Ten Reasons Why Trust in G-d is Better than the Deathly Hallows

In the world of Harry Potter where even children wield otherworldly power, the Deathly Hallows are nevertheless a trifecta of near omnipotence, created (if one believes the legend) by Death himself. They are the Elder Wand, most powerful wizarding tool of all time, the Resurrection Stone, which can raise the dead, and the Invisibility Cloak, for those who always played Rogues in Dungeons & Dragons.

 

 488px-Deathly_Hallows_Sign_svg

 

In the real world, in Medieval times, there lived a Jewish scholar named Rabbi Bachayye ben Yosef Ibn Pkuda, and he wrote a holy book called Torat Chovot HaLevavot, Duties of the Heart, which describes in great detail the inner world of an observant Jew, with a focus on what G-d requires of the Jewish character (e.g. love, humility). In his preface to the Gate of Trust, he lists ten ways in which a rock-solid confidence in the Creator is more desirable than the abilities of the Alchemist, who can turn copper to silver, and silver to gold.

Bitachon, or Trust, means not just the belief in G-d’s omnipotence or in his involvement with the world, but also a positive reliance on his goodness, i.e. “things will go well for me, in a way I can easily appreciate, because G-d is kind.” Trust involves abandoning one’s worries and cares to G-d and is so great that it is repaid in kind with the object of one’s trust, regardless of one’s past actions. Even the dirtiest no-gooder in the world can live a life of perfect satisfaction if he trusts completely; it is a service of such loftiness as to reward itself. It is the method by which even the most normal of us can work miracles.

I began to think: what does Bitachon/trust offer the modern muggle that the most powerful form of wizardy does not?

 

 

1. You Have to Actually Acquire the Deathly Hallows

It takes more than a smile. You’ll have to fight every step of the way or flaunt extravagant wealth, and you better not have any qualms about grave robbing. If you don’t get the magical objects, you get no special powers.

Elder Wand at the Grave

But one who trusts in G-d knows that the Creator will sustain them even through severe poverty, famine, weakness, zombie apocalypse, etc.; He has many messengers with which to feed and protect, no matter what the material situation of the recipient. “Young lions suffer want and are hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good.” (Tehillim/Psalms 34:11)

 

 

2. Using the Deathly Hallows Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Even in the ancient tale of the Hallows, things didn’t end well for the three brothers. And in more modern times there was that whole incident with the Elder Wand, and no one wanted to breathe the Voldemort-dust afterward. Good thing Harry made the right choice.

Harry breaks the wand

One who trusts in G-d will find long years of peace and happiness, with the knowledge that everything that happens comes from the benevolent Master. “He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.” (Tehillim/Psalms 23:2)

 

 

3. Keep the Hallows Secret, Or They’ll Be Taken From You

Even the mighty Professor Dumbledore didn’t go shouting about them, did he?

Dumbledore Fire

A person who trusts isn’t afraid to let others know it, and is in fact revered by his peers. “In God I trusted, I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Tehillim/Psalms 56:12)

 

 

4. You’re Always Doing Too Much or Too Little, and It’s Stressful

Wow, I just got my hands on the Elder Wand. I think I’m gonna whip up a Philosopher’s Stone. Why wouldn’t I want to live forever? I’d ask Nicolas Flamel, but oh wait, he agreed to die after the struggle for his invention nearly led to Voldemort’s resurrection when Harry was far too young and not nearly angsty enough to face him. It’s nothing but trouble when you just leave your powerful magic objects lying around.

Oh, you think, so I won’t create anything potentially dangerous. I’ll only use the Hallows when I need them, and the rest of the time leave them safely locked up in Gringotts. But then, what’s the point of having them in the first place? You just know there’s gonna be a dementor attack or an abundance of dirty laundry or something, and who has time to schlep to Diagon Alley and wait for the goblins to fetch your stuff?

Gringotts_cart_01

If you trust G-d, you needn’t worry. He’ll get you what you need, when you need it, as he does for every living creature. “I was young, I also aged, and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken and his seed seeking bread.” (Tehillim/Psalms 37:25)

 

 

5. No Matter How Secure Your Power, You Must Always Watch Your Back

Poor Voldemort.

Love or Friendship

One who trusts in G-d fears no one, and on the contrary, the world bends to one’s will and is on one’s side. “In six troubles He will save you, and in the seventh no harm will touch you. In famine, He redeemed you from death, and in war, from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the scourging tongue, and you shall not fear plunder when it comes. You shall mock plunder and hoarding, and you shall not fear the beasts of the land. But you have a treaty with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field made peace with you. Then you shall know that there is peace in your tent, and you shall visit your habitation and miss nothing. And you shall know that your seed shall be many, and your offspring [as numerous] as the grass of the earth. You shall come to the grave at a ripe old age, as the grain stack is taken away in its time.” (Iyov/Job 5:19-26)

 

 

6. Some Problems, Even Magic Can’t Fix

And they really prevent you from enjoying your massive cosmic-scale powers. Think heartbreak, or old age, or an unlucky Bertie Bott’s bean. These can really ruin your day even as you’re creating giant fireballs of death or whatever. Not cool.

Alas Earwax

For someone who relies on the Almighty, pain, troubles, and sickness don’t enter the picture. If they do, he knows they’re an atonement for his past breaches of his relationship with G-d, or, if he has nothing to atone for, that he G-d will reward him in the world to come for his suffering. “Now youths shall become tired and weary, and young men shall stumble. But those who put their hope in the Lord shall renew [their] vigor, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire.” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 40:30-31)

 

 

7. There Is No Guarantee Of A Finished Product

Sure, the Weasleys have a house that defies physics and self-cleaning flatware, but they clearly can’t create their own money out of thin air. They have to actually hold jobs and stuff, and even then they (presumably) have to take the money to a market and buy food, which even then has to be eaten with the hope they don’t have tapeworms or slugs or something in their intestines. Even if you had all three Hallows, you’d still have to resort to robbing the bank, or the store, or both, or maybe getting an honest job in the Ministry to get food into your stomach. And if you’re fired, or there’s a famine, everything unravels.

Ron Eating

G-d, of course, has no issue with production and consumption, from money through digestion. “In famine, He redeemed you from death.” (Iyov/Job 5:20)

 

 

8. The Bearer of the Hallows Is Always On The Run

If the secret gets outs that you have some magical super powers, you can bet that they’ll be after you eventually. Who? Everyone.

apparating

Someone who trusts in G-d can settle down and be at peace. “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and be nourished by faith.” (Tehillim/Psalms 37:3)

 

 

9. The Deathly Hallows Don’t Effect Your Afterlife

Philosophically speaking, they’re actually quite weak. Beyond this mortal coil, what use are they? Magic is only helpful on this earth; on future journeys, who can say?.

Voldemort under bench

One who trusts in G-d, however, is rewarded not just in this world, but in the next as well. In fact, even if one were to face torment in the next world, trust in G-d would prove just as useful as with the torments of our world. “How great is Your goodness that You have hidden away for those who fear You.” (Tehillim/Psalms 31:20)

 

 

10. Harry Potter isn’t Real!

Seriously. It’s all in your head. Don’t run around saying you own the Deathly Hallows, you’ll get locked up in the funny farm.

dumbledore-dancing-harry-potter-gif

People see someone who is confident in G-d, however, as a pretty cool all-around real-deal type of fellow, because he is. People respect him and befriend him, and he brings blessing to all his familiars. “The Righteous is the foundation of the world.” (Mishlei/Proverbs 10:25)

 

 

Featured image of America’s Elder Wand courtesy of Flickr. Other images courtesy of the Internet.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

A certain moment in Asterix the Gladiator always struck me as odd, even poignant. Asterix and Obelix are recruited as gladiators in the Coliseum in Rome, and meet a group of burly, courageous, childlike warrior-slaves who await their gruesome fate in the arena. Asterix, subversive as always, teaches the gladiators children’s games (duck, duck, goose; “I bet I can make you say X”; riddles) that they (naturally) enjoy more than their regular occupation. They sit in a circle in the center of the coliseum and begin to play, to the outrage of the audience and Caesar, who if I remember correctly sends in the lions, who are in turn put off their appetites by the Gaulish secret weapon, Cacofonix (I should really reread those comics…)

Grown men, capable and powerful, sit in a circle and play at children’s games. It’s an image that has fascinated me for some time. I constantly see it playing out in real life. I think it’s inescapable. I think it’s the trial of our generation. To understand why, we have to know that there are three recurring states in Jewish history, three missions, three challenges. The first originates from the Hebrews in their desert wanderings, and the second two are in the story of Purim. Every time, a leader sent by G-d helps the Jews triumph.

 

 

Imagine our ancestors and their lot in life for those forty years in Sinai. They ate the skyfood and drank the rockwater and wore clothes that grew with their bodies and spent all day learning G-dly wisdom directly from Moses, generally recognized as a good Jew and universally recognized as a great leader. The story of their lives must be peaceful, happy, and short. What could possibly have gone wrong? Well, there were the complaints, first about the water, then about the food. There was the golden calf. Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, perishing in the temple. Korach’s rebellion. The debacle with the spies. The hitting of the rock. Man, we wonder, reading all this every year for the rest of eternity, what was wrong with them?

Their problem was faith. Faith is a terrible thing, fickle and useless. Faith is the story in the Talmud of the robber in his underground tunnel, ready to steal and kill, asking G-d for success in the night’s mission. He believes that G-d runs the world; he even believes G-d can make him successful. But between his faith and his actions there is a sharp disconnect. And who doesn’t know a friendly atheist who can remind you of the religious atrocity of the day? Clearly, faith in G-d doesn’t make people better people.

No, for that, you have to see G-d. That was Moses’ job, and it took forty years to drum it into the Hebrews. G-d is not a concept. G-d is real, like tables and chairs are real. The soul sees Him; the challenge lies in the fleshly eyes that do not. Moshe Rabeinu is the tent-stake G-d drives into reality to make a fair game between the material and the spiritual. Almost everything we ever deal with is made of gross physical matter, while the belief in a higher existence is up in the air, ephemeral and difficult. Until people meet Moses, that is; somehow, he changes their minds (this phenomenon is so dangerous to the strict materialist that he invented the modern concept of charisma to explain it away).

The parallel of the desert is the shtetl, the secluded Jewish village of Europe, a world left in ashes by the Nazis and the Soviets. In the shtetl, Jews lived an impoverished, precarious physical life with a bounty of spiritual riches. Judaism was the soil, the air, the food of the shtetl; all of life was Torah and the ever-challenging yet ubiquitous Aibishter (Almighty). In spite of Pogroms and compulsion from modernized Jews to integrate into the more accepting Western European non-Jewish society, life in the shtetl was a life of peace, where all the rules were certain and G-d’s dominion was supreme. The challenge was to take the faith that was as natural to those Jews as mud in the street and effect deep internal change. For this, they went to a Rebbe, a personal Moses.

 

 

What is a Rebbe?

There once was a family of peasants who fell far behind on their debts to the nobleman of their estate. The nobleman threw them into the festering dungeon beneath his castle. The dungeon was underground, dead silent and dark. The only contact with the outside world came every day at noon, when the trapdoor in the dungeon’s ceiling would open and a servant would throw food into the pit.

Time passed. Months dragged into years. The family, refusing to die, inbred, and produced children, who with the passage of the years themselves married each other. The nobleman passed away, then his son, then his grandson. Those hoary elders who had once lived outside of the pit tried as best they could to pass their memories of the sky and the trees to their descendants. They eventually passed on, and faded into the past. The remaining family members were split into two camps: those who believed in an outside world, mainly on the word of their parents’ parents, and those who held that the outside world was a fairy tale made up to give hope to little children. The arguments between the two groups were long and never reached any conclusion. Those who believed pointed to the daily food that came through the trapdoor as proof; the others would scoff and say it proved nothing. Pits produce food from their ceilings; that’s just the nature of it, no fantasies required.

One day, a man fell into the pit, together with the food.

They convened a council. Even the most scabrous of the prisoners put aside their lice scratchers and gathered around the newcomer, who seemed rather upset for some reason. The less intellectual ones offered him a brand new scratcher as a comfort, but this made him cry more for some reason. Someone couldn’t stand it anymore and asked him, “Well, is it true? Is there an outside world?”

The man looked at them as if they were mad, and spoke, for as long as he lived, of the sky and the trees and everything else from the surface. Even those who always believed had trouble relating to him; he was so different, so emphatic and certain. But no one could deny his claims, not because of his charisma, but because it was true; he was from there. Where else could he possibly be from?

 

 

That’s a Rebbe, and that’s the difference between seeing and believing.

We can learn how to see, if we choose.

 

 

Inevitably, the Jews cannot live peacefully forever. The clouds of glory will recede; the shtetl will burn. They must learn to live under Haman.

What are Jews to do when the most powerful of all government officials declares death to all who practice Judaism? Their knowledge of morality, of living a G-dly life, will not suffice. The question is: Your Judaism or your life? One may see the truth, but is it one’s entire reality? A pit-Jew may know with complete certainty that there is a Truth, but will they die for it? In other words, is it possible to make distinctions between life and Judaism? When life is Judaism in the most real way, such that death is the easy decision, it’s called Mesiras Nefesh, and it reflects the deepest part of us where we don’t just do Jewish, we are Jewish, before we are male/female, human, religious, or even logical. In the times of Purim, the Jews finished what they started at Mount Sinai; they realized that they could not and would not be separated from G-d. If our souls only saw G-d, there could be an obstruction or a blindness that severed our connection. But our souls are one with G-d, and it only takes a genocidal maniac to bring it out of us. That’s why G-d sends the genocidal maniacs. Mesiras Nefesh, as a relationship with G-d, isn’t for the fainthearted.

 

 

In the dark days under Stalin, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rayatz, stood against the darkness with utter impunity. He ran an underground network of ritual pools and slaughterers and, most importantly, chadorim, Jewish children’s schools, to keep Judaism alive. He gave no quarter or any easy answers, and Jews flocked to him by the thousands. He sent his Yeshiva students, often children of fourteen or fifteen, beloved as his own daughters, on deadly missions throughout Russia. The KGB would take them out in the dark of night and shoot them. The Rebbe would send replacements.

This is Mesiras Nefesh: He once said in a talk that if they come to you and tell you that either you put your child in a government school or they will burn you alive, you should jump in the fire. This was illogical; you would die and they would get your kids anyway. Nevertheless. Nevertheless.

A Chassid wrote to him once, explaining how the authorities warned him that they knew of the recent birth of his son, and that if he had the boy circumcised they would send him to Siberia. The Rebbe wrote back a two-word answer: “Fohr Gezunterheit!” Go in good health! How the Chassidim loved him, and he them.

Mesiras Nefesh, in its most pristine, nonsensical, G-dly form, is perhaps found in a story of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidus. He once became aware through spiritual means that he would share his portion in the world to come with another Jew. Curious, he sought the Jew out, and the trail led him to a shack in the middle of the woods. The owner greeted him at the door, and what an owner! Large as a house. Grotesquely fat. The Holy Besh”t asked if he might stay the night, and the Jew acquiesced. The Baal Shem Tov watched his host for a day, and could not figure out what great merit he possessed to partake in a rich afterlife. The Jew’s service of G-d was subpar at best: questionable Tefilin, hasty prayers without a Minyan, a day spent hunting without Torah learning. The only unusual thing about the man was his size, and the eating that caused it, enough for a battalion at every meal. The Baal Shem Tov asked the man why he ate so much, if he’d pardon the question.

He said, “When I was young, my father was killed in a pogrom. They dragged him into the middle of the town square and decided to burn him. Now, my father was a small man, very skinny, and when they threw him into the fire he went up like kindling, returning his soul to his maker in moments. I decided then and there that when they come for me, and throw me in the fire, I’m going to burn and burn and burn and burn…”

Does it make sense to you? No? Good.

 

 

As inevitable as the genocidal maniac is, the eventual Jewish victory is even more inevitable. Ask Haman, or Stalin. But the new world order comes with its own set of problems. External enemies evoke Judaism like nothing else; in their absence, it’s easier to forget our souls. Many Jews who lived on the brink of execution day and night in the Soviet Union moved to the United States and, to put it kindly, became just like the rest of us. Cars, TVs, pools, vacations. Stuff. What happened to life is G-d and G-d is life and shoot me if it makes you feel better about it?

In the Sinai Desert, the issue was a Judaism that wasn’t true enough. In the time of Haman’s decree, the issue was a Judaism that was true to the point of martyrdom, but that truth was dependent on an outside cause. A disciple of Moshe might not have to die for his Judaism, might only be able to sacrifice his animals in the temple, or his money to charity, but what he does, he owns. His merit cannot be taken away from him. The follower of Mordechai in Haman’s times, the time of the decree, operates at a level that is much more serious; he is willing to sacrifice his life to put his right shoe on before his left as Jewish law dictates, but that decision does not come from him; it is forced upon him. Remove the outside force, and he reverts to whoever he was before, spiritually penniless.

It is only after Haman’s decree, when Esther is the queen and Mordechai is second to the King and the Jews live in wealth and security that they G-d expects them to combine the two approaches. Everything they do, they will own, because there is no outside spiritual impetus, no great enemy to drive them toward G-d. There’s only wealth, fortune, and power. But they no longer live in the shtetl, and the old method of a surrounding culture that will buoy their spirits and isolate them from depravity is no longer an option. They are of the world now; they have left the desert. Their inspiration has to come from within. Mordechai can instruct them, but he can no longer carry them. They themselves must arrive at the decision that all they want, with the same depths of self-sacrifice as their fathers who weathered fire and water, is G-dliness. And then G-d will grant their wish.

 

 

This is what it means to live in 2014. There are very few Jews today who could honestly claim to exist in a cultural bubble actually helps their service of G-d. There are very few Jewish leaders who can confer upon us their experiences from beyond the pit. On the other hand, there is also no immediate danger to the Jewish people, few dictators that have the power to threaten the lives of millions of Jews, who force us to choose between our lives and our Judaism. For this, we can all thank G-d.

That same Lubavitcher Rebbe who stood up against Stalin arrived in the New York harbor at an old age, in a wheelchair, determined to start again, as he did when he left the shtetl for a life of roaming exile in Eastern Europe. His American followers greeted him, and he did not like what they had to say. They told him, in effect, that America was different. The old Jewish way was the European way, and would never work on those golden shores.

His immediate response was to make a historic speech, and declare that “America iz nisht anderesh,” America is not different. It can work here, too.

 

 

We stand at a point of history unlike any other. It has never been so trivial to be Jewish, so easy to forget. It is so simple to be an American first, an Israeli first, a humanist first, an environmentalist first, a citizen of the world first, a democrat first, a republican, a social media cultist, an animal rights activist, an anti-bullying protester, a vegetarian, a vegan, a gun nut, a lifehacking gizmodo cellphoneista, a businessperson, a family man, an interior decorator, a charedi, a secularist, a kitten picture captionist, a yiddishist, a jerk, a pop culture flunky, a music nerd, a Talmudist. We are distracted. It is not a religious issue; it’s the logical issue of wasted potential. Just as it is a terrible waste for grown men to play children’s games, so, too, it is terrible for us, the first generation of all time who have to opportunity to be Jewish on our own, from within, to decide we prefer shiny objects and the fad or anti-fad of the day.

Someone once wrote to the Rebbe about the inherent limitations of being an observant Jew. Isn’t it a form of slavery? they wondered. Hundreds of rules, hundreds of restrictions. You can’t even put on your pants the way you want to.

The Rebbe’s response, to paraphrase:

Freedom is relative. Take a plant, for example. The highest form of expression for a plant, what separates it from mere inanimate objects, is its ability to grow. Therefore, to stunt its growth is to limit its freedom. But to root the plant in one spot and to disallow it free motion is not an imposition; on the contrary, plants don’t move. An animal, who can also move, is considered abused if it is kept caged and never allowed free range of motion. Freedom for the animal is different than that of the plant. So too, when we make the step to human beings. A person can think abstract thought, while an animal cannot. To deny a person an education, the ability to think, to express his or her innate intelligence, is oppression, but an uneducated animal has lost nothing at all. Within humanity there is a subset called the Jew, with a unique mission from G-d that comes with its own needs. The Jewish soul is not free unless it is connecting to G-d through Torah and Mitzvos, just as a person is not free without intelligence and an animal is not free in a cage. And that is why Judaism is freedom.

We have to break free from the distractions, and realize just how much potential we have. G-d believes in us, as do all the Rebbes, from Moshe to Mordechai to our own time. Grown men must put away their toys and their riddles, and become who they were born to be.

 

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Since Wednesday

1. אנת הוא חד, ולא בחושבן

Goldberg sits in his bedroom with the curtains drawn and watches YouTube. When he woke up on Wednesday to find his life deserted, the window panes exposed the winter sun and a Brooklyn lane with dirty snow piled high along its sides. He remembers washing his hands at his bedside of the night’s impurity, padding to the bathroom, and splashing his face with the water that sat in outdoor pipes overnight and shocked him fully into reality every morning. It was when he sat down to dress that he noticed the empty street. He shudders to think of it now, and desperately clicks the red wedge on his screen. Light and sound pour into his mind. He chances a glance and sees that the floral drapes indeed completely cover the windows. They remind him of his mother, and he can’t help looking at his cell phone. It hasn’t trilled or brayed for two days. Its volume is on the highest setting.

He goes through every video he ever loved: singing auditions, soldiers returning home, comedians, University professors, wild animals, magicians, television actors, amateur talking heads, hypnotists, social activists, scientists, ageless political speeches, and even, to Goldberg’s surprise, talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which make him feel like crying. He recalls a powerful performance of Nessun Dorma and enqueues it. His browser has another tab open and even though the webcam feeds it contains are even more painful than opening his curtains, he can’t keep himself from checking them when the videos cannot soothe his nerves. An empty Times Square and an empty Champs-Élysées haunt him. When they begin to dominate his thoughts he opens Minesweeper and plays it while listening to the videos. The high-score list reads “DG” all the way down.

Clutter surrounds his laptop as if the computer is one of the heavy blocks dislodged from the temple mount by the Romans, his Tefilin, dirty dishes, and clock lining its impact crater. The clock is an old analog model whose battery he dug out the night before, his vision blurred by tears, when the ticking got on his nerves. He thought he was being melodramatic even as he did it, and he realized with a start that he may be the only remaining judge of character in the world, and could give himself a pass.

Everyone is gone. His parents, his siblings, his dozens of nieces and nephews. His wife. Every Facebook friend either went or is too busy to post. Twitter is a dead zone, the radio is static, and he can’t find a blog that has updated since Wednesday except for his own. He wrote a one-paragraph plea shortly after he woke up that day, and no one has viewed it.

Goldberg closes his eyes as Pavarotti hits the big final note. The video ends. He pauses the playlist and reaches for a squat sefer within the clutter crater, opens it at the bookmark, and reads:

“One must have trust even at such a time when within the laws of nature there is no visible justification for it.”

He sighs. It’s laid out so simply, black ink on white paper, as if it asks not too much. He never felt anything visceral or moving in those words. If the Hebrews stood once between Egypt and the water and turned every direction but forward, if they wanted to throw themselves to their deaths, or brave slavery once more, or risk battle with their masters, or raise their voices in prayer, but could not, on their own, fathom the sea, if they had no illusions after two centuries in Egypt that G-d would simply peel back the swelling waters from their path, who could blame them? Oceans don’t stand like walls. But then, he reflects, people don’t just disappear, either. Maybe He’ll give back what He’s taken.

Goldberg grabs a siddur to daven Mincha and realizes that it’s Erev Shabbos. He needs wine and bread. He creaks down the stairs to the kitchen. Blinds shut out the little window that gives a view of the narrow alley between his building and the next. He rummages through his bright white refrigerator. Leftover chicken from Tuesday zipped in plastic bags lies squarely on a foil-covered bowl of green salad in one corner. How can there be cooked chicken? It is a silent proof of Michal’s existence, arranged neatly under her orderly hand, delicious by dint of her skill with marinades and spices. She must exist, she must, she must.

There’s no wine, however, and the breadbox sits gaping on the countertop. I have to go to the store, he thinks, stomach turning. He shuts the fridge and sees a picture from their wedding stuck to its door. It was six months ago, but his chestnut beard was visibly shorter then. Michal hated being photographed and muttered to him the entire session, the cause of his broad grin and her slightly upturned lips. Despite his smile and the best efforts of the photographer he was as white as her dress (nerves; fast; exhaustion). She reminded him to pray for a certain friend of theirs under the chuppah. He did, and he asked, with his eyes screwed shut, for children G-d would be proud of, and a peaceful home, and health. He thanked G-d for his wife, and had done the same every morning, until Wednesday.

 

 

Since childhood he loved the crisp winter air, and even now he enjoys it as he bolts his front door (why, he doesn’t know).  Deep breaths, he reminds himself, his mother’s reassurances sounding in his head as he makes his way down the road watching the concrete beneath his feet.

At his Bar Mitzvah one of his uncles suggested he should try to say words of Torah when he walks in the street, and they come easily to his mouth after over a decade’s worth of soft mornings and tired nights. He passes the Yeshiva where the words buoyed him through his early teens, his anger at the rabbis and his parents. He turned out okay, he thinks, though he brought them all to an early old age. By the time he was eighteen, he’d learned to accept the wisdom they offered, and did anything he could to make them proud. He wore his hat and jacket when he bentsched, he learned his daily Torah with clockwork regularity, and by adulthood he was conversant with several masechtos of Shas and knew many maamarim of Chassidus by heart. He wrapped Tefilin with elderly Jews every Friday, he taught so many kids in summer camp that half the boys in the neighborhood greeted him in the street, and even did a tour of duty in Tibet for one Pesach. No, the Rabbis had nothing to complain about in the end, and the talks he’d have with his father walking to shul or with his mother in her kitchen bloomed and sweetened. His shidduch came quickly and painlessly, helped along by his friends’ recommendations.

Goldberg’s eyes sting and he wipes his nose on raggedy tissues from his pocket. He stares at the passing cracks of the sidewalk, and his ears hear a gaping nothingness. No birds? he wonders. Are there never any in winter, or did they vanish as well? Somehow not knowing made it worse, the same way forfeiting on a technicality is worse than losing.

He rounds a corner and hastens past the small shtibl he attended since his marriage, tries to ignore the memories of the coffee, the chazzan with his yellowed tallis and new phone holster, and the cheerful farewells as each man went on his way, ready for work or study. He figures the worst is over now; a couple of blocks to the grocery store that he knows like the words of Ashrei, a brief dash among the aisles, and the short walk home to his room and its curtains. The thought of Shnayim Mikra actually brings a wan smile to his face; in spite of everything, he still hopes it’s a short Parsha.

 

 

He has two shiny black plastic bags full of food and is about to leave the store when the sound of a car motor separates from the background silence. It is not close by, he thinks, though in the mute, eerie Brooklyn it’s hard to judge distance. His instinct is to run back home with the food and lock his door. No one would try every door in the neighborhood; if they were looters, they’d never find him. Then he realizes that he’s terribly curious to see who else was left and what brought them there.

Goldberg haltingly slaps a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. The car engine, which has grown closer but is still at least two long blocks away, cuts out. A car door opens, then crunches shut. No, Goldberg decides. I’m not curious at all. He is about to go step into the street when he hears a distant cry of “Hello?” followed soon after by “Shalom Aleichem? Anyone?” in the same man’s voice. Even a cynical New Yorker knows that Shalom Aleichem is rarely a prelude to violence or theft, and Goldberg sighs, leaves his bag on the floor next to the counter, and walks down the road in its direction.

Where Goldberg is certain the voice sounded, a police cruiser crouches, half on the road, half on the sidewalk. It’s empty, but he knows where the driver must have gone. It’s parked right outside the Main Synagogue, the largest in the neighborhood. He walks down the dozen steps to the basement entrance where a row of large double doors greet him. It is lonelier in the lobby than it has been in half a century, though the coat racks are still crowded and the enormous electric kettle is still hot. He steps through another door that swings softly on its hinges and he is in the cavernous sanctuary, still full of the glorious chaotic disarray that signifies life; books stacked haphazardly on metal trollies wait to be shelved, pamphlets stuffed to the edges with polemics and advertisements are scattered across every flat surface, and the tables and benches are comfortably misaligned, moved wherever one pleased and never moved back. The room has no symmetry and no natural light and is held up by painted I-beams that laser down from the ceiling at random. Dozens of pews, so layered with paint that it’s easy to imagine none of the original wood remains, face an exquisitely carved calico ark. A long dais runs along the south wall, and a near-lightless tunnel lines the sanctuary’s Western side, so packed with books it seems made of them, a resting place in the wee hours of the morning for the homeless and the devoted. In the center, a bimah that can hold a Minyan rises like an island.

Innumerable lives revolved around this room, an immutable stake driven into solid earth in a world awash with change, fear, and relativism. “If there is no house, there is no man,” Goldberg thinks, and wonders if the reverse is also true as he walks from under the overhanging women’s section toward the bimah.

He almost forgets that he is looking for someone, but the sound of weeping draws his glance. A man stands next to the ark, grasping the rightmost edge of its floor-to-ceiling curtain at shoulder height, his frame trembling as he sobs. He is facing away from Goldberg but his beard, black veined with silver, is visible, as is his dark velvet yarmulke.

Goldberg steps forward and says, “Sorry?”

The man whirls. His complexion is dark and his almond-shape brown eyes shine with intelligence. There is a certain stateliness about his face, a refinement, as if time (though he is middle-aged his face seems older somehow) melted its sharp, assertive edges away as water melts a rock. He sees that Goldberg is no danger and his posture relaxes as his surprise recedes. “Goldberg,” says Goldberg, and extends his hand.

“Rosen,” replies the other. He shakes Goldberg’s hand as he wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his worn but neat suit jacket. His voice is deep and he looks to be in his late forties, twice as old as Goldberg.

Realizing he has interrupted Rosen in the middle of something, Goldberg attempts to smooth things over and asks, “That your police car outside?”

Rosen eyes him evenly and says, “I stole it. Thought I might hear something on the police radio. My truck was out of gas anyway.” He is polite and guarded and the only sign he betrays of his earlier emotion is a quiet sniff.

His accent strikes Goldberg as good. “Are you from New York?” he asks.

“West Virginia,” says Rosen. He then suffers the unbearable double take, the scan of his body searching for weird suspenders or dirt under his fingernails or something. He can practically hear the cogs turning in the kid’s mind: Why would a Chassid live in West Virginia? How does he get kosher food? Does he ever daven with a Minyan or hear the Torah read? Which wife could he convince of moving there? Rosen doesn’t like that line of thought, and says, quiet but clipped, “I’m surprised anyone is here.”

Funny, thinks Goldberg. I was happy to see you. “Thank G-d, whatever…whatever happened didn’t happen to me. Have you run into anyone else?”

“No. It was empty all the way up here. All the cars are stopped on the highway. Some of them crashed. No people, though. Or bodies. You’re the first.”

Two out of seven billion are left and we’re both Chassidim? thinks Goldberg. I could just be going out of my mind; I could be sitting in an asylum right now, and my psychosis is so smart it’s invented a world where no psychologists exist to treat it. I’ll have to learn the textbooks myself. Would it allow me to identify and cure it within the world it itself has generated? If I’m smart enough to imagine all of this I’m probably smart enough to prevent my escape, which is discouraging, though not as bad as if it’s all real, in which case, what? Aliens? Oh, G-d…

“When is candle lighting?” asks Rosen, looking away from Goldberg, uncomfortable.

“Early,” says Goldberg, shaken from his uneasy thoughts by the most normal of questions. He has never been happier to hear the stressful question.

“Do you have Kiddush and food?”

Goldberg hesitates, but no, running home to eat alone is out of the question. “I’ll bring it. We can make the meal here.”

Rosen watches him go, and turns back to the ark’s curtain. He cannot fathom the way G-d chose to bring him back there, but it had been far too long. When he was Goldberg’s age he lived in Brooklyn, until everyone found out and it became unbearable, even dangerous, for him to walk the streets, to pray in that large shul. He is glad that no one is left, wherever they went; he’s glad that he can finally return. Thank G-d Goldberg is too young to recognize my face, he thinks. He erupts in low laughter. The pleasure of having that sacred place to himself is enough to make him dizzy, and he laughs until he is out of breath.

 

 

2. לכו נרננה

Goldberg welcomes Shabbos as if he’s sore. He wants to feel serenity or even good cheer as he sings L’cha Dodi but it’s like trying to light a match during the plague of darkness. So he watches Rosen instead. By silent agreement they sit ten rows apart, each in his long Shabbos coat, Rosen’s more worn and informed by a bit of belly. First the older man stares into the distance rather than his siddur, then slowly looks down and begins to recite the words with relish. It reminds Goldberg of the old Chassidim, before the war. They didn’t look like much, either, arriving from distant lands with muddy boots and shining faces. They were always misunderstood and mistreated until the Tzaddik would reprimand the villagers and explain the stranger’s great worth. Of course, he reflects, the war killed that world, as if Hitler’s evil was so great G-d couldn’t even bear to send heroes into the world anymore. Even on Tuesday, those true leaders left to the Jews were all born in the light as the day was dying, before Germany snuffed out the lamps. No, Rosen is no saint of the countryside; there is no use seeking redemption there, no matter how beautifully the man prays. He is as broken as anyone else.

“מעביר יום ומביא לילה,” says Goldberg. “You pass the day and bring the night.” The familiar words have new meaning. He, as every Jew, struggled, and would do well remembering that G-d rules over the night as well as the day. This strange nightmare cannot exist outside of His will. Whatever reason we’ve been spared, it’s for a purpose. But why? Why me? Where did they go? He can’t bear to think about it anymore, and he focuses on the sound of his own voice saying the Shma.

Rosen feels like a child coming to his father’s arms. For the first time in years he prays not to bolster failing defenses but to attack, to cover ground. G-d is the only one who ever understood Rosen, but the Chassid always felt that his easy hatred of the world tainted his love of the Most High . If one loves one’s father because one all men despise one and one despises them in turn, does one truly love one’s father? But now, the delight! There are no other men, no one to loathe him or demand that he loathe himself, only he and his Beloved in the huge shul in Brooklyn, like on the half-remembered trips here in his childhood when he played under the benches and knew that his G-d created heaven and earth and cake and candy and would never let anything bad happen. Everything since those young days passed like a fevered dream, disappointment chasing disappointment, heartbreak after heartbreak. G-d started it, he often thought to himself. G-d let him down, but he remained faithful, never stopped searching. Pain followed pain, and Rosen trudged on until, one regret-soaked day when he was twenty-five, he rebelled, and everything shattered and collapsed. People got involved; he went into exile; he lived quietly down south. It was just a nightmare, the whole thing! He wants to smother G-d with kisses. Together, they welcome the Shabbos queen.

 

 

They are halfway through the night’s supply of gefilte fish when Rosen asks what Goldberg has been up to since Wednesday. Goldberg’s answer is slow in coming, and his face is hot. “I’ve been indoors, mostly. Watching webcams on the Internet.”

Rosen’s bushy eyebrows pull toward his hairline, and Goldberg awaits a rebuke; many Chassidim of Rosen’s generation have little patience for technology except in the spreading of G-d’s word. They would agree there was nothing morally wrong with watching a webcam, but in the end, hands on keyboards are the devil’s playground. Goldberg half wishes he rejected computers so resolutely; at least he would have gone outside and done something, like Rosen did by coming to New York. To his surprise, the older Chassid shrugs, ambivalent, and merely tears some crust from the challah and eats it. He then wipes his hands together, reaches under the table, and produces a large bottle of vodka. Goldberg can’t help but grin.

“We should try to finish the bottle before Moshiach comes,” says Rosen, and measures three fingers into each of their white plastic cups, “so he’ll be jealous, and come sooner.” Though Goldberg never read anything about a mass disappearance before the Time to Come, he throws it all back and feels less cold even as he grimaces and coughs and splutters. It is terrible vodka.

“Reminds me of Thursday nights in yeshiva,” says Goldberg.

“Always hated those,” says Rosen. “They were too loud and everyone just spoke garbage.”

“Ah, a real Chassid,” says Goldberg. “You wanted meaning and not foolishness. People would drink too much and say stupid things. Much better to only speak words of Torah, I always thought.”

Rosen stares at Goldberg. Interesting, he thinks. He wasn’t thinking of those alcohol-fueled gatherings in a particularly religious way, though he agrees that Torah and garbage can never be the same. On those nights, he always ended up with the noise and the heat to his back, the cool night ahead, lit by G-d’s stars in the sky and the small stars of man on the horizon, comforted by them even as he felt dwarfed before them. He’d had no interest in peers, in equals. He’d wanted something more.

Goldberg salts his challah as Rosen snatches the liquor bottle by its neck and pours another round. “Are you married?” asks the former.

“Divorced,” offers the latter. Goldberg squirms and looks at his plate. Rosen can almost feel the grids of Goldberg’s mental register narrow, looking to bracket him in the corner of a vast spreadsheet, way down past the double letters, where “old” and “single” intersect, his only company pariahs and derelicts. In his youth he would scream at the thought of this, but it’s so inevitable and engrained that he cannot even rightly blame those who do it. It is only logical as Goldberg’s first assumption, and Rosen has nothing deeper he wishes to share. To the wind with it, he decides, and willfully launches himself into the wilds beyond the edge of the Chassidim catalog. “I live alone with my Plott, Palti.” Goldberg looks lost– “My dog.” –and winces ever so slightly. Religious Jews from Brooklyn hate dogs near universally, and Rosen sadly boxes Goldberg into that cell. “How about you?” Rosen asks. “Married?”

“Six months,” Goldberg says, and forces another bite of fish past the lump in his throat. “Her name is Michal.”

“At least you don’t have kids who disappeared.” Goldberg flinches. Could Rosen possibly know? No, it was just a natural reaction.

“Do you?”

Rosen shakes his head. “Soup?” Goldberg nods shakily, and Rosen heads off to ladle equal measures into Styrofoam bowls.

 

 

They sit on the pews again, Goldberg behind Rosen, recovering from the meal’s pained small talk. Goldberg reads the same paragraph for the third time without understanding a word and Rosen stares at the ark over the edge of his Chumash.

“Why us?” Goldberg calls out, surprising himself. The question gutters out into silence and the older Chassid doesn’t answer or even change his posture for so long that Goldberg wonders if he wasn’t heard. He can’t see Rosen’s brow furrowing, feel the sudden tensing of his shoulders, hear his molars grind, or know the violent thoughts that flare in his mind.

Rosen swivels and looks Goldberg in the eye. “Why are you asking?”

“Well, we’re here for a reason, aren’t we? If we’re the only Jews left on earth, we should figure out what our responsibilities are.”

Rosen laughs, a clatter from deep in his chest. “Torah doesn’t change. We must do exactly what we did before Wednesday.”

Ridiculous. “I have no job, no Yeshiva, no community, and no family. How can I possibly do what I did before?”

“G-d is still alive. Learn, daven. Love Him and fear Him,” says Rosen, face alight with feeling.

Goldberg is angry, suddenly. “What does that even mean? My wife and my unborn child and everyone I have ever known have been taken away and you want me to just carry on? We’re survivors of a holocaust and you think I should just keep trying to finish Shas?”

“Have you considered,” says Rosen, “that they are fine and we have been taken away?” Goldberg stands and begins the pace down the aisle of the shul, considering.

“Maybe that makes me feel a little better,” he admits, “but I still want to know why I’m here, and why you’re here, and no one else is.”

“Do we have anything in common?”

“I’m not related to a Rosen. I don’t think I’ve ever met one.”

“And I’m not related to a Goldberg, either. I grew up in Minnesota and only lived in New York once I got married. Where did you go to Yeshiva?”

“Here, my entire life. What was your wife’s family?”

“Berman. Yours?”

“Lerner.”

Rosen shakes his head. They don’t know any of the same people. He shrugs and looks back into his sefer. Goldberg tears it from his hands. The younger Chassid refuses to see the building animosity in Rosen’s dark eyes as he draws out more and more farfetched details from the older Chassid. At first Goldberg offers his own responses as well, but eventually he simply directs a stream of questions at Rosen with growing desperation. Rosen answers calmly, “’73. Yuma. Red. One. Crown. No. Many times. Nothing significant. Three letters. No. Not in particular. Kremenchug. The Tzemach Tzedek. When I was a child. No. Yerushalayim. Yes. A Ford F-150. Latkes. When people stop asking me stupid questions. Stop, okay?”

Goldberg grits his teeth. He is sweating and blood pounds in his neck. “How can we not know why we were chosen?”

Rosen sighs and against his better judgment says, “I don’t know why you’re here.” He stands and walks toward the door to the street, picking up his overcoat and shrugging it on.

“Who are you?” Goldberg asks in a small voice.

“I am the only man in the world who is happy to be alone,” says Rosen, and climbs the steps into the cool fresh air as Goldberg collapses onto a bench.

 

 

It is clear to Rosen as he strides down the sidewalk (for some reason even now he can’t bring himself to walk down the middle of the eight-lane thoroughfare) that to be alone is to be as close to G-dliness as is possible for flesh and blood. The One not only lacks but will not stand for another being; there can be no other, and no trillions upon trillions of atoms mean anything to the contrary in any way Rosen can understand. The thoughts of my mind and the work of my hand are lies, contrivances, while my solitude, perfect except for Goldberg, reaches beyond eternity to the time before He made an other, he thinks. He decided long ago that his loneliness, though painful, does not constrict his spirit but is its emancipation, the scrambling of a newborn calf finding its footing in a new reality.

He has been staring down at the sidewalk, and when he looks up he finds that, his feet, acting on their own accord, have brought him to a place he used to know, a certain house in a row of near-identical brownstones. He recognizes it by the metalwork of the door grate with its splayed arcs forming arrows and flowers in their intersection. It is rusty now, but its craftsmanship and staid elegance are clear in the streetlamp light.

An old pain bursts inside of him. In this house he betrayed his G-d in a foul mix of passion and premeditation that left him sick and happy and broken. On the day the evidence was found, his normal life, his Goldberg life, crashed around him there like a crumbling Soviet building, and that night rumors cohered over a thousand salt shakers. Then he felt only the crippling, sublime loneliness whose corpse now rises like the dry bones, like the man across the Yaavok, to conquer him. He doesn’t flinch or run but faces his enemy. I don’t believe in you, he tells it, and though it has no voice he hears its mocking reply.

Oh? it asks.

There is nothing other than G-d, says Rosen. You are His servant, sent so that I can discover the depth of my own G-dliness and put it into His service. It is the courage I’m using now. I am clean of my betrayal, it will never happen again, and you won’t convince me that I’m supposed to feel like a broken shard. Who needs you? Go away.

The specter curls away like smoke and melts into the air. There are tears running down his face and his fingers are numb on the door lattice. His mind turns to a delightful tangle of logic from a maamar he learned earlier and his body turns to the street. By the time he rounds the corner of the block he is humming a happy tune.

 

 

Goldberg decides he must follow Rosen nearly from the moment the latter makes his pronouncement and pushes out the door. He has no idea just how far back he ought to linger to prevent his detection, but Rosen’s path is predictable, following the sidewalk despite the empty street, and he seems lost in thought. Goldberg wants to say his words of Torah but is afraid that in the silence he will be heard, so he thinks the familiar letters instead, and avoids crunching in the ice-rimed snow.

He stops when Rosen does; he watches as the strange man looks at one of the row houses and slowly, shaking, approaches it. Rosen leans against the door, his fingers brushing its surface, and becomes still. Goldberg feels a heavy dread fill his stomach as Rosen straightens up, walks quickly back to the street, and nearly waltzes around a corner; he knows he must approach the door and inspect it for himself.

Up close he sees the door’s truly exquisite iron grate, aside from which it looks like every other house in the neighborhood. As he reaches out to inspect the doorknocker, he notices a glint on the door at chin level.

It is a plaque and it is partly frosted over. Goldberg bobs his head side to side, irritated, trying to find a position in which the door does not stand in his own shadow. Finally, at a shallow angle with his check nearly against the brick, he makes out the name “LERNER” and, for a moment, knows what it was like to see the writing on the wall.

 

 

3. מנסתרות נקני

When Goldberg arrives at shul on Shabbos morning he finds Rosen eating a piece of cake and learning Chassidus to a pleasant tune, his eyes red from a night on the hard benches but his expression at pleasant as Goldberg has seen. The younger chassid makes himself a coffee. Everything is better after coffee.

Lerner. The word ricochets around, giving him no peace. It cannot be that Rosen’s connection to that house has nothing to do with Michal, he thinks, but I don’t recognize the address. Why did Rosen lie about knowing a Lerner last night? Goldberg watches as Rosen switches to a siddur and begins to daven with measured bliss.

Goldberg steps out to use the washroom. As he washes his hands with frigid water and breathes the miasmic air of the subbasement devoted to individual lockers and the men’s room he notices a crumpled, soggy paper on the counter next to the sink. It is a printout of some sort and as he smoothens it out a bit the word “Afghanistan” catches his eye. It’s a copy of an article he read years ago, when he was still in Yeshiva, about the Jews of Kabul. Or the Jew, rather, since in a twisted parody of a parody the last two Jews in the country fought over its last synagogue until one managed to escape the endless politics by passing away. The remaining Jew’s name, and thus the name of Afghan Jewry, was Zevulun, and in this Goldberg senses a G-dly irony; the Jew who couldn’t stand another Jew with the same passport bore the name of a son of Jacob who was defective, half a man, without his brother Yissachar. How did this end up here? He thinks as he searches in vain for paper towel for his wet hands. He settles for wiping them on the wall like a boy spiting his school.

His Shacharis is hurried and troubled. He would die for a casual conversation, to hear what his friends spoke of at their meals the night before, but there are only the words of the siddur, ancient and unchanging, and Rosen, whose obvious enjoyment annoys him to no end. He recites Kiddush as Rosen sings Yishtabach, and sits as he sits. Goldberg feels an urge to storm home and crawl into bed for days; the thought of Rosen struggling to find him is satisfying. At least something would upset the older Chassid’s equilibrium. As he dips his bread into salt he realizes that the stranger probably wouldn’t come looking for him at all. Rosen would view his exit as a convenience. No, he thinks. I’m staying.

When Rosen bows in completion of his silent prayers and turns to sit, he finds Goldberg’s scouring gaze fixed on his face. Rosen smiles with how-do-you-do politeness, and Goldberg frowns.

“Why do you live in West Virginia?” asks Goldberg.

“Because it’s not too far, but it’s far enough.”

“From the people you’d rather live without.”

“I like people. I love people, even,” he says, sighing. Don’t do this.

“You were crying yesterday, when I first met you.”

“Yeah. I was happy. It’s been years since I saw this shul.”

“Don’t you miss people?” Goldberg explodes.

“In moments of weakness, yes. The Aibishter made us love many evil things.”

“Evil things,” croaks Goldberg.

Rosen pulls his tallis from his head, letting it bunch at his shoulders. There is fire in his eyes. “I never held their behavior against them. It was hard at first. I realize they only did what had to do.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was the most perfect thing that ever happened to me. Golus, exile. It’s true that in the end there’s only G-d, but there’s really nothing but G-d in West Virginia. If you choose, if you choose.” Rosen drops onto the pew next to Goldberg, looking into his eyes, unblinking. He feels good. No one ever heard his story, not before Wednesday, or after.

“What did you do that they sent you into exile?” Goldberg asks, the words seizing between his throat and his chest, his head throbbing, his guts pitching.

Rosen doesn’t look away, he doesn’t stutter. He sighs and tells him.

When he is done and the young Chassid sits silent, jaw agape like a peasant lost in Leipzig, Rosen gets up, throws his tallis over his head, and davens Mussaf.

Goldberg is shocked that he feels no horror. Rosen’s story is a simple one, not like a circles geometry is simple, rarefied and platonic, but like a satellite image of a jungle is simple, a smooth swath of green perched in Africa, a thing. The color doesn’t speak of beasts or barbarous sacrifices; it arouses no bad feelings. Divorced from any reality and simply is, until Goldberg hears Rosen whispering to G-d and realizes that the man and the story are one and should annihilate each other. Here stands this quiet figure of holiness sharing a soul and a past with the unspeakable. How can someone walk on two feet and dip apple in honey and cinch a silk coat and –

“You never went to prison?” asks Goldberg.

“I went to West Virginia.”

“You’re a criminal.”

Rosen nods and looks at his feet with patience and obedience. He was taught when to be ashamed. “I’m guilty,” he says.

“I can’t believe-”

“I’m guilty of davening, three times a day.”

Goldberg’s brow creases.

“I am guilty of loving Torah and the ways of truth and kindness. I am guilty of kosher Shchita. I am guilty of Ahavas Yisroel. I am guilty of knowing two Sdorim of mishnayos by heart. That’s what I’m responsible for.” He runs his hands over the worn tabletop.

“You can’t be serious. You think you’re innocent?”

“I did nothing wrong, except being created. I forgave G-d for that mistake on Yom Kippur when I was younger than you are now.” He taps his foot.

Goldberg feels as if he has entered some new, strange reality. “What about Lerner? You can’t honestly believe-”

Rosen’s head snaps up. “What about you?” he spits. “What is your name worth? G-d dealt me a bad chelek. I did what I could, a million times better than what you did with your community and your wife and your peace. How dare you look down at me? What choice did you ever have to make?” He looks at the curtain of the ark and adds, “What choice did any of you have to make?”

Goldberg shakes. “It sounds like you’ve come up with some great excuses in West Virginia.”

“If I cared for others’ opinions, I would have died years ago.”

“You’re a rasha.”

“Keep clinging to that, Goldberg. Hold it tight, because if you let go you’ll realize we’re not so different. I might even be better than you. Who knows what you’d become if G-d didn’t grant you your soul, your family, your upbringing. Who knows who’d get further if we started at the same place?”

“You’re a monster.”

“If I am,” says Rosen, “then this is my paradise. And you’re ruining it. Like I told you, I was made to be alone. Go yearn after your trifling life, and leave me to my purpose.” He looks into his siddur and prays.

Goldberg’s mind, jolted loose, wanders. He remembers reading as a boy on a long Shabbos afternoon, lying on his bed in a warm ray of sunlight, about Yisroel Ruzhiner’s prophecy. That king of the Jews who rode a golden carriage pulled by white horses spoke in a village in Hungary of the darkness that would precede the final redemption. It would be a time of divisiveness and Eliyahu would once again climb the mountain and face the priests of Baal. But in the future, the fire would descend from heaven and consume the offering of the idolaters; G-d would deny his own worship to all but the faithful and the foolish, would attest to His own falsehood – and the majority, the Tzaddik told his Chassidim, would do the only logical thing and abandon the path of G-d.

Rosen’s voice rises in the repetitious Ein K’Elokeinu.

Goldberg thinks of Kabul, and Zevulun. It seems so long ago that the loneliness was foreign. He imagines what his Shabbos could have been, alone in the ruins of New York, agonized without the sweet videos, the shining veils and the tin symphonies to dull his pain and let him forget. Instead, G-d sent Rosen.

“Who is the Lord other than G-d?” a keening voice proclaims in Hebrew.

Rosen is evil, Goldberg tells himself. But he couldn’t bring himself to push the older Chassid away, to declare himself free of Rosen. If Rosen could choose, and choose the difficult path, then I can do the same, he thinks.

“And who is my rock other than our Lord?” asks Rosen.

“We aren’t monsters,” Goldberg chooses. “We’re just trying to work with what we were given. All of us.”

I suppose that’s true, Rosen thinks, with resignation.

They feel themselves drift away from their deserted world. Goldberg ceases to be himself and becomes himself at the same time and Rosen, in himself, sees a nation. They float in nothingness and know everything; they see the elaborate underpinnings of creation, the infinite connections between all things. They see perfection itself in the mirror images their lives form, feel the glory in their exact reflection. They realize that they have sat in judgment of each other, that they have declared each other’s innocence. They see, from a distance, a well-lit grove, and Rosen can just make out the most beautiful hand he has ever seen clutching a clean, white, velvet curtain. Their joy as they go upward and upward echoes forever.

 

 

4. המלמד אדם דעת

“Dovid,” moans Michal. It is a quiet moan, lost in the chatter of the extended Lerner family who sit on low chairs in her tiny Brooklyn living room. It has been a week already, and the worst is long over. But the kicking in her womb brings her to inconsolable grief, and she excuses herself upstairs.

One of her aunts calls up after her, but her mother savves her from responding and says, “Let her be. It’s been so hard for her, since Wednesday.”

 

 

A cold, pointed snout nudges the still form of Nathan Rosen, but the master refuses to wake. The dog resigns itself to failure and merely presses its head against the blanket and whines. Its brown gaze catches beauty streaming through the naked windows, the glint of the sun on immaculate snow.

 

 

Image from Flickr.

A Sublime Tune

The year is 1877. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Brigham Young recently passed away, New Hampshire just became the last state to allow Jews to hold public office, and, on the other side of the world, in White Russia, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch delivers a famous series of discourses on Chassidic thought.

Your friend Richard walks into your well-furnished Boston parlor hefting some kind of canister, which with the obscurity of distance and a bit of wishful thinking you imagine to be packaged whiskey (perhaps he arrives from Jack Daniel’s Tennessee distillery, which just turned two years old). All hopes of drunken frivolity flee your mind, however, when you see the stern visage with broad forehead and wide lips staring at you from the side of the cardboard cylinder. Under the portrait, a florid signature acts as a mark of authenticity. It reads “Thomas A. Edison.”

Without explanation, your friend uses your best letter opener to lever the metal cap out of the cardboard tube, carefully upends the whole thing on the table, and lifts it away to reveal…something. It looks like a thick, hollowed-out candle, and its outer surface is covered in thin grooves. Your friend declares, bellows to mend, that you are looking at sound.

Finding this overly Sinaitic, you stare.

“Edison,” he presses on, “has found a way to record sound.”

You risk a glance at your European piano (I allow you, for the purposes of this exercise, to be fabulously wealthy) stacked high with recorded sheet music. Your friend seems hurt.

“It’s not just the notes he’s recorded. Those are used to create new sounds. He’s gone and recorded old ones onto these wax pieces, and with his new machine, you can hear them again.”

“New machine?” you ask.

“He’s calling it a phono…phono something. Isn’t it the bulliest thing you ever heard?”

Eager to wipe the smile off his face (you really like your letter opener) you say, “Impossible.”

He frowns. “I heard it myself. He cranks the machine, and it reads those notches on the wax there, and music comes out of its horn.”

“Who ever heard of a machine reading?”

“You just did.” He thinks that this a great point and grins like the cat’s uncle. He doesn’t know that your great, great grandfather Thaddeus was already rolling his eyes during the declaration of the Declaration of Independence, thereby bringing cynicism to America. Richard is destined to lose this exchange.

“Why should I care?” you ask with an attitude your descendants a century and a half from now will be proud of. “I don’t need any machine. If I want to hear music, I play it, or I find others to play it for me.”

“Oh, everyone knows you spend hours holed up in here with your drink and your piano-”

“If there is a better use of my time I’ve yet to discover it.”

“It’s not that. Don’t you want your music to spread out across the divide?” asks your friend.

“What divide?”

“Why, the one between yourself and everyone else, of course! What good is your music if only you hear it?” He crouches next to the cylinder, admiring it. “With this, the whole world can sing.”

 

First there wasn’t an existence, and then G-d created one. Before that (Augustine would tell you if you asked) He was preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries. Douglas Adams said with authority that the creation of the Universe “has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” But unfortunately, it’s here. We might as well deal with it.

We are told that He had a hard time creating it all. He’s infinite, you see, pretty much by definition, i.e. G-d(n.): He who caused everything else to be and was not caused by anything else to be. So He must be infinite, since if He’s there before everything else exists and He’s not infinite, we have to wonder what else is there, how it got there, where it gets off not being either G-d or G-d’s creation, etc. It would be terribly out-of-place, since no place or time had yet been created. But I digress.

The problem with being infinite is that all You see is more of You in every direction. If you want to create something that is decidedly not You, say, a slice of pizza, you have to make room for it. No problem, you say. Being infinite has its advantages; you’re infinitely powerful. But now – what do you make the pizza out of? It’s fine, You think. I’ll make it out of my own infinite existence.

A slice of pizza made of infinitude sounds great at first (people would have probably been less angry if the universe were any kind of pastry) but: 1) If it’s infinite, what makes it pizza and not G-d? Isn’t pizza by definition limited to being pizza and not, say, a giraffe? You can’t make these fine distinctions. All you have to work with is Infinitude, and whatever that is, it probably doesn’t come with cheese and sauce. 2) Once you have this pizza, where are you going to bite into it from, wise guy?

It seems G-d can play an infinite symphony for Himself, but he can’t record it. The music is one thing, an expression of G-d as He truly is, what we call His Infinite Light, whereas the recording is quite another, bringing G-d somewhere that’s not Him. And “not Him” is in short supply. Even if he uses his infinite power to make that pizza, on the grounds that he can do anything, it won’t help: it would be like listening to an iPod at a concert, where the weak recording of the music is drowned out by the real thing and ceases to be audible. Besides, what use is a recording that only exists on condition that the musician continues to play? Why can’t He create something separate from Himself that exists on its own terms, without the need to bring his infinite power to bear? If the pizza can’t just be delicious without having to constantly reflect G-d’s involvement in its creation, is it pizza? Or is it still G-d’s ephemeral symphony known only to Him?

He really can’t seem to escape Himself.

 

The wax cylinder begat 78s, and 78s begat 45s, and humanity rejoiced, for a mere century after Edison’s invention they could listen to ELO whenever they desired. The technology involved in the successive generations of records was essentially identical. Edison discovered that by translating the vibrations of a diaphragm to grooves on tin foil he could later reverse the process, vibrate the diaphragm in the exact same way, and reproduce the sound. It is quite astonishing that such a crude process should work, and no one was more surprised than the great inventor when he first heard his machine say “Mary had a little lamb.” The phonograph was born, and with adjustments, the modern turntable followed a few years later. Sound was captured.

But was the whole world really singing? Sure, you had music in your living room, no multi-million dollar stage shows or spandex required. But if you wanted to hear “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” as you sat in the park, dodging occultists and penning a letter to President Carter, you were out of luck. Even at home, your records were large, fragile, and subject to decay, all concerns since the original phonograph, though mitigated in part by technological advances.

We see a general principle at work here. Any form of communication, whether by sound, light, or other means, must lose something in transmission when translated to a different time, place, or person. In other words: it is impossible for another to know something as it knows itself. This is why it takes the best of poets to fit even the wispy edges of our experience into dead, fragmented words. It is why in the ancient High Court of Jerusalem, instead of sleeping the night before a capital decision, they would stay up until dawn, debating, reviewing their opinions, lest they forget. How could they forget, asks the Talmud. The words of the judges were recorded by two stenographers, it’s true, but words on paper can never convey a full line of thought, as anyone who tries to review their notes at the end of a school term will unfortunately find. If it is thought, it cannot be expressed in words. If it is in words, it is no longer thought. If it is emotion, it cannot be put into musical notes. If it is music, it is not emotion, and only those artists at the heights of their powers can approach leveling the difference. Once the music is performed, the rule holds sway once more. A performance is not a recording, and a recording is no longer a performance. If this miscommunication principle were not true, speech wouldn’t be necessary at all; you could know my thoughts as I know my thoughts. If you could know that, what would be the difference between you and me? If there is nothing lost in transmission, we are not communicating, we are one. If we are not one, then we communicate.

Therefore, when Richard unveiled that cylinder for the first time, you were dubious. Once you heard the gramophone sing, you scoffed. It didn’t sound like music. It was noisy, tinny, reproduction “from a mile away,” as a contemporary put it. In all the excitement of hearing, say, a drum set in a drumless room, one might not notice that drums-as-cylinder are an anemic caricature of the real thing. Where was the attack, the full-bodied thwack, the full crash of the cymbals? No, a lot of work remained. Drums-without-drums were a failure, and the failure is called low fidelity; the recording was disloyal to the original. The goal ever since has been high fidelity.

 

It’s the year 2000. The world fails to end from a computer glitch, AOL acquires Time Warner, reality television first begins its long war on regular television (and regular reality), and President Clinton is off visiting Vietnam. You enter your dorm room at your prestigious University and find your friend, Richard Pritchard IV, clicking away at your PC. He turns as you enter, waves, and thumbs a knob on your expensive, powerful stereo system. The death throes of an electromechanical bull beaten to death by a six-string guitar fill the room. You shout and make to pull your stereo out of the wall socket, battered by waves of noise with every step, but your friend beats you to it by closing the audio program.

“I didn’t know you bought a Rage Against the Machine CD,” you say, unclenching your teeth.

“I didn’t buy it. There’s this new thing called Napster.”

“Isn’t that a mattress company?”

“Hardly,” he says, ever-patient. “It’s a program that lets your download music from anyone connected to it.”

“Yeah? A lot of use that is, if RATM ends up playing through my speakers. I have to sanitize them now-”

“The program has everything. Every single, every album. It’s a whole new world.”

“Isn’t it stealing to download it without buying it?” you ask.

“They have Radiohead.”

“Move over,” you suggest, and sit in front of your computer.

“I already acquired a few albums, if you’re interested.”

“Wait, how did you download ‘a few albums’ onto my hard drive? Only one gig [of the ten available. Oh, nostalgia. –Ed.] is free.”

“Each album is, like, 80 megabytes.”

“Impossible.”

“Why?”

Since you are a huge nerd (not everyone got into the prestigious University through their father’s connections like Richard) you actually know why, and pull over a pencil and a pad of paper. “It used to be,” you begin contemplatively, “that you’d listen to music with your turntable. The quality was good but the records were clunky. They were analog.”

“Analog?”

“Yeah. They recorded sound waves as curves.” You draw a sweeping hill and valley across the paper. “Nature generally behaves like a curve, and sound is no exception. CDs, however, aren’t analog.” You begin drawing more shapes, and your friend leans over to see. “CDs are digital. They don’t use waves; they use numbers that approximate waves.” A series of flat-roofed rectangles now stretch from the bottom of the page to the curve, the Manhattan skyline seen through the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. At some point of their width, the flat-topped rectangles invariably exceed the curve or fail to reach it. You point to the vertical shapes and say, “Each of these is a digital estimate of the height of the analog wave at that point, and can be expressed as a number.”

“But why wouldn’t you just use the curve itself, like they did on records?”

“They take up too much space. A series of ones and zeroes can say the same thing and take up less room doing it.”

“But it’s inexact!” your friend objects. “Rectangles can’t really imitate a curve.” He points to the wedges of space between the skyscrapers and the bridge. He is right, of course. This is the information in the sound wave that is lost when converting to digital. You begin drawing new rectangles, thinner this time. If the first set were broadswords, these are stilettoes. Though they diverge much less from the curve, the error is still there. And it always will be, “Unless you have an infinite number of rectangles,” says your friend. You raise an eyebrow. “I took calculus in high school,” he explains.

 

Courtesy of Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pcm.svg
via Wikipedia.

 

“We don’t need an infinite number,” you say. “We only need 44,100 per second of sound.”

“What?”

“The guys who invented the CD figured out that’s how many you’d need, if you want the digital to duplicate the analog. To the human ear, at least. And that’s why an album can never be 80 MB.” You describe a list of numbers as you write them down. “The rectangles are called samples, because the curve is sampled as a certain number at a certain rate. Here, the rectangle is at this height, and then a second later, it’s at a different height, etc. Each sample is a number, and every number in binary is represented by a certain number of bits. If we only used one bit to store a sample, each one could only have a height of 1, or 0. Not a lot of accuracy there.”

“I hope you’re talking to yourself, because I don’t understand a word.”

“So instead of one bit they used sixteen of them, which yield 216 choices of height. Sixteen bits is two bytes per sample, with 44,100 samples per second, and all of it’s done twice, since there’s two channels in stereo audio.”

“Left and right,” Richard says.

“Correct. Now a full CD runs for 74 minutes. Times sixty seconds per minute…” You hold up your handiwork. The page reads:

2 x 44,100 x 2 x 74 x 60

“Equals,” you say, and tap some numbers into your desk calculator, “783,216,000 bytes. Or around 700 more megabytes of Rage than you claim.” Your tone says, QED.

He grabs the mouse from your hand and conjures up the properties of a CD he downloaded. The screen reads 80.3 MB. Your brow furrows.

“Reality trumps theory,” says Richard with satisfaction.

How boorish.

 

G-d is omniscient, thank G-d. He knows that my presentation on infinity earlier was full of, well, infidelity. G-d is not infinite in the confined, logical, Aristotelian sense of the word, where “infinite” and “finite” are a contradiction. G-d is what’s called a Kol Yachol, the One who can do anything, whose boundless expression is absolute perfection. This means that if, in his infinitude, he can’t “do” finitude, then He is imperfect, limited to limitlessness. G-d has no limits.

It therefore turns out that G-d exists in some place beyond all conception, and infinitude and finitude are merely modes of his expression. One can be G-d and be non-infinite, the way that there is such a thing as music before any air vibrates or any grooves run. Music itself is ineffable, beyond, and “live” and “recorded” are just two ways of tapping into the same truth. G-d is no more infinite than He is finite, no more spiritual than He is physical, just as it’s nonsensical to say that music is, at its essence, more live than it is recorded. The thing itself is being mistaken for the way it communicates.

This seems encouraging for those of us who don’t have any money for live shows and/or live in a finite, physical, natural world where nothing interesting ever happens. Neither of these is any less “real” than going to the live show or meeting G-d face-to-face. A recording is no less music than a concert; our physical world is no less G-d than whatever existed before He created it. It’s like a game of peekaboo. I cover my face with my hands and ask you, “Where have I gone?” The answer is nowhere. My hands are me just as my face is me, and no concealment has taken place.

Is any of this truly satisfying?

Not in the least.

Are you happy to live life listening to your iPod, never seeing the artists in the flesh? How about living in this world, secure in the knowledge that it, too, is G-dly while never coming face-to-face with its creator?

Wouldn’t we prefer to see His face, and not just His hands?

Weren’t the world and iPods created in the first place for those who can’t handle the real thing?

 

Compression is one of the boons of the shift from analog to digital audio. The goal of compression is to put the lie to the miscommunication principle; we can have drums without drums. We can even have 700 MB without 700 MB; we can carry thirty thousand songs in the palms of our hands. This is the mp3 revolution.

And, as any audiophile will tell you, it’s a lie.

A lot of the music flying around in the glorious Napster days sounded almost as tinny and reduced as Edison’s wax cylinders. Since mp3 is a form of “lossy” compression, a certain amount of information goes into an mp3 encoder and significantly less comes out the other end. The encoder’s job is to decide which information is relevant and therefore worth keeping and which is not. By discarding details of the sound that (in theory) your average listener won’t miss anyway, the mp3 stuffs an enormous amount of relevant sound in a small place. The lower the bitrate of the mp3, the more information is thrown out.

To which the audiophile would say, “I didn’t realize the music was so easily divided. If the artists decided certain sections of the waveform ought to be in the recording, by what right does a fancy calculus-wielding program strip them out?”

The argument then becomes highly subjective (and violent) and focuses on whether the algorithm does a good enough job at guessing what the human ear can’t hear anyway, and at what bitrate. This often branches (and if it doesn’t it should) into a divisive ideological discussion. Does the near-miraculous process of fitting something huge into a small place deserve recognition as an outstanding intellectual achievement if it yields Beethoven’s Symphonies encoded in a near-skeletal 128 kbps, turning everyone’s music library into a collection of cell phone ring tones?

Everyone agrees, however, that the sound you get from an mp3 is not the same sound they heard at the recording studio. It is, at best, an illusion. Just because David Copperfield said the Statue of Liberty was gone, and it seemed that way to his audience’s senses, doesn’t make it true.

 

As previously mentioned, G-d can do anything. Don’t go placing any rash bets just yet (if Elvis and Tupac ever ride the Loch Ness monster through Times Square I’ll be writing my next brilliant article in the lap of luxury); He seems to prefer following the rules of logic most of the time. It’s probably related to the aforementioned slice of pizza; if everything that takes place has his fingerprints all over it, could the world ever just exist in peace as the world? If there were no logic, could pizza ever just be pizza? It’d be like a thirty-year-old whose mother still does his laundry: hard to respect.

Instead of direct involvement, so to speak, He uses a system of interlocking translations of His Truth. The physical world, what we call “natural,” is for Him the end result of a long process. He begins with his Truth, his song. We now know that, by definition, only He can hear it; in fact, if you know it like He knows it, congratulations, you must be Him. He then taps into his powers of finitude to capture the same song in a limited form; He wants to put himself into the smallest possible space, which by definition means somewhere utterly removed from Himself. It’s hopeless, you might think. There is a fidelity/space tradeoff. If He wants someone to get the music as-is, he should play them the supernal equivalent of a vinyl record, or a non-compressed CD. This is like saying that if you want to meet G-d, you have to meditate in a monastery for at least eighty years. He can reach as low as the monastery, where the physical touches the spiritual, but he can go no further. If he were to express himself any lower, it could only be as an illusion. His Truth would not be there; some lookalike substitute would have to suffice. He is not portable. If I find him on the subway in Brooklyn, or, Lord help us, Manhattan, it’s not really Him I’ve found. It’s His mp3.

Is there a solution to this quandary?

Humans have found one. It’s called FLAC, the Free Lossless Audio Codec. You read that right. Lossless. That means the files are not going to be as small as MP3s, so it’s a little bit harder to fit them onto your hard drive or your phone. But the files are half the size of the original recordings, and they’re perfect. Drums that can’t fit in your hand go in one end. Drums that can come out the other. For the first time since that wax cylinder was upended on the table, if I play you a song, and then hand you a string of ones and zeroes that make up a FLAC file, I am actually giving you two of the exact same thing. As long as you have a good recording microphone, and the right software, the two are indistinguishable. And the FLAC can take the train.

G-d looks at Himself, and sees: Himself. He looks at the world and sees Himself, too. One is a compressed form of the other, a FLAC inside a .zip inside a .rar inside a .7z. He has all the software He needs to hear the music (his programming ability is world-renowned). He doesn’t even need the infinite, “live performance” version anymore. He has this lossless file. They are the same thing. It’s not just an illusion. If we can make FLACs, then so can He. And so He does.

What’s the point of it, you may be wondering. Why go through the trouble? If to Him the world is merely a reflection of Himself, why create it? It really does seem to be a bad move, if only in its pointlessness. He can see right through his own deception, the same way a really jacked up iTunes could play the 7z[rar[zip[FLAC]]].

The point is that there are those who can’t see through the illusion. Not easily anyway. They are stuck right at the point where they have the file, but not the necessary software. There are those that can’t hear the music.

There are 7 billion of them, actually.

 

Gramophone. via Flickr.
Gramophone. via Flickr.

 

As you look down at your breakfast (eggs fried lovingly; salad), Richard takes the spot next you on the bench in the Yeshiva dining room. “Spend a year in Israel, they said. It’s a man’s life, they said,” he complains.

“Just buy some Cocoa Rice Krispies already,” you suggest, taking a swig of filtered water. The tap water in Jerusalem hurts your stomach.

“Do I look like I’m made of money? Twelve shekels!” He takes a bit of egg and shudders. Richard (he prefers Yerachmiel now) never adapted well to new places. You’d never tell anyone, but you feel a little homesick as well, and you frown as you chew.

“Why the long face?” asks a kind voice. You look up to find one of the rabbis sitting across from you, eating granola cereal. His huge salt-and-pepper beard fans across his neat black sweater vest below a cantankerous moustache. Floating above it all are sparkling brown eyes staring at you through oblong glasses.

“Missing home, I guess,” you answer, shy. You heard he sometimes yells at people.

“You know, G-d is with you more in the difficult times than the easy ones.”

“Ah, sure,” you say, and push some tomato cubes around your plate. The rabbi’s words remind you of some e-mail you deleted once about footsteps in the sand. Richard elbows you in the ribs and you look up to find the rabbi glaring at you.

“It’s true,” he insists, his voice climbing an octave. “Why are we here in this world?”

You shrug. He looks at you like your stern uncle Ezra.

“G-d wants to be revealed even and specifically in the lowest places. He wants to be seen in His infinitude in a place that seems utterly separate from him. It’s like a FLAC file.”

“What?” you and Richard ask.

“Never mind,” he snaps. “Suffice it to say that from His point of view, nothing ever changed. Before a world was created He was alone, and now that it was created He is alone. The difference is all on our end.”

“I prefer after the world was created, since I exist,” your friend pronounces. The rabbi’s beard twitches as if it might fly off and attack the student on its own.

“Since the illusion of an existence separate from G-d is made for us, it’s designed so that we constantly teeter at the point of discovering Him. He is always waiting, just beyond our reach. We are handed code, and told to understand.” The rabbi eats a spoonful of oats and waits for your response, his head cocked to the side.

“What does that have to do with difficult times?” you ask.

“Anything that you can easily see as a blessing, for example those delicious eggs, or my granola, or a good day where everything seems to go your way, is G-d giving you Himself, directly, because you can appreciate it from your perspective. And if you can appreciate it, how great can it be? How much of His Truth is left in it?”

“That’s uplifting,” your friend chimes in.

The Rabbi stabs one of Richard’s eggs with a fork, transfers it to his plate, and begins to eat it. In between bites he says, “You don’t get it. In fact, not only do you not get it, if you were to truly understand, you’d be Him. It’s the miscommunication principle. The only aspects of the Truth you can appreciate are the trifles He can hand you without you totally losing yourself. He lets you hear a whisper of a whisper of His music.”

“Isn’t this like how G-d conceals Himself to give man free choice? Because if He was revealed no one in their right mind would ever choose to do evil?”

“It’s so much more than that,” the Rabbi says, drawing his plate close and thereby thwarting Richard’s attempts at reclamation. “To say He hides Himself to give us free choice is to chalk up our deaf, dumb, blind, G-dless state to an infuriating technicality. What I’m proposing is that we should rejoice in His concealment, because it is the purpose of our existence. We are to look the illusion of His absence straight in the eye and tell it that we don’t believe in it, that no matter what our senses tell us, the world is G-dly. And G-d is good. We must demand to see it from His perspective. His endless symphony plays all around us.”

“What happens once we do that?” asks Richard.

“When G-d realizes that He doesn’t see the illusion, and that we aren’t fooled by it, it no longer serves any purpose. So He takes it away.”

 

There once was a great sage who asked a young child why he was crying. “My friends and I were playing hide and seek,” replied the child. “But I hid myself so well that they gave up looking for me.” Said the sage, “This is how G-d feels about His creation.” Our world is so much more than the two-bit manipulation of the material. If we use the right software, the right perspective, we’ll see that G-d Himself has been here all along, waiting impatiently to be found.

 

There is so much more to say.

We could talk about how the difference between a data stream and a live music show is really the difference between the natural and the miraculous, how nature itself is a lie. We could talk about how withstanding the great tests that G-d places before us, like the forefather Abraham did, is the ultimate purpose of the illusion and, therefore, of life, since it is the crucible where nature clashes most strongly with our will and duty, and passing a test literally creates miracles because it itself is in violation of nature. We could talk about the Big Lie, how we’re told by our world in a million different ways that it’s the ones and zeroes that are important, that whoever manipulates the data best will achieve happiness, that there is no underlying music and the search for it will fail, and that if you must search for G-d don’t G-d forbid let it get in the way of your success in the field of binary manipulation. We could talk about the incredible strength and joy that the G-dly perspective lends to one’s life, since there are no setbacks, there is no darkness, and He not only runs the world but the world in fact has no existence apart from His truth. Maybe in the future we will talk about all of these things, but for now, this long screed has come to an end.

All of what I just told you has been sitting in holy books written in Hebrew for over a hundred years, by the way. You might wonder – why not just have you read the original sources? Why write so many words? Why bother with tortured examples from the world of music and with whimsical multi-generational fiction?

I thought you would appreciate why by now.

Hebrew without Hebrew is so much better.

Wouldn’t you agree?