The World Is My Lobster
I was surprised when you called recently, rebbe. Surprised to hear your deep baritone voice, your familiar cough, the singsong of your voice. It felt odd to talk to you again. You wondered aloud about rumors you had heard. I had drifted off? Vus Titsech? you nudged.
Let me tell you, rebbe, remember the story of the stockbroker who loved lobster?
It was on one of those many nights — remember them? — when we would gather at your corner of the Beis Hamedresh. We were a select group, those of us who would stay after Maariv and learn late, in groups of two b’chavrusa or huddled alone over a sefer. Outside it was dark and cold but inside we were safe and comfortable, poring over our books. Later we would sit around your shtender and you would speak to us about life and Torah, mitzvos and learning. Your twinkling eyes bespoke your cleverness and your long white beard framed your smiling countenance that reflected wisdom and sagacity.
Remember how, sometimes, at the end of those long evenings of study, when the brain’s capacity for debating laws regarding shoe-spitting or oxen-goring was maxed out, you would regale us with parables and stories? If we were lucky, you would share with us an experience from the outside world that you ventured into, only l’tachlis of course. Your fundraising tales peopled with the colorful characters you encountered.
And one late Thursday night, you told us about your meeting with this Manhattan stockbroker. This guy, he mamesh oozed money, you said. He wasn’t so frum himself, but he sometimes supported Torah. He had some connection remaining from his Yeshiva day school education of years long past.
You always spoke your mind, rebbe, so this one time you told the man he had to change his ways and live a more Toradikeh lifestyle. You presented a fearsome argument, one that sounded so clever, so witty and original to us, your seventeen-year-old students.
“Look here,” you said to him, presenting your points in classic lomdishe fashion, singing your words as if you were explaining the svora of some achron. “If I’m right about Toireh, then you’re wrong, so gehenom awaits… And if you’re right–” here your thumb twisted up into the air, “–and the Torah is not the right way to live by, then what am I missing out on? Poshut,” you explained to the guy, “it’s a risk/reward thing. You stand to lose so much more than you stand to gain, so you have to be frum!”
“And really,” you pressed him, “what about your current life would you lose if you became frum?” And we smiled and nodded along with you, rebbe. Really, what would he lose?
And you told us how the guy hemmed and hawed, and then you chuckled as you recounted his reply, the best he could come up with: “But rabbi, I would miss my lobster.”
He’d miss his lobster! Lobster! We all laughed till our sides hurt, and then we went off to bed, still laughing as we prepared our cups for negel vasser and while we recited birchas hamapil.
It’s been five years, rebbe, since I pulled up a chair at your side. Now I meet my friend Jake every week, at Sung Tzu’s All You Can Eat buffet.
I make my way around the endless line, taking in the soups, the salads, the breads, the shrimp dipped in batter, the aromatic clams marinating in exotic sauce. The Mongolian immigrant manning the grill speaks little English, but his eyes sparkle as he flips his cuts of meat on the grill. A brown-skinned child bumps into my legs and I clutch my tray protectively. His mom apologizes with a smile as she herds him along.
My plate is piled high, rebbe, with foods that originated all over the world, dishes from every culture, tastes of every kind. And I slide into the booth across from Jake.
“How’s it going?” Jake asks.
I want to say, “I just got laid off from my dead-end job. I’m in my mid twenties and am still struggling to get a basic education. I know little about social norms and normative societal behavior. My parents won’t speak with me or allow me to speak to my siblings.”
Instead, rebbe, I dig my fork into my plate and say, “All in all, I’m doing all right. You?”
I listen with half an ear as he chatters on, I pick up my nutcracker and prepare for the highlight of my evening. You didn’t know, rebbe, that we use nutcrackers to break a lobster claw, did you? But that’s how we do it.
I remove the claws and with particular single-mindedness I go about tearing apart the crustacean on my plate. I savor the rich spongy flesh, reveling in the tangy flavors exploding in my mouth. The shell, claws and tail are no match for my prying fingers.
Too soon, I’ve tracked down every last scrumptious morsel. I push the shell-littered plate away with a sigh of contentment.
Ahhh, rebbe, the lobster. The lobster is so very good.Printable Version