridgefield Park, and Rabbi Susman had presided over too many funerals to count. He often joked that he had a reserved seat at the Gutterman Musicant Memorial Chapel in Hackensack, but it wasn’t really too far from the truth.
The ceremony began, and the shul president got up to speak. He tended to be a rather long winded speaker, so everyone settled into their chairs. You could almost hear the collective sigh in the room.
“Zayde,” Tal called to her grandfather in a loud whisper.
Rabbi Susman ignored her.
“Zayde,” she called louder.
“I heard you the first time. I’m trying to listen to the speech.”
“What do you mean why? The man wrote a speech, I think we should at least pretend to listen to it. I’ve spent an entire career at least appearing to listen to people’s speeches, as they have pretending to listen to mine, so why should I stop now?”
Tal loved her grandfather madly.
The shul president went shorter than expected, and Tal’s mother, the interior designer of the sanctuary, was called up to say a few words.
“I just want to know if you’re O.K.,” Tal said to her grandfather.
“Of course I’m O.K. Why shouldn’t I be O.K? Are you O.K.?”
“I’m fine,” Tal said.
“So then everybody’s O.K.”
Arielle Susman-Dansky glared down at her father and daughter in the middle of her speech, and a few people shushed loudly.
“It’s just that I thought this might be a bit hard for you.”
Rabbi Susman smiled. “I’m fine.”
Rabbi Susman leaned over and pinched Tal’s cheek. “Really. Thanks for worrying.”
Rabbi Susman was a big cheek pincher. He pinched hard, too, like he was trying to take a biopsy. Tal hated when he did that.
Tal’s mother finished her speech, evoking her childhood in Union City, her father’s life in the old country, and the history of her family. Then she called up Rabbi Silverstein, the rabbi of Ohav Tzedek to say a few words and to introduce her father. If the shul president had been uncharacteristically brief, Rabbi Silverstein’s reputation for verbosity was sure not to disappoint.
Tal continued. “It’s just that I would understand if all this was a bit hard for you.”
“Talital, everything is great.”
Tal may not have liked the pinching, but she loved the nickname her grandfather used for her. It brought her back to her days as a small child, scampering around the apartment in Union City, with the walls of decaying books on floor to ceiling bookshelves and the ancient velvet furniture. She could still recall the smell of that apartment: Lilac and dust.
A few minutes passed as Rabbi Silverman spoke of tradition and the great town of Livingston.
“It’s just that I would understand if this whole thing made you feel a little blah, Zayde. Moving the aron here is like the end of an era. I mean, how many Jews are there still left in Union City, if you think about it.”
Rabbi Silverman ignored the conversation in the front row and droned on.
“Talital, my wonderful granddaughter, thank you for worrying, but I promise you, I’m as happy as can be.” He reached to pinch her cheek again, but this time she was too quick for him and blocked his hand. Tali looked over at her grandfather skeptically.
At that moment Rabbi Silverman called on Rabbi Susman to say a few words. Rabbi Susman winked at Tali and then slowly climbed the stairs. He stood at the pulpit and looked out at the crowd with a big smile on his face.
“Thank you, Rabbi Silverman for that wonderful introduction. It is so nice to be here and see my old Aron Kodesh find such a wonderful new home.
“In parshat Terumah, when the Israelites were instructed to build the aron, the ark that would carry the luchot, the Ten Commandments, Hashem lays out the construction very specifically. He tells them how to build it, soup to nuts, every detail. The one unusual thing about the aron, as opposed to the other parts of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, is that the poles used to carry the aron are left in the rings that hold them, even when the aron is at rest. Bataba-ot ha-Aron yihiyu habadim, lo yasuru mimenu. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they may not be removed from it. The poles even stick out after the aron is appropriately draped. No other item in the Mishkan receives similar treatment, even though each was designed to be easily transportable.
Now why is that? I believe it’s because the aron, and the tablets within it, represent the Torah in the Mishkan. It is portable and can always move with us, wherever we are. You leave the poles in because the Torah is ready to go on a moment’s notice. If you have Jews, whether in Chernivtsi in the Ukraine, in Union City, or in Livingston, then you will have Torah. It moves with us.
“So when I see my beautiful old Aron Kodesh in a wonderful new sanctuary, it pleases me greatly. I see the Torah traveling to its next place. It’s with us, no matter where we are. And let me tell you, New Jersey sure beats the Ukraine. Take my word for it.”
Rabbi Susman turned toward the aron kodesh and pulled the string. The cloth dropped and everyone gasped and broke out in applause. It truly did look beautiful in its new home, as Rabbi Susman knew it would all along.
Don’t Be Crabby. Vote for Abby
Tamar Kanner had been sitting with her little sister Abby all morning, helping her prepare for the student council elections in her school. She had been helping Abby make campaign posters and preparing her speech. But the more she helped her sister, the more discouraged Abby seemed. By the time Tamar got around to reviewing the speech that Abby needed to give at the election assembly, she was staring down at her high top sneakers with a sullen expression on her face.
“How’s this one”
“Absolutely Abby. Vote for Abby Kanner.
“I guess it’s O.K.”
Kanner Can Do. Vote for Abby.
“O.K., Abigail Rachel Kanner, what gives?”
Abby looked up at her big sister with tears in her eyes. “Well, I’m just not sure I have what it takes to be student council president.”
“Why do you say that? You did a great job as your class representative to the student council last year.”
“That’s really no work at all. You just come to meetings and speak up once and a while. Being student council president is a serious job.”
“I suppose. But I know you can do it. I did it, and I’m not nearly as smart as you are.”
“That’s true. I am much smarter than you.”
“Just kidding. But let’s face it, Tamar, you’re a people person. You’re great at getting people to listen to you, and you’re super organized.”
“Yes, I am rather special.”
“I’m more quiet. I would rather be sitting in the corner with a book than leading other people. I have no idea why I decided to run for president. Unless of course it’s because you made me do it.”
“That is soooooo bogus. You wanted to do it. You came to me to help you.”
“I guess. I’m just not sure I can pull this off. I don’t know if I have what it takes.”
“Abby, you don’t have to be perfect to do this. It’s student council president, not President of the United States.”
“I just don’t think I can do it.”
“You know, this week’s parsha is Noach.”
“Oh no, I feel a classic Tamar pep speech coming on.”
“Just bear with me. At the beginning of parshat Noach, the chumash states, Noach ish tzadik, tamim haya bedorotav. Noah was a righteous man, a tzadik in his generation. Rashi offers two opinions as to what that means. Either Noah was a tzadik in his generation, but in a time when the world was not full of sinners he would have been even greater. Or Noah would only be considered a tzadik in his generation, but if he had been in the generation of Abraham he would have been just eh.”
“Really? Noah was ‘just eh’?”
“Stay with me, here. My point is that some thought Noah was great, and some thought he was nothing special. It really didn’t make a difference. When G-d called upon him and told him to build an ark and save the world, he did what he had to do. He didn’t question his qualifications. He didn’t check what other people thought of him, even Rashi. Noah had confidence in himself and did what G-d asked him to do.”
“So are you saying I should run for president even if I’m ‘just eh’?” Abby asked.
“No, I’m saying you should believe in yourself and have the self confidence to go out there and get the job done. Deep down you know that you can do it, so just do it.”
Abby smiled. “Good pep talk, Tamar. One of your best.”
“O.K., so I’ll go for it. Here, how’s this?” Abby grabbed a poster board and a marker, scribbled a message, and held it up to her sister.
Abs has got the abs. Vote for Abby.
“Maybe you should leave the posters up to me.”
Krechtz: Pronounced KHREHKHTZ to rhyme with “Brechts.” German: krachzen, “to croak,” “to caw.”
As a Verb
1. To grunt, groan, croak, moan, or wheeze in minor pain or discomfort.
2. To fuss or complain—with audible sound effects.
3. To make cranky, gasping ambiguous noises
As a Noun
4. A sound of complaint, discontent, or minor sadness.
From The New Joys of Yiddish, pg 194
It was a nice simcha, don’t you think? The kallah looked so beautiful, and the choson? Such a nice kid! I’ve known him since he was a little boy in knickers. O.K., so he didn’t actually wear knickers. Let’s just say I’ve known him since he was a little pisher, then. Such nachas. They do get married young these days, but then that’s just the way things are. Baruch Hashem, her family can support them. I think her father is a big shot lawyer on Wall Street.
I thought the food at the shmorg was terrific. Yes, the roast beef at the carving station was a little fatty, and the corned beef was a bit overcooked, but what’s not to like? I thought the Hawaiian chicken was just so, though the chef may have gone a little crazy with the pepper. Still, it was such a nice spread.
Let’s just talk about the chuppah for a second. Kinnehora, he’s from a big family, but did they all have to walk down the aisle? I thought I was going to die of old age before the last sibling and his lovely wife strolled down with their kids in tow. Don’t get me wrong; if I had that many beautiful grandchildren, I would want to show them off too, but maybe they should have thought about their guests a little bit.
And the rabbi who spoke. Where is he from, Elizabeth? Such a talmud chacham! But he talks like there’s marbles in his mouth. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, though everyone tells me his speech was beautiful. We should have more like him in klal Yisroel, but maybe he should go for speech therapy before he interviews for a shteller. He should have a nice parnasa.
I never heard that band before. What’s the name? Baroque? Oh, Barock! I get it! Well, they certainly play well, and with such hislahavus, but they were so loud! I think I’m going to get high frequency hearing loss, if I haven’t already. And they were so jazzy. What ever happened to a good old fashioned yeshivishe band? I’m just saying.
But what I really wanted to tell you about was the hotel we stayed in last night. We drove here all the way from Englewood, so we decided to stay in Asbury overnight instead of driving all day. What’s it called? The Breakers Hotel of Asbury Park? Let me tell you, I’ve been to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. No, I’ve never actually stayed there. Who can afford a hotel like that? Just let me talk. I’ve seen the Breakers in Palm Beach, and this was not the Breakers. Not by a long shot.
Now I don’t like to say lashon hara, not about a person or even a business establishment, chos veshalom, so let me tell you about this hotel through a dvar Torah. When Yosef hatzadik, the very righteous Joseph, was seized by his brothers, they debated whether to kill him or not. Reuven didn’t want anything bad to happen to his little brother, so he had them cast him into a bor, a pit. He planned to come back for Joseph later and save his life.
The Torah writes vehabor reik, ein bo mayim. The pit was empty, there was no water in it. Rashi finds the double language a bit curious. If the pit was empty, of course there was no water in it. So Rashi explains, water there wasn’t, but scorpions and snakes there were.
That’s how I feel about my hotel room at the Breakers Asbury Park. The décor was understated, you might even say Spartan. It was pretty much empty. There was no water. In fact, there was no hot water. But what was there? Dust bunnies. Ants. Stained carpeting. An air shaft with a noisy air conditioning unit. Paper thin walls. And a neighbor who sounded like he was taking tap dancing lessons.
But on the bright side, contrary to what Rashi stated, I saw no scorpions or snakes. They would be rather unlikely on the Jersey Shore, wouldn’t you say?
Other than that, Baruch Hashem, my stay was fine.
So, nu, what did you think of the simcha?
Once in the town of Old Tappan there lived a man who loved to blow the shofar. Every year he blew the shofar for his congregation on Rosh Hashana, and every year his technique became more masterful. His tekiya sound was pure and clear. People said it brought to mind the solemnity of the day and the kingship of G-d. His shevarim sounded like wailing and woe, evoking the need to do teshuva, to repent. His teruah sound was sharp and concise, reminding people to wake up and take action, to take control of their lives. And when he blew, joy shone from his face. It was truly inspiring to hear him blow his shofar.
The man performed the other commandments of the Torah as well, but he always felt shofar blowing was his true calling. He would put his shofar in his tallis bag and blow at the end of morning prayers every day of the month of Elul. He would blow the final note of the High Holy Days at the end of Ne-ilah on Yom Kippur. Then would come an eleven month gap where his skills weren’t needed until the next year. He would practice frequently, but it just wasn’t the same as when he was called on to inspire the congregation and fulfill their mitzvah of lishmoah kol shofar, to hear the sound of the shofar.
One day, while the rabbi of his synagogue was giving a sermon, he spoke about biyat hamashiach, the time of the arrival of the messiah. “When the world is ready, we will hear the call of the shofar, and Moshiach ben Dovid will come!” he declared in his usual deep baritone.
Normally, the man didn’t listen to the rabbi’s speeches so carefully, but this truly caught his attention. He went up to the rabbi after davening to clarify what he had said.
“So, Rabbi, when Moshiach comes there will be a blowing of the shofar?”
“Yes, Aaron, that’s what it says in Yeshayahu, Isaiah. A shofar blast will be heard in Jerusalem. And it will usher in the days of Moshiach, and the ingathering of all the exiles.”
The rabbi knew Aaron would like that, since everyone knew shofar blowing was his thing.
“But Rabbi, what if you live in New Jersey, how will we hear the shofar blast six thousand miles from Israel?”
The rabbi scratched his beard and seemed lost in contemplation. “Hmmm, honestly I don’t know, Aaron. Maybe a miracle will happen and we will all be able to hear it. Or if not, maybe we can all pull it up on Youtube. We live in wondrous times.”
“Is it possible that someone will be needed here in New Jersey to blow shofar when Moshiach comes?”
The rabbi smiled patiently. “Yes, I suppose that could be. The text isn’t so specific on that, so I suppose that is possible.”
“Thanks rabbi, that’s just great.”
And so, from that day forward, Aaron decided to carry his shofar with him at all times. He put it in his work bag and carried it with him during the day—he was an analyst at a hedge fund, specializing in energy futures—and at night he kept it at his bedside. It became an obsession for him. At various points in the day, he would reach over, making sure his shofar was within easy reach, in case Fox News released a flash bulletin that the messiah had come.
The problem that arose was Shabbat. Aaron knew that moshiach could come at any time, and he wanted to be ready 24/7. But Shabbat was definitely a problem. Could he carry a shofar on Shabbat in case of a messianic emergency?
The rabbi at the synagogue in Old Tappan was not sure what to make of Aaron’s question. He knew you couldn’t carry the shofar on Shabbat, even on Rosh Hashana, but he felt that wasn’t the answer that Aaron really needed. This was more of a spiritual query, and perhaps required more of a nuanced approach than he was ready to offer. With this is mind, he sent Aaron over to seek counsel with his friend at the shtiebel in HarringtonPark.
The Harrington Park Rav was a legend. He had studied under the River Vale Rebbe, may he rest in peace, a man of great fame and legend, and the Harrington Park Rav himself had many reverential followers. If anyone could speak with Aaron, he was the man for the job.
The Rav led Aaron into his study. They schmoozed. They shared a spot of tea. They spoke about the early days in BergenCounty, back when there were no shopping malls and you could pump your own gasoline—a very long time ago. Then they got down to business.
The Rav listened to Aaron carefully. He smiled sympathetically. He clicked his tongue a few times. Then he spoke.
“First Aaron, let me tell you how much I admire your focus. A lot of my followers could learn a lot from your dedication to biyat hamashiach. Clearly, by carrying your shofar with you every day, you signal your confidence that moshiach will be coming soon.”
“Thank you, Rabbi.”
“But I’m afraid you can’t carry it on Shabbat. There’s just no way.”
Aaron looked crestfallen. “I was afraid of that.”
“Now, now, don’t look so down. It’s going to work out fine.”
The Rav smiled. “You know, Aaron, the Torah portion for the second day of Rosh Hashana is about the akeida. In that story, Avraham Avinu took Yitzchak his son to be sacrificed, as G-d had commanded him. Yitzchak asked his dad: hinei ha-esh ve-ha-etzim, ve-ayay haseh le-olah, Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the offering? Avraham told him: Elokin yireh lo haseh le-olah bni, G-d will provide us with the sheep for the offering, my son. Just before Avraham went to sacrifice Yitzchak, an angel stopped him in the last second. Then they found a ram stuck in the bushes and used it for the sacrifice instead. That’s the original source of the shofar mitzvah. Isn’t that right?”
“So nu, if Avraham came without a ram and found one when he needed one, I’m sure Hashem can provide you with a shofar to blow on Shabbat if the need arises, even if you didn’t bring one with you. No sweat. Know what I mean?”
“I see your point.”
“Now please do me a favor.”
“Pull out that shofar and let’s hear what you can do.”And so Aaron blew shofar for the Harrington Park Rav, who was duly impressed with his technique. And the Rav decided that if moshiach did come some time in the very near future, he definitely should call on Aaron to herald the event in New Jersey. One should always go with the best whenever possible.
The Halpern family were sitting around the dinner table, eating Chinese takeout from Chopstix as they did every Thursday night.
“Did I ever tell you about your father’s and my first date?” Celia asked as she devoured a chicken egg roll doused in duck sauce. (to be read with a heavy Five Towns Long Island accent).
“Ye-“ Dina started before she was interrupted, her own mouth filled with a Szechuan wonton in spicy sauce (the Halperns were still on the appetizers).
“”Why no, Mom, why don’t you tell us?” Charlie interjected, giving his sister a dirty look. The story got better every time his mother told it, and she had told it over a thousand times. He returned to his egg drop soup without even a moment’s look of irony crossing his face.
“Brrgramumph,” Larry Halpern, the patriarch of the family said, his mouth overstuffed with two, maybe three steamed dumplings. He did love his dumplings.
“Well,” Celia said, with a look of glee on her face, “we were still in high school, and Dad had just gotten his drivers license a few weeks before. It was the first night that Grandpa actually let him use his fancy shmancy car, and your father was soooooo excited!” Celia grabbed a feisty hot wing and nibbled at it lightly. “What kind of car was it, Honey?”
“Grsmbl nrgtlt.” Larry said, still deep into his dumplings.”
“A what?” Celia asked.
“I believe it was a 1976 maroon red Oldsmobile Ninety-eight, with a brown vinyl roof,” Charlie said.
His father nodded and gave him a thumbs up.
“Why yes, it was!” Celia exclaimed. “But how did you know that?”
“I’ve seen pictures,” Charlie said, looking down at his soup.
Dina rolled her eyes.
“Anyways,” Celia continued, “We had just seen one of the Superman movies with Christopher Reeves as Superman at the Stanley Warner Theatre. Gosh, I loved those movies. Which one was it, Honey?”
“I believe he said Superman II,” Dina offered.
Larry offered another thumbs up.
“Yes, I believe it was,” Celia agreed. “So we were going to go to the Kosher Inn to get some pizza on the way home, when wouldn’t you know it, we got a flat tire.”
“Awwwww,” Dina and Charlie chimed in. They knew their part only too well.
“Yes, I know. And here we were, two lovers, soon to be together forever, parked on the side of Route 4 with no escape.”
“Oy vey,” Dina muttered under her breath.
“What’s that?” Celia asked.
“I said ‘No way!’”
“Yes way!” Celia said. “Actually, we were probably parked only about 300 feet from the old Frisch School campus, where we were both students at the time, but we were not leaving that car, not for nothing!”
“So what happened?” Dina asked. They had moved on to their main courses, and Dina had dipped into the Kung Pao Delight with great zest.
“Fllrgrblg,” Larry said. He too had moved onto the mains and was deeply invested in General Tso’s Chicken. Very deeply invested. The man could eat.
“That’s right, Honey. We just sat and talked, for a really long time.”
“O.K., so maybe it was only half an hour, but it was a very special half hour. And that was when I fell in love.”
“So then what happened?”
“Well, then your father got out of the car and tried to change the tire.”
“How’d he do?”
“Not so well,” Celia said, picking at her sweet and sour chicken. ”He’s never been famously well coordinated.”
Larry smiled and shrugged.
“Then he got back in the car, and that was when the Paramus policeman pulled up.”
“Really?” Charlie said. “What did he do?”
“Well, first he shined a flood light into the car, to check on us and make sure there was no funny business going on. Know what I mean?"
"Sure," Dina said.
"Then, and this is the funny part, your father started to get out of the car to walk over to the cop, and the policeman got on the PA system of his police car and said—“
“Stay in the car, Larry!” they all said together.
“Oh, so then you all know this story,” Celia said, a bit miffed.
“Yes, we may have heard it once or twice before,” Charlie offered charitably.
“But how did the policeman know Dad’s name?” Dina asked, trying to set her mother back on track. “Did he get it off the computer in his car?”
“No, silly,” Celia said. “It was the 1980’s. There were no computers in police cars. In fact, there were no computers at all.”
“He read it off the back of the yarmulke your mother had knitted me,” Larry said, his mouth finally empty. “The letters were so big you could have read them from Skylab.”
“Yes, that was the 1980’s version of the International Space station.”
“Yes, I know,” Larry agreed. “That’s always been my favorite part of the story.”
“So then what happened with the tire?” Charlie asked.
“Well, this is MY favorite part of the story,” Celia said. “Your father was so overwhelmed with love that he developed superhuman strength and lifted the car to put the spare tire on, just like Yakov Avinu when he met Rachel at the well. Yakov lifted off the stone that usually took many men to move, because he was overcome with his love for her. And that’s what happened to your dad, too.”
“Is that true, Dad?” Dina asked. “You lifted your father’s Oldsmobile Ninety–Eight off the ground and put the spare on? Because of your love for Mom?”
“How much did that sucker weigh?” Charlie asked
“About two tons,”** Larry offered.
“Is that what happened?”
“If your mother says that’s what happened, then that’s what happened.” Larry broke open a fortune cookie and stuck it in his mouth, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room.
Celia got up and tossed her paper plate in the garbage. She walked out of the kitchen for the den and her copy of People magazine.
Larry leaned in close to Charlie, his fortune cookie still between his teeth. “I may have figured out how to use the car jack. Or I may have lifted the car. It was so long ago, who can remember?”
“I understand, Dad.”
“But whatever it was, whether a sudden feat of superhuman strength, or a sudden burst of otherwise unanticipated manual dexterity, you can be sure that it was done out of love for your mother.”
“Because that was the night we fell in love.”
“I get it,” Charlie said, shoving his own fortune cookie in his mouth.
Celia stuck her head in the door. “And believe me, Charlie, either one of those would have been a miracle.”
Larry smiled and put another cookie in his mouth.
**3990 pounds, to be exact
When Avi Morgenstern got engaged, it was a source of great simcha for the entire Morgenstern family. He was the first of the generation of cousins to get married, and everyone wanted to be at the wedding.
That posed a serious problem for the New Milford branch of the Morgenstern clan. Steve and Maggy Morgenstern had four children. All of them were very close with Avi and all of them wanted to be there to sing and dance Avi and his kallah, Abby, down the aisle.
The issue was proximity. The wedding was in Yerushalayim, and that meant six airline tickets from Newark to Tel Aviv. That was a serious piece of pocket change for Maggy, Steve, and their brood.
Normally, Maggy would have dipped into the family’s large cache of frequent flier miles, but the Morgensterns had used them all up in Puerto Rico for Yeshiva Break that past winter. Who knew Avi was going to fall in love so quickly and have such a short engagement? Apparently true love worked fast in the Holy Land.
With no other options, Maggy sat down at her desktop and went to work. She perused Priceline. She combed Kayak. She explored Expedia. Finally, on an odyssey through Orbitz she found what she was looking for.
“Steve, I’ve gone through every possible flight option for Avi’s wedding,” she called out from the kitchen. Maggy always planned the family trips, because if Steve were left in charge they would never leave New Jersey.
“O.K., what have you got?” Steve bellowed from his perch in front of the Giants game.
“You’re not going to like it.”
“I’ve got it narrowed down to three airlines.”
“El Al, United, and British Airways?”
“No, Air Berlin, Turkish Air, and Aeroflot.”
“What country is Aeroflot?”
Steve came out of the den. “How much are we talking?”
Maggy turned the computer so that Steve could see the screen for the flights she had found.
“Well, that’s not too bad. And how much is El Al?”
Maggy typed a few more letters, punched Enter, and turned the screen toward Steve again.
“O.K., that’s bad. So then which airline should we fly?”
“They all have stopovers,” Maggie said. “So it’s a matter of where we want to spend a few hours, Moscow, Ankara, or Dusseldorf.”
Steve smiled. “You know, I’ve always wanted to see Dusseldorf.”
“You and me both, Honey.” Maggy entered all the information that was necessary, and ten minutes later the Morgensterns had six coach seats on Air Berlin for June 21st, from New York City to Tel Aviv, with a stopover in Dusseldorf. It was a done deal.
The day of the big trip arrived, and at one-thirty in the afternoon the Morgensterns set out on their trek. They had four suitcases, two car seats, six carryons, and a cooler stuffed with enough snacks for a small army (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, chocolate chip cookies, bagels, and of course, no liquids). True, they had requested kosher meals on Air Berlin for both legs of the trip, but Maggy wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, there was the stopover in Germany to contend with.
The trip to the airport went smoothly. The Morgensterns whisked through security without incident. The T.S.A. security lines were short, and they boarded without forgetting anything at the gate (it sounds easy enough, but boarding a plane with four children in tow is something you have to do at least once to appreciate).
Sophie started with the window seat, but agreed to relinquish it to Danielle somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael sat in between his parents with Steve’s iPad on his lap, deep into the game Temple Run, and Benny never looked up from his iPod.
The flight went extremely smoothly. Maggy was a little weirded out by the flight announcements in German, but she settled down after a while, and even chuckled when the flight attendant asked her if she wanted “shparkling vasser.”
The in-flight entertainment on the airplane was fantastic, with many movies and television shows to choose from. Other than the food and beverage service and a brief nap by each of the Morgensterns, they were all glued to their screens for most of the flight. Steve caught up on most of the fifth season of Mad Men, and Maggy developed an addiction for Downton Abbey. Before they knew it, they were landing in Dusseldorf.
It was 7:15 am in Germany when they disembarked in the airport. The Morgensterns sat on the orange plastic chairs in the arrivals lounge and stared off with the numb feeling of having missed an entire night’s sleep. They had an hour and a half until they needed to board their connecting flight to Israel. They were tired and washed out. Oddly enough, Michael, the five-year-old, hadn’t slept a wink on the plane, but seemed the most awake. Even Benny didn’t have the energy to turn on his iPod.
Benny turned to his father. “We need to chill.”
“We need to explore,” Sophie said.
Maggy looked at her entire crew. “We need to daven.”
Steve knew his wife was right. Their first priority was to find a quiet place to daven shacharit. But he truly was not looking forward to this. He hated putting on his tefillin in airports. When he was younger he had backpacked across Europe with friends, but they had always gotten up at the break of dawn in the youth hostels they slept in so that they could pray in peace. In college he used to daven mincha in a phone booth if he was on the road (the joke was to dial G-O-D) to have a modicum of privacy. Now here he was in Germany, a country not historically famous for its religious tolerance, and he had to daven for all to see. But he hadn’t missed putting on tefillin every day in many years, and he certainly wasn’t going to miss now. And Benny had been putting on his tefillin for almost two years without fail. There were many lessons to be taught to his family at this moment.
“Your mom’s right,” he said to his four kids. “Let’s move out.”
The Morgensterns picked up their carryons and began to walk. Four gates over they found an empty departure area with no flight pending on the electronic departure/arrival board. Except for the cleaning crew it was pretty much abandoned.
“This will do fine.”
Steve put on his talit and tefillin, Benny put on his tefillin as well, and Maggy, Sophie, and Danielle pulled out siddurim. Michael said the few prayers he knew by heart that he said in school with his teachers. They stood by the window looking out over the flight crew that was working on a recently arrived Lufthansa 737 in the distance. They spent about twenty minutes on their prayers, trying as best they could to ignore the stares of the occasional travelers as they walked by across the lounge.
As Steve and Benny took off their tefillin, Steve looked proudly at his family.
“You know, this whole scene makes me think of a Rashi in parshat Vayishlach.”
Maggy looked over at her husband with a world weary look. She was used to his habit of waxing philosophically at the strangest of moments.
“Really, Steve? Do tell.”
“Well, when Yakov is about to meet Eisav after many years of separation, he sends him a messenger with the message: Im lavan garti va-echar ad ata. I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now. Rashi offers this explanation: Im lavan harasha garti vetaryag mitzvot shamarti. I have lived with the evil Lavan all these years, but I still observed the 613 commandments. It is a play on the word ”garti” that the letters are the same as “taryag,” or 613.”
“Good one, Dad,”
“Gee, thanks, Danielle, but don’t thank me. Thank Rashi.”
“Good one, Rashi, Danielle opined.”
“Uh, sure,” Steve continued. “But I think Yakov’s point to Eisav relates to us here today. We’re far from home, in a foreign place, but despite the hardship and inconvenience, we’re going to keep the mitzvot. Like davening in a small German airport, under the scrutiny of lots of strangers. That’s who we are, and that’s what’s important to us.”
Maggy smiled. “Good one, honey.”
“It was a nice dvar Torah, but now that we’re done davening, I have just one thing on my mind.”
“And what’s that?”
“Nice thought. I know we’re in Dusseldorf, but there must be a Starbucks here somewhere.”**
And the Morgensterns continued their odyssey across the airport.
Michael Geller was sitting in the den, reading the Wall Street Journal when he heard the rustling at the front door. It was not a sound that he liked, for he knew what it meant. It was the rustling of shopping bags, and it meant that his wife had been at the mall. This was not a positive development.
“In the den, Honey.”
The rustling got louder and louder until Dina Geller appeared in the doorway with her two daughters in tow. Sure enough she had bags, more than a few.
“Hey, Sweetie, you’ll never guess what I got the girls at Target.”
Tehila and Leora rushed over to their father and gave him a big hug. Clearly they were very excited about their purchase.
Michael folded the newspaper and dropped it to the floor. “You’re right, I will never guess.”
Dina ignored Michael’s surliness. She handed each of her daughters a bag. “Go ahead, girls, model them for your father.”
The girls practically squealed with delight as they rushed from the room with their bags.
“Dina, you promised, no shopping.”
“I know, I know. But this is different. This is special. Wait till you see them.”
“But we agreed that you would take a break after all the stuff you bought the girls for Rosh Hashana and Succot. Their closets runneth over with abundance, Honey.”
“I know. But this is different; you’re really going to like this purchase.”
Tehila came in first, followed soon thereafter by Leora. But the clothing they were wearing looked almost exactly like what they had on before.
“O.K.,” Michael said with a phony smile glued to his face, “what am I looking at, here? Am I missing something?”
“You’re not looking in the right place,” Leora said. “Go lower.” She glanced down at her feet.
“You bought the girls army boots.”
Dina smiled triumphantly. “That is correct. They are all the rage now.”
“Dina, sweetie, they look like something my father wore in the Korean War, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t making a fashion statement.”
Leora smiled. “I’ll bet Grandpa’s boots didn’t have a shiny gold lining that you can fold over and that looks seriously cool.”
“My lining is plaid,” Tehila chimed in, folding over her boot with glee.
Dina smiled at her husband of fifteen years with tenderness and understanding. “Really.”
“So why did you think I would like this purchase?”
“Because these boots are connected to this week’s parsha,” Dina said.
This peeked Michael’s interest. “Go on…”
“G-d told Adam not to eat from the Eitz Hada’at, the Tree of Knowledge,” Leora said. “ He said that if Adam ate from it, the punishment would be death. Are you with me so far, Dad?”
Tehila continued. “Then the snake gets Chava to taste the fruit of the tree, and she gives it to Adam.”
“Then Hashem catches them after they ate,” Leora chimed in. “Busted!”
“So tell, me Daddy, what punishment do they get?” Tehila asked.
“Well, the snake has to slither on the ground and becomes man’s enemy. Chava has to suffer during childbirth, and Adam has to get his food by working hard on the earth. How’s that?”
“Not bad, not bad at all,” Leora said, pinching her father’s cheek. “So then what happens next?”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked.
“What happens next in the story?”
“Doesn’t the parsha jump to the story of Cayin and Hevel, you know the whole brother’s keeper thing?”
“Not quite,” Tehila said. “Actually there is a brief interlude before that.”
“A brief interlude, you say?”
“Yes, that’s what I say,” Tehila piped in. “In fact, if someone can provide me with a chumash, I’ll read it to you.”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Dina said. She read from the chumash. “Vaya-as Hashem Elokim le-Adam ule-ishto katnot or vayalbishem, And Hashem made for Adam and his wife clothes of leather and He dressed them.”
“So not only does Hashem not kill them, He eventually makes them leather clothes to wear to protect them,” Tehila said.
“Yeah, and probably He wanted them to look really fashionable, too,” Leora added.
“Um, O.K., there’s that, too,” Tehila agreed. “So G-d showed mercy on his creations and clothed them. The story ends with a demonstration of G-d’s kindness.”
“And that’s why Mommy bought us leather boots,” Leora added. “To remember G-d’s kindness to man and to encourage us to emulate Him.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Michael admitted.
All of Michael Geller’s women smiled.
“I just have one question,” Michael said. “G-d made Adam and Chava leather garments, not shoes. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to buy leather skirts or vests?”
“I thought of that, too,” Dina agreed. “But the skirts were seventy dollars at Target and the boots were on sale for twenty-five.”
“I see your point,” Michael said. “Good thinking, honey.”
Michael smiled with his family. Under the circumstances it was a lesson well learned for everyone and only a small dent on his credit card account. Truly, G-d is merciful.