Sunday, 29 November 2009
"What is a man if he doesn't have spirit, and what is man's
spirit if it cannot connect with the master of life." J.R. Cash.
Freshly baked plaited rolls line the tables at the shul function hall. Paper muffin cases lie interspersed, with one on every table, each containing a little table salt. The chairs are stackable and of plastic, the cutlery is cheap and disposable. At each seat, a portion of wet sliced salmon has been prepared.
The grandparents have already seated themselves, as has bored Levi Yitschok, an elderly neighbour, who stares at nothing in particular contentedly. The young father whose son had been circumcised today, the host, the Ba'al Simcha, dressed in his Shabbos robes, dashes here and there, evenly scattering some salad dishes.
Slowly as trickle becomes flow, the hall fills to capacity. At the first table in the middle row sits Uncle Moishe Hersch, a grey bearded, respectable and reserved man. As he dips his roll into his wet fish plate, he silently observes a group of young men seated opposite, at the far end, close to the hall entrance. A noisy bunch, friends of the father, they are.
Moishe Hersch knows them well, the tall one, Mendi, the court jester, is his employee. He does not judge them, but maintains an excellent and even friendly relationship with them. The sports league table means more to them than does Talmudic dissertation. But they are here aren't they, in their own way, fully subscribed to the way. Their children might watch Uncle Moshe and the Mitzvah Men, or perhaps even Snow White by Disney, but non judgemental Moshe Hersch, believes that they are just as much the future, as are the studious and serious Kollel goers who sit further up.
Naftali is Moshe Hersch's son. He is a well intentioned individual. He works for Moshe Hersch in the family business. Few people know why Naftali has drawn into himself, why he seems to be spending his prayer time in Shul reading scripture, why he had voted for the non Jewish candidate at the recent local election, and why he has at this function chosen to sit right near Mendi and his group, people with whom he has very little to share.
Moshe Hersch knows why though, he knows that Naftali has recently he decided for some reason, to embroil himself in a needless battle. The battle between faith and evidence. Creation vs. evolution, archaeology vs. tradition and history vs. legend. As a father Moshe Hersch is rather worried about Naftali and for Naftali's family. Not because he thinks that Naftali might besmirch the family name, but because, as he put it to Naftali recently, "why have you chosen this path to self annihilation?" He does not apportion blame upon Naftali for the predicament he has chosen for himself, but isn't the road to hell paved with good intentions?
The father "deals with this" though. Whenever Naftali tries to discuss Evolution or the Documentary Hypothesis, he diverts the topic. He tells himself that Naftali will learn in time, that questions are normal. "Naftali has no answers" he tells his wife often enough. "No conclusions, things will turn out all right". He has no doubt that Naftali is fully observant, and that this phase of rebellion will dissolve on its own, given time.
Naftali at the Circumcision party knows that he is being watched by his father, he knows that his choice of seat, might seem out of character and that it has raised a few eyebrows. After all, does he have anything in common with the people to his left? No, of course not. He is agnostic, but used to be dogmatically theistic just a short while ago. He fell into his current disposition by accident, he thinks. In a way he has, he thinks, more in common with Kollel student a few seats up, who muddles through an old Jewish liturgical poem to an unsuitable melody.
Why can't he tell them all, look, I love you all, I love our collective history and tales, our legends and our teachings, but sadly they are not "true". Why is it that that Kollel student, would then understand, that very place he occupies at this 'Seudas Bris', this Circumcision party, is right where he belongs, between the disruptive, the vile and the uneducated. Naftali wonders, why he puts himself between 'them', why he lives up to that ultimate sentence of 'you belong with them', which has not nor might ever be passed.
He thinks it might be because at times they do laugh at what he too finds funny, but still they have no spirit, although truth be told, what is man's spirit if it cannot connect to the master of life, he wonders.
To Moshe Hersch's horror, Naftali gets up, and leaves for home.