The Rabbi—A Mort Laitner Short Story

“The Rabbi” by Mort Laitner

On Rosh Hashanah, I stood in the temple, faced the Torahs and stared at the rabbi.

I had known the rabbi for over 30 years. This learned man bar mitzvahed my three sons.

He had retired from one temple and he now held a part-time job at a newly formed congregation.

I recalled when black hair rested atop his head; a black beard covered his joules.

Now white fuzz fully eclipsed those once black hairs.

Now my rabbi wore wire-rimmed glasses.

He saw life through clear thin lenses.

Those glasses pinched the sides of his nose, but allowed him to study  torah and the benefits of Medicare and his pension.

Now on Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi covered his body in a white kittel and his head in a white kippa.

He still looked spry having kept his body fit by attending the “J” four days a week,

But age had taken a toll on his body. Gravity had compressed his spine so as to shave off an inch of his five foot—six inch frame.

I still stood, my back praying for the torahs to be placed back into the ark, when my eyes darted off the rabbi and focused at temple’s two torahs.

These parchment scrolls, covered in white cloth with their brown wooden handles, contained instructions on a way of life for the Jewish people.

Written on each of these scrolls were  613 commandments.

How many of these commandments did I know?

How many of these commandments did I obey?

I returned my gaze to the rabbi and wondered how many of these 613 commandments did he obey?

Now I pictured another rabbi.

A Charlottesville rabbi running out the back door of his temple holding a torah as Nazis brandishing lit torches marched past his temple’s  front door.

I pictured the Virginia rabbi’s fight-or-flight response to this existential threat.

I pictured the acute stress running across the rabbi’s pale face.

I pictured his darting dilated pupils,

I pictured his tight bleeding lips as he tasted fear for the first time in his life.

I pictured Kristallnacht and wondered how many rabbis were murdered running down German streets holding torahs.

I wanted to raise my hand and ask my rabbi:

 “Rabbi, if the Nazis were out front, would you run out the back door holding a torah?”

“Rabbi during your High Holiday speeches you never addressed this question. Why?”

“Rabbi, do you have a Nazi-attacking-temple plan of action or a torah removal emergency written procedure for such an event?”

“Rabbi have you ever even thought about what you would do?”

“Rabbi what do the Torah’s 613 commandments instruct you to do on handling Nazis carrying burning torches?

So Rabbi, I studied the 613 rules and here is what I learned:

That those engaged in warfare shall not fear their enemies nor  be panic-stricken by them during battle. Deut. 3:22, 7:21 20:3

Always to remember what Amalek did. (Deut. 25:17)

That the evil done to us by Amalek shall not be forgotten. (Deut. 25:19)

To destroy the seed of Amalek (Deut. 25:19)

Rabbi, are the Nazis our modern day Amaleks?

Rabbi, what is your plan? 

 Are you planning on following the commandments of the Torah?

September 22, 2017

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