A Rosh Hashanah experience I will never forget…
Rosh Hashanah 5770
In the midst of the seaside town of Sherbert lived Shimon Melech, but he wasn’t really a ‘melech,’ a king. That was just his last name. Sherbert also had two shuls known as ‘Little’ and ‘Big.’ Both were of slightly different ideology and with a few exceptions over the previous 100 years worshippers who attended one generally didn’t attend the other. Shimon prayed at the Big Shull but enjoyed the occasional visit to help make a minyan at the Little Shul. He also liked the egg salad at the Little Shul kiddush.
It came to pass that one year Shimon became enraged by an occurrence at the Big Shul and announced he would not be returning. He relayed a message to Uncle Lavel, the elder of the Little Shul, that he was committing to their minyan and proceeded to tell the story of his Big Shul altercation. When Uncle Lavel heard the account he told Shimon it sounded perverted and though the Little Shul needed his presence Shimon should go back. When the Far Away Rabbi heard the story he also told Shimon how silly it sounded and how necessary it was for him to mend fences with his Big Shul friends.
But Shimon insisted declaring he would join the Little Shul for the upcoming High Holidays. The Far Away Rabbi and Uncle Lavel once again urged him to return to the Big Shul but Shimon stated his commitment to aiding their minyan for the coming Days of Awe and his word was accepted.
IN THE blink of an eye two months passed and Rosh Hashanah descended upon Sherbert. The local Jews stumbled into Shul to greet the new year, each broken soul in his own way raising eyes to the heavens as the Far Away Rabbi took the podium and began to chant. It was evening and then morning, the first day.
The Far Away Rabbi had a heavy weight on his shoulders as burden of days past, little livelihood, and loss bothered him. Among the minyan crew was the unlikely frame of Wazman the Kohen who sat in the pews during the Mussaf prayer. A peculiar decendent of the priestly class from a few towns over, Wazman had succumned to the rabbi’s pleas to perform the priestly blessing for the congregation.
“Please don’t make me do this,” Wazman cried out at first.
Like his father, may he rest in peace, who cringed at the thought of performing a priestly act Wazman the son was equally disturbed. Nevertheless, the rabbi expressed confidence in him and despite mounting fear and trepidation he blessed the people.
The achievement made waves in the heavens yet by the second evening a northerly wind began brewing in Sherbert.
Just prior to the setting sun the congregation reassembled and as the Chazan was about to begin the afternoon prayer Shimon Melech made an announcement: he apologized to the Big Shul and promised he would attend their services the next morning.
With disbelief the Far Away Rabbi looked upon the Jew with astonishment; Uncle Lavel sat stiff on the wooden bench.
“Its very nice you decided to become friends again but you made a commitment to us and without you we may not have a minyan in the morning,” said the Rabbi. “Can’t you go back to them after Yom Kippur?”
Shimon looked around and ignoring the fact he was breaking his word began to state concern for his new pact with the Big Shull -that he can’t break his ‘new’ word to them.
“But what about us,” said Gedalia, one of the congregants sitting behind him. “You can’t do this!”
As Shimon apologized hoping to draw sympathy the Far Away Rabbi began the afternoon prayer and rushed into the evening prayer intending on settling the matter afterwards. However, others had little patience. Gedalia furthered his attack whispering in Shimon’s ear how his actions were making God angry. Another congregant pressed him on his origianl commitment with similar threats. Then Gedalia warned him sternly: “God is going to punish you!”
When the final sanctification of God’s name was proclaimed the rabbi turned around and noticed Shimon was gone. The congregants explained how Shimon was sweating profusely, grew sick, and left moments earlier.
The rabbi decided to chase after Shimon and plead with him to come back the next day. When he ran to the front door, -his kittel and tallis streaming behind his steps, he looked to the right and to the left but the Jew was nowhere in sight. The Far Away Rabbi stood still in a deep void as if seconds were days until suddenly he was yanked back to reality by a penny dropping on the sidewalk.
When the Far Away Rabbi heard the anti-Semitic cling of copper his usually slow to anger persona erupted in a fit of rage towards a group of local hoodlums sitting adjacent to the shul. In recent years these wandering kids littered the Shul’s steps with trash and disrespected the property but their latest act of debauchery crossed the line. Like an assassin marking his target he answered the villains word for word with threats and profanity slowly spewing uncontrollably from his mouth.
“Why don’t you come over here and say that!” he pointedly aimed at one bully ready to squeeze his kneck till his head popped off. “What’s the matter! You never heard a rabbi like this!” he yelled.
Meanwhile, inside the shul the minyan was about to clear out but when they heard the rabbi raising his voice they thought he had caught Shimon and returned to their seats. With a curious mind Uncle Lavel’s son Yaakov ventured out to investigate and to his surprise found the rabbi in a shouting match with a gang of thugs. Just as the neighborhood was about to explode Yaakov pulled the rabbi back in the shul where the boiling leader grimaced and fell into a seat.
Realizing the rabbi had not caught Shimon, the disappointed crowd once again began to quietly file out, -all except for Wazman the Kohen who approached the spiritual leader. Holding a prayer book and pointing deep into a page the no longer shy Wazman looked at the rabbi with the eyes of his priestly ancestor, Aaron HaKohen, seeker of peace.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you practice what you preach?” Wazman said in a merciful rebuke.
And then he was gone.
The rabbi sat on a pew, his trusty shammess Mordechai at his side and his wife nearby.
Momentarily, Uncle Lavel reappeared and tightening his cheek bones said to the rabbi, “too bad Shimon got away. i really thought you were giving it to him” And then he was gone.
THE NEXT day word arrived in Shul Shimon took himself to the hospital and was now recuperating at home. The minyan had just ten men but after the Torah Reading a Jew who served the state explained he had an important meeting worth a great deal of rubies with Lord Patrick and that he could only stay for another fifty-five minutes. With no other choice the Far Away Rabbi lurched through the davening to finish in time and when the last bits of the final kaddish sounded he broke down in a puddle of tears over the travesty of a service he just performed.
And it was afternoon and it was evening -it was one long day.
see part II