Vayelech: Pi Hachamor
Once in the town of Rutherford there lived a very contrary man named Ephraim Effenbacher. He had to do everything his own way. And no one could tell him anything. Rumor has it he used to wear his right shoe on his left foot and his left shoe on his right foot just to annoy people. And let me tell you, it was kind of annoying.
One day Effie decided he was going to write a commentary on the Torah. I know, this sounds like a challenging project, but just because he was contrary, that doesn't mean Effie wasn't smart as a whip, and hardworking, too.
Effie called his commentary "Pi Hachamor," from the pasuk in parshat Balak which states Vayiftach Hashem et pi hachamor (and G-d opened the donkey's mouth). Most of his friends thought the name was uninspired, but Effie liked it just fine.
Effie started at the beginning of the Torah and wrote his commentary over an entire year. He wouldn't let anyone look at it until he was done. One friend, a fellow named Chaim Chaimson suggested that Effie try to get his Torah musings published in a local newspaper like the Jersey Jewish Times, but Effie just laughed.
"Newspapers are for chumps!"
Well, he was a very contrary fellow.
At the end of the year, Effie finished the Pi Hachamor and looked for a publisher. Every Jewish publishing company that read it passed on the project. One editor, at Derech Hayashar Press, sent Effie a note which read:
Yes, it certainly took a lot of courage to write this book, but it would take even more courage to publish it.
Effie was undaunted. He believed in his Torah commentary so strongly, he paid with his own money to self-publish it. It wasn't cheap, and it used up most of his life's savings, but he truly believed in the Pi Hachamor.
When the book was ready, Effie threw a big party and invited everyone he knew. All his friends were there, including many of his acquaintances from childhood. His old teachers were there, even Mrs. Heidelberg, his kindergarten teacher who predicted he was going to amount to no good and Mr. Rabinowitz, his eccentric gym teacher from high school who thought gaga should be an Olympic sport. Even Mr. Hershkowitz, the retired principal of Effie's grade school, made an appearance. In Rutherford's small Jewish community, this was a big event. It was quite a crowd.
Effie gave a brief, polite introductory dvar Torah, a cake was wheeled out, and then copies of the book were distributed to the crowd. The cover art was a braying donkey, though somehow the donkey looked Jewish. Hors D'oeuvres were served, and as people looked down into their copies of Pi Hachamor, between noshing and polite conversation, the crowd grew louder. There were some truly wild divrei Torah in this book.
Noah's ark was made of fiberglass?
Eliyahu Hanavi was beamed up to a spaceship when he died?
The twelve sons of Jacob were ninjas?
Effie's commentary was filled with such pearls, and in each case he brought a proof from the weekly Torah portion. It was wild, it was original, it was--
"-completely insane!" Mr. Hershkowitz exclaimed. "The boy is nuts, meshuga, koo koo!"
"Alvin calm down," his wife Alma counseled. "You're going to give yourself a stroke."
"I can't calm down," Alvin Hershkowitz said. "The book is just crazy. And believe it or not, it's going to fly off the shelves of the Judaica House. Kids are going to love it.”
"So what's wrong with that?"
"What's wrong with that?" the ex-principal muttered. "What's wrong with that? What's wrong is that it's not Torah, it's science fiction!"
Alma hadn't seen her husband's face this red since the time a fifth grader blew up the toilet in the boy's bathroom at the school with a cherry bomb fire cracker.
"Something must be done to stop this book from being sold," Mr. Hershkowitz said. "It's going to corrupt the children. And it's giving me an ulcer."
Mr. Hershkowitz tried to get Effie Effennbacher’s book banned, but few were interested in his urgings. They considered Pi Hachamor a relatively harmless diversion that would cause no true damage. How many people really thought the burning bush was electric?
With nowhere else to turn, Mr. Hershkowitz brought Effie before the wise and learned Chochom of Kearny. He had true insight in Jewish law and was known as a once in a generation Torah genius. Surely he would know what to do with the Pi Hachamor.
As Effie and Alvin were escorted into the Chochom’s office, the wise old man was sitting behind his large oak desk with a copy of the book, chuckling under his breath.
He looked up at Effie with his piercing blue eyes, the eyes that had studied thousands of seforim on so many varied Jewish topics.
“Really? Sodom was destroyed by a hydrogen bomb? That certainly is an unusual approach to the story.”
“Thank you, Rabbi. I consider that a great compliment, coming from you,” Effie said.
“It’s utter craziness!” Mr. Hershkowitz interjected. “Not only that, but I think these ideas are subversive, and downright dangerous.”
The Chochom stroked his long, wispy white beard and gazed at his two visitors for a long time before he spoke.
“You know, recently I was reviewing parshat Vayelech, and I came across the commandment for every Jew to write a Torah. Are you familiar with that pasuk, Ephraim?”
“Ve-ata kitvu lachem et hashira hazot velamda et bnai Yisroel; sima befihem lema’an tihiyeh li hashira hazot le-eid bivnei Yisroel
“And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.”
“Good job, Effie. You know your Torah well.”
“I’ve always wondered why the Torah used the word shira, song, for this commandment. Of course, it could be referring to Ha’azinu, the next parsha, which is a poem in itself, but I think there’s more going on here.
“I think that every person sings differently. And to put it another way, no two people sing exactly the same. It’s the same with the Torah. No two people view it the same way. Every person, and for that matter every generation, will interpret it differently. Some will see receiving the Torah at Har Sinai as extreme lightning and thunder, and some will see it more like a Steven Spielberg movie. It’s good for Judaism to encourage individuality, within certain parameters.”
The Chochom turned to his two visitors.
“I think that the Pi Hachamor is a fine addition to our Jewish library, and I will be proud to put a copy in my bookcase.”
Effie sighed with relief, and Alvin Hershkovitz shrugged in defeat.
The Chochom turned to Effie one more time.
“So you’re saying the tower of Bavel was actually the first skyscraper?”
“Rabbi, I call ‘em as I see ‘em.”