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Out of nowhere, the devil began to antagonize me. I tried to listen politely without responding, but he wouldn’t let up.
Drag him to the study hall, they said to me. That’ll shut him up.
So we sat there together, he and I, day after day. He watched me as I swung my thumb and stroked my beard. One day he showed me a Penei Yehoshua that addressed a difficulty I had. Another time we went through a real geshmake Ketzos, like nothing else in the world mattered.
“This must happen to you a lot,” I said. “People dragging you here.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad.” He was quiet, while I finished up a Maharsha. After a while he said, “It’s the waiting around that I can’t stand.” He looked forlorn.
“Oh, fuck this,” I said. “Let’s go sin then.”
He grinned. “Just do it a couple times, it’ll feel natural. Like they say, ‘Transgress, repeat, yada, yada.’”
“You think I’m insane?” I asked.
“A man does not sin unless overcome by a spirit of insanity.”
“Who said that?”
I blushed. I couldn’t remember. “Never mind.” He poked me in the ribs. “What do they know, right?”
Occasionally I went back. I missed the hours poring over the small letters, the musty smell of the yellowed pages, the thrill of working through one of those full page Tosfos.
But we hung out together more and more. We laughed, we cried, and we talked late into the night. He was a devilish schmoozer; he could discuss anything. From Rambam to Spinoza to Reb Chaim Vital to Madonna to Der Yid to Playboy. I thought he had no red lines.
Until one day he said, “Let’s not go there.”
“Why not?” I asked. I wanted to discuss the Documentary Hypothesis.
“Because all who come, do not return.”
“You gotta be kidding me.”
He avoided my gaze. “No,” he said.
So I went alone. We kept in touch at first. I ran into him at a pool club, he had a young couple with him. I jerked my head in their direction, with an inquiring look. Pprpf, he blew. “Easy fish.” He looked bored. “Monroe kids. How are things with you?”
“Oh, same old, you know.”
We spoke by phone a few times, exchanged some emails. The last time we met, he said to me, “H., you’re crossing a line. Even the Sefer Torah you write, they’ll burn.”
I laughed. He looked at me wistfully, and sighed. “How about a beer?” I asked.
“Can’t. It’s Rosh Hashana tomorrow. I gotta prepare.”
“Good luck, man.”
“Yeah,” he said.
~ ~ ~
A few years later I ran into him in a bar over where the hipsters live. He was nursing a beer alone at the counter.
“This Zaloni guy was supposed to come,” he said to me, “but he must have chickened.”
“You’ll find others,” I said.
“I know, man. But it’s just disrespectful.” He thought for a moment. “I should stick to Aroinim really.”
I picked at some cold taters from the bowl in front of him.
“You’re looking good, man,” he said as he looked up to watch the Patriots score another touchdown against the hapless Giants. “Beard, payess, all gone, huh? How does it feel?”
“Honest, I don’t even remember that life.”
He was staring at a girl in a tight top and large hoop earrings, sitting alone at the other end.
“Cut off from it all now?” he asked absentmindedly.
He stood up and put his hand on my shoulder, keeping his eyes on the girl.
“Those who split from the community descend into gehenom and are judged there for all generations.” He took his hand off my shoulder. “Rosh Hashana. Yud zayin, amud alef.”
“Dude, it’s over,” I said. “I don’t believe in that stuff.”
He took his jacket, and turned to me. “H., I gotta say one thing.” He paused. “I’m proud of you.” His voice choked.
Our eyes locked, and I felt we connected once more like in the old days. He was one hell of a devil.
Originally published on Hasidic Rebel on 11/10/06, and reprinted here with permission. Authors have asked us to note that as the essays featured in “Best of the Blogs” document journeys of transformation, the author’s views may have changed since initial publication.Printable Version