The High Holidays have come and gone. Unlike most of my Jewish friends who fearfully think back on their sins of the past year and dread the judgments of a merciful, but stern and scorekeeping G-d, he is an accurate accountant. The core of Judaism – of most religions - is the simple, but obvious belief that good is rewarded and evil is punished. As a culinary Hillel might have said, that’s the meat – the rest is spices. My good friend, Herb, is very nervous. He looks longingly at his neighbor’s wife – I give my neighbor’s wife only a quick glance. She’s 77 and uses a walker. I do envy my neighbor’s choice of transportation; a 2011 Mustang, but that’s not prohibited by any of the commandments. So, my conscience is as clean as today’s laundry.
Everybody knew that Reb Schmuel was one of the most studious Tsadiks in the district. Every afternoon when he finished his teaching duties at the Yeshiva he would rush home, open his holy books and pray. He lingered over his studies till late at night when he would have a light supper – maybe a couple of pieces of pumpernickel and the leg of a boiled chicken. Then to bed So devoted was he to his studies that he often stayed up till one or two o’clock in the morning.
Now the shtetle that Reb Schmuel lived in was typical of the human cosmos that G-d had created - like the rainbow, a mix of many colors. It contained shades of dark and shades of light. Good people, studious people like the Reb and those of lesser goodness like the gang that hung around the tavern. A mixed crew, There were the Devils and dumb dull thieves, and just plain crooks, but all bad. Always on the lookout for thievery or some illicit transaction whereby they could profit without work.
It came to the attention of one Ben Yochad that the Rebbe was a studious fellow who lived in a home – due to his father’s hard work and the smile of fortune – full of silverplate, expensive knickknacks and many objects of value. He pondered; the Reb bent over his book, the dark of the night, the unlocked door. How easy it would be to grab a silver plate or two. (Not with the stealth of the burglar. In fact, he was rather clumsy.) Consequently, one moonless night found Bennie sneaking through the unlocked door into the Reb’s dining room, snatching a pure gold sugar bowl. He could see the scholar in the adjacent room – his study – his face in the Talmud. So fascinated was the Reb that he heard not the clumsy footsteps of his uninvited guest, not the squeak of the door. Amazing, thought the thief – what would he be reading that was so fascinating? The thief repeated his foray twice a week – small single items were easier to sell to buyers of stolen goods. Besides, Bennie somehow was punished less by his conscience by those light, minor thefts than a wholesale robbery. Light-fingered Ben, they called him down at the tavern.
That Rebbe must be blind as well as deaf, thought Ben. The dining room next to the den looked like a store after a half price sale. Whole shelves were denuded of plates and rare bric-a-brac as the Reb sat in the next room with eyes fixed on his holy books. It was, Bennie decided, his last expedition. He pushed open the squeaky door as usual. Tiptoed like the bear of a man that he was to the cabinet containing his usual loot. A voice rang out. “Ben, come read. For I know you can read this section of the Talmud. It’s Baba Metzia and he tells us of private property, a topic you need to learn about. And by the way, leave me that salt shaker. I’ll need it for my eggs tomorrow.” The Rebbe, who passionate believed in a spark of goodness in all men, continued to bend over his books. He might not have noticed if the thief had stolen his chair.
Ben almost dropped the silver serving platter he was trying to stuff in his shirt. On trembling feet he approached the holy man. And they studied throughout the night.