Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Where authors and readers come together!
(to be published by Jewish Press (NY) October 11, 2008)
His clothing caught my attention. Wearing wrinkled slacks with barely a crease, a faded yellow, perspiration-stained shirt and a dirty beige, worn out cap, he bore the appearance of neglect.
“Good evening, Sir,” I greeted him. Smiling broadly, I chatted with him for several minutes. It was the right thing to do and besides, it made me feel better too. The previous several months had been turbulent. Not only had I ridden an emotional roller coaster, but I was stuck at the peak of the ride.
The summer’s heat was unrelenting and we were in the “nine days” before Tisha b' Av. "Good evening," he responded, an elderly man sitting alone in the shul’s social hall, looking sadly troubled. “I was worried. It's nearly 8:00 o’clock, and I've yahrzeit for Maariv,” he said. "Oh, we'll have a minyan. Please don’t worry about that.”
“Your name is, Sir?”
He seemed to be reading my lips. He stopped short of answering Yitzhak. I don’t know why he didn’t, but I gave him my undivided attention.
“Reb Talisman, for whom are you saying Kaddish?”
He twisted his left arm with his right hand to reveal six subcutaneous numerals. The dark shadows of his bloodshot eyes seemed as indelible as his tattoo. "My parents,” he whispered, drying his tears with a soiled handkerchief. That instant, I felt closer to the Shoah than ever before. Sure, I had seen the tattoos but never close up enough to become part of a survivor’s life. That was about to change.
I was determined to comfort this grief-stricken Jew. Was it not my obligation? "This way, Reb Talisman,” directing him to the Beis Medrash. We grasped the door handle. He hesitated.
"Should we enter?" he wondered. "Looks like the rebbe is busy with a bar mitzvah boy."
The shul was hectic. Not only was the sisterhood hosting a speaker from the Park District, but the junior minyan was learning mishnayos with the Rabbi’s son. I had never seen the Rabbi look so exhausted. Reb Talisman and I entered. Rabbi rose from his chair, out of kavod for Reb Talisman.
“Shalom Aleichem, Reb Yitzchak,” Rabbi greeted him warmly.
“Aleichem sholem, Rebbe. Another year, eh?"
“Baruch Ha Shem,” Rabbi respectfully responded.
"Abba, it is 8:05. We have a minyan," announced Rabbi’s older son whose four talmidim followed behind him.
I escorted Reb Talisman to a well-cushioned chair, the only one of its kind in the Beis Medrash. It had been the favorite of the Rebbitzen’s father. When I turned to check on Reb Talisman, I saw he had chosen one of the regular seats by the omed.
"Ashrei yoshvei v'secha,” the minyan intoned.
I looked over again to see how Reb Talisman was doing. He seemed more at ease now that we had begun on time. The usual several minutes for Mincha flew by.
“Yisgadal veyiskadash shmey raba …”.
Rabbi learned the halachos of the “nine days” with the minyan before the evening prayer.
“Al Yisroel v’al rabbonan …”.
He designated one of the younger fellows to daven Ma’ariv. I should have felt good about how smoothly everything was proceeding for Reb Talisman. After all, minyan began on time. I had helped him in my own small way, but somehow … it just wasn’t enough. I closed my siddur.
“V’hu rachum …”. I arose for Borchu, but I was already a world away. I couldn’t help it, but I turned my thoughts to my Kallah. She had left me two months before after only fifteen months of marriage. I struggled to reconcile our differences, but she was adamant.
“I need to find myself,” she was fond of saying. I understood what she meant because I felt lost without her. "Maybe she'll drive by and come in to see me," I mused, staring out the window. I turned around thinking I had heard a feminine voice. “Oh … just one of the younger guys,” I muttered. “Still, she just might be there when I get home.”
Then I heard Reb Talisman’s voice. It brought me back. I had to finish what I had started.
"Oseh shalom bimromav …”. The beis medrash emptied. “Six o’clock tomorrow morning gentlemen,” Rabbi announced while his younger son replaced siddurim and Gemaras on the shelves. A few lingered to schmooze followed by the customary handshakes and yasher koach(s).
I escorted Reb Talisman to his car. I wondered what I could say to this man, but then realized our love of a fellow Jew had already spoken to Reb Talisman's heart.
"Good night, Sir," I smiled.
"Good night," he said.
I touched his arm comfortingly and watched as he drove off. I fumbled for my keys. From the alley by my house, I could see she hadn't returned, but I expected as much. I sat for several moments.
“Maybe I’ll see her tomorrow," I thought. And I felt okay with that because I realized The Aibishter had taught me an invaluable lesson– one which, as a matter of fact, I had already learned but was prone to forget occasionally when I became self-absorbed.
He sent Reb Talisman to shul not only to say Kaddish but to remind me of the many Jews who grieve for losses far greater than mine. If I could but step away from my own tsorris, I could do so much good for so many. An act of chesed had brought comfort, friendship and a smile to an elderly Jew.
Chazal teach us we do not know what rewards await us in the next world for the performance of mitzvos in this world. I like to think though some reward may trickle down to us now. Four months after meeting Reb Talisman, my Kallah called me. We made plans to meet for coffee.
My prayers had been answered. “I'm ready to come home,” she said.
Maybe my reward had trickled down, but of one thing I was certain. Meeting Reb Talisman inspired me.
That day had indeed been a yom tov.
Alan D. Busch
author of Snapshots In Memory Of Ben
August 19, 2008