“SHMULEY……Do you have any idea”, said my mother in a voice at the edge of tears, “how embarrassing it will be for me to sit next to Rebetzin Freundlich in Shul….”
“Mom…”, I tried to interrupt, but who can interrupt a force of nature?
“…What? Having just been called in to meet with her husband, the mashgiach, about MY son the troublemaker” ?
Shame bloomed in deep red blotches I could feel warming into rosy petals on my cheeks.
I involuntarily lowered my head as if lead weights were attached to my chin, and stared at the perfection of the lavishly set table where I sat. Glancing at the floor I traced the toe of my black penny loafer on the crisp cornrow lines the carpet cleaner had left as a sign of his fine work.
“It will be the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room, if we don’t talk about MY son…and of course all of our relatives will be sitting right next to us, so now the whole family has to know…”
“It wasn’t even my fault….”, I struggled to mount some type of a defense for myself.
“‘Not his fault’ he says”, quipped my mother in immediate parody, speaking more to the foodstuffs that crowded the kitchen counter between us, than to me.
“Should we think”, she asked the lettuce, “that its some how…uh…”, she waved her hand with the butchers knife about, as if somehow exploring the realm of possibility with it’s sharp edge, “out of your control to show up on time for minyan…or to make some kind of a effort in your chavrusahs…hmmm?…is that it?”
The blade fell cutting deeply into the Yom Tov brisket that seemed to be paying a heavy price for my sins.
I was not a great fit for the yeshiva mold. Where the hanhalla saw nareshkiet, I saw fun. When the menahal looked for serious effort, too many times I was found to be still sleeping in bed. When hasmadah was valued, my particular brand of zitsfliesch usually involved a fiction novel.
My poor mother shook her head back in forth and spoke quietly to her self for a moment, her head bizarrely mimicking the lids on the simmering pots that surrounded her; each kettle top lilting to and fro, letting out an angry hiss of steam when they just couldn’t take it any more.
What a strange mix of emotions I felt.
The smells of Yom Tov brought with them such a sense of celebration. The fresh earthy aroma of charoset, as if each ingredient had just been pulled from the ground. The deep hughes of the meats, the thin, oily, hint of their flavor on the air enough to make my mouth water. The astrigent tickle of the marror on my nose, daring me to try even a nibble at my own expense. It was a combination that linked every Pesach in my life together in one happy melded ideal of joyous family festivities….and now to have ruined it. To have transformed this moment into something which would always carry the stain I had spilled upon it.
“I’m sorry”, I said, “I’ll try harder….I’ll do better.”
My mother paused from her preperations to look at me and her eyes softened. I could read my mother pretty well, and if there was a dial that could measure her mood it just dropped a notch or two from danger levels.
“Not to lessen the blame on you”, she clarified, the direction of the blade in her hand confirming my guilt, “but lets face it…your father is not exactly what we would call a good example in this area…”
“Oy…”, she turned her head so as to speak in strict confidence to the potted plant in our living room, “but that’s another story.”
As my mother stewed in harmony with her pots, my Zaidy made his way through the doorway to the dinning room, listing as always, like a building with poor foundation. His sense of balance leading him to lean this way or that on a constant basis, as if gravity just felt like pulling him in another direction than everyone else, leaving him to appear as if he were always stumbling sideways up a hill.
“Gut Morgin”, said my Zaidy, and in his traditional routine, “Epis… a bissel coffee….mit creme”
He shuffled into the dinning room and it must of taken a moment or two before my shape registered as being distinct from the chair I sat in, through the coke bottle glasses that were eternally glued to the end of his nose.
He turned to my mother holding up a finger of discovery, “Shmulik g’kimen tzrik, frum da Yeshiver.”
“Yes Papa”, said my mother wiping tears from her face.
Marror or misbehavior?
“Hi Zaidy”, I said, embarrassed to be caught in the act of making my mother cry. He waved a hello by holding an open palm in the air. He held up a finger of caution to my mother, “coffee…”
“It will have to wait, Papa”, said my mother loudly as she returned to the cutting board, “it’s erev pesach and we all have work…”
“Voooos”, said Zaidy louder than a passing tractor trailor.
“It’s almost Pesach”, my mother screamed like she needed to be heard from behind the engine of a 747 during take off; seeing this my Zaidy adjusted his hearing aid, the screatch of which made my mother and I wince, covering our ears in momentary pain.
“Your coffee will have to wait, Papa.”, screamed my mother close to the natural limitation of her lungs and voicebox.
Zaidy nodded, happy to have gotten his point across, “Yuh”, he confirmed “mit creme.”
My mother’s lower lip shook momentarily with a twitch of futility. How could the world have conspired against her in this way ?
I watched my mother pause from her work as my Zaidy shoveled over the impecably arranged silverwear in front of him to make room to read his sefer at the table. She had a look of impossible contradiction on her face, as the unstoppable preparations for Pesach ran headlong into the imovable habits of my grandfather.
Then the cleaver rose and fell, frustrations succesfuly transfered to a pickle that knew not how to beg for mercy.
The front door swung hard on it’s hinges; thrown open with a reckless disregard that could only mark the entrance of my Father. He burst through it so engulfed by the number of boxes he held, that it seemed the entire cluster of white cardboard containers was being magically moved by a black hat and a pair of shoes.
“I got the shemurah matzois”, he exclaimed, attempting to carefully place thirty boxes on the floor simultaneously.
“No…no…I got it”, he said,waving off help and trying to talk louder than the sound of cracking matzo, “I got it.”
“At the last minute before Pesach of course…”, said my Mother full of scorn.
“Wha…What last minute”, said my father fumbling to find his watch as more matzo boxes landed a little too hard on the floor.
Thankfully for their marriage, my father had innate immunity to my mothers criticism.
Tatee looked genuinely confused at my mother’s concern when he found his watch; “plenty of time”, he said correcting her mistake and breaking into his carefree smile, “we’ve got plenty of time”.
My mother was shaking her head, abandoned as she was, all alone in a world of responsibilities and deadlines.
He saw me.
“Hey Shmuley’s home”, he exclaimed, “Ehhh !!! Back for Bein Hazmanim, of course, come here.”
I always got a big bone crushing hug from my father, it was as much a custom as gefilte fish.
“Oh. That’s the welcome he gets after the meeting we had to have with the mashgiach last night”, said my mother, “he’s hanging on by the skin of his teeth over there.”
“What… don’t worry about that…”, said my father.
“What do you mean, ‘don’t worry’”, said my mother with some pretty impressive tone.
I wanted to warm my father, whose imagination fell short of conjuring mom-o-meter levels.
We are in the Red.
“Ehhh ?”, said my father with a big grin, a gapping smile that let us know how far ahead of the curve he was, “take a look at this”, he said pointing to the boxes.
There was the look of incredulity on my mothers face, and the early suspicion, that in addition to a renegade son, her collapsing life would be complicated by a mentally decompensating husband.
“Our son is about to be thrown out of Yeshiva….and you want me to look…at a bunch of broken matzo ?”
I wanted to tell to my clueless father.
She’s gonna blow.
“Wha… ?”, said my Tatee, “there’s no broken….no broken…No…in the other box! The other box!”
He found his way to the middle of the boxes and pulled one from the pile.
It must of been good, cause my Tatee held that box high, like inside was the cure for cancer, solution to world poverty, and the recipe for a better potato kugel all wraped in one.
My mother placed her hands on her hips letting him know that it better be.
For my part I was divided, half curiosity half dread. My “problem” was going to be solved by something inside a white cardboard box?
I didn’t have to wait long as we all gathered round to peer into the innards of the white container of mysteries untold. Even Zaidy managed to ascertain that something was happening, and listing at a forty five degree angle and trudging as if close to the summit of Everest, he came to join us as we gathered around it.
My Father pulled off the cover, and yanked it out of the box oblivious of the directions and styraphoam packing peanuts that fell all over the floor.
“My carpet”, wheezed my mother, as if the pain was too great to allow her to do anything other than gasp her last words, “…my carpet.”
“Relax”, said my Father, “well get to that in a minute… Here… Take a look at this.”
Perched in his hands was a silver cylinder roughly resembling the size and shape of a hot water urn, with a few buttons and switches protruding from the side.
“What is it”, asked my Mother skeptically, refusing to part in any way from her specific knowledge that my father had never solved a problem until now.
But I already knew.
I felt sick.
I wanted to run away. To bolt for it before it was too late, but there was no where to go. Even had I had safe haven to which to flee, my legs were numbly stuck to the floor, and I began to gawk at my own upcoming traffic wreck in much the same way I did a five car freeway pile up.
“Just watch”, said my father, flicking the main switch. The whole thing hummed for a moment in my Fathers big hands, and then like magic before our eyes floated gently from my father’s palms, like a bouy bouncing happily on tranquil seas.
“Ahh”, said my father as the shiny new acquisition left his grasp.
“But… it… can’t be”, said my mother.
“Never say never”, said my father sauvely, with a wink; momentarily mistaking himself for someone who said things like that.
“But we can’t afford this”, said my mother, postponing the longing she felt to own the shiny object that bobed playfully in front of our eyes as if suspended by invisible strings.
“It’s returned once, but good as new, Shlomo at the office knows somebody who knows somebody…so…here it is.”
For the first time, a ray of hope appeared over my mothers face. I watched her features thaw as heartfelt warmth loosened and relaxed every line on her brow and cheeks that had been frozen so tensley in place, as if she had been in a dark cave for years, and now, here, she had finally caught a glimpse of blue sky and sun.
“Tatee”, I said to my father, eager to rescue myself before things got out of hand, “get rid of this thing. I know two kids in yeshiva who have it, they don’t even want to go home anymore.”
My father was gripping my shoulder.
“It’s not just for you…its for all of us. I think your mother could tell you.”
He paused to look at her around the floating cylinder, where she smiled back at him, “we could all use a little kick in tuchus around here, myself included…now I think this will be good for us.”
And so there we stood… assembled around the hovering new addition to our house, it’s polished surface returned the mirror images of our faces, distorted into fun house charicatures with oversized forheads and tiny chins.
“Calibrating”, said the floating metal cylinder, so suddenly it shocked us.
“It’s calibrating”, my mother informed us in case we had not heard.
“Calibrating”, it repeated in it’s hollow metalic tone.
“Boruch Hashem”, said my mother, unable to find words of her own, distracted by the unusual feeling of…joy.
“Boreech Hashem”, said my Zaidy, almost as happy as mother as he reached out to the floating cylinder with his shaking, aged, hand; holding a ceramic mug that clattered against the bottom of the new gadget, “vere da coffee come out from ?”, he asked expectantly as he twisted a dial.
“No Papa.”, said my Father, moving him aside, “there’s no coffee from this.”
“No” ? , said Zaidy, with a deep look of suspicion and mistrust on his face.
“Sit at the table Pop, sit down with your sefer…”
“What did he touch”, asked my mother, who was overly cautious around anything with more than an on/off switch.
“Nothing, I.. I think it’s the frumkeit meter…sheesh he twisted it all the way up to “lakewood”, hold on a second”, my father said twiddling with the dials, “It’s no big deal…. I’ve got it…..I’ve got it right here…”, he trailed off in frustration as the knob came free in his hand. He twiddled it in his thick fingers for a moment.
“Is it broken?”, asked my mother, panic striken.
My father shrugged his shoulders, “No, actually it’s better than ever”, he sommoned a reassuring smile, “ lakewood eh? Just what the doctor ordered.”
“Calibration complete…” said a hollow tone from the gaget’s middle, “and Mazel Tov on your acquisition of The Automated Mechanical Mashgichus Co-ordinator… from Smartscroll. Please visit your local store to find out more about our other Smartscroll products.”
“I can’t believe it”, said my mother in near tears, her hands on the sides of her face, “our very own Mechano-Mosh.”
“And they are 20% faster than the Religi-Bot series from last year”, beamed my father statistacally, basking in the unusual situation of recieving compliments from my mother.
I think we all jumped back a step as the front panel slid open on the cylinder, disappearing into the dark interior of the canister.
“What was that”, asked my mother holding one arm stifly by her side and massaging it as if it were a sickly child with her other hand, “What’s it doing….. Herschel, I think it’s empty inside.”
“Empty”, said my Father incredulously, peering ever closer to the opening of the device, “Oh, believe me, I’ll take it back to the store faster than you can say melavah malkah…”
“Ahh!!!”, said my father jumping back as static and frizz erupted inside the metal cylinders hollow interior.
“I knew it wouldn’t work”, said my mother returning to her more natural pose of assured despair, “I…I just knew.”
“Thank goodness”, I said from the heart, feeling my tense innards loosen and my shoulders relax, the bullet succesfully dodged. I turned to my parents, “we don’t need it, I’m telling you we don’t.”
As a dreaded last resort my father was going through the styraphoam peanuts looking for the directions, “wait a second”, he said, his voice strained as he stooped over, his fingers combing through the squeaking ‘s’ shapes, “wait just a second.”
“Herschel”, said my mother, a little bit of fear and excitement creeping back in her voice, “Herschel, I think it’s doing some…..I see something….It’s a face, oy I can’t believe, it’s mamesh a face”!
I knew my mother was just imagining it, but the more I looked the more I did see something that looked like a shape in the hollow interior of the contraption. I blinked my eyes and pushed my glasses back up to be sure. Yes. It was a face, growing distinct from the static. I could make it out now, the ghoulish feeling of a new presence rising with my certainty.
Where before there was just the background noise of black and white dots, now came the crease of an eyelid running into a thick fleshy nose, pinched only where thick glasses squated territorilly mid-proboscis. The skin, a pale shade of white, never having seen the sun. The whole of him, eerily familiar yet unrecognizable, his head tilted with eyes closed as if in an unplanned midday nap.
“It’s creeping me out, turn it off”, I said, with a little involuntary shake.
“Is it sleeping”, asked my mother cautiously, “does it…he… sleep” ?
My Father slowly arose from his rumageing crouch to stand face to face with our visitor and wrinkled his brow in concentration, “I don’t know…”
We all jumped back in fear as the eyes snapped open and blinked to attention.
I was the first to recognize our guest and blurted out my terror reflexively, “It’s Reb Lieb…It’s his head….It’s Reb Lieb, it’s…it’s my mashgiach’s head…”
“Gut in himmel”, said my father in shock, “Shmulik’s right….it’s Lieb Fruendlich’s head.”
My mothers two hands flited about like birds, trying to do more jobs than she had fingers for, “Reb Lieb”, she said adjusting her shietel, buttoning her collar, and tugging her apron into place simultaneously, “in our house…it’s so unexpected…”
“Ta”, I said staring at Reb Lieb’s unblinking eyes and expressionless face. How could I make my father understand that I couldn’t have the floating presence of my mashgiach watching over me in my house. How could I convey the dizzying, tightening, bewildering turmoil in my soul as the comfort of home rolled too easily into the tension of a principals office.
“Ta”, I said, “I don’t want that thing staring at me all over Pesach.”
“Staring? That’s all he’s doing is staring”, said my Father as surprise gave way to early frustration. He tapped on top of the Mechano-mosh cylinder, making it bob up and down, and waved his hand in front of Reb Lieb’s unblinking eyes, “Hello…any one home in there.”
“Where did I put the directions”, said my father turning to me, “maybe there is some kind of activation key, like, ‘gut morgin’ or, ‘gut yom toff’…”
As my Tatee pratled on I watched the soft doughy skin on Reb Lieb’s face. So life like, so impeccably real. The hologram captured every last detail, the unruly tufts of beard hair, fresh from habitual chewing, the hat pulled low, just shaddowing the top of his glasses frame, it’s rim sprinkled with a believable amount of dandruff flake. His dark eyes staring past me as if in deep concentration…
“Or it could be a numerical code…”, said Tatee finally fishing the directions out, “613”, he shouted in Reb Lieb’s ear, pausing for a moment to look for response, “Hey…Mister….”, he said rapping on top of the canister with his knuckles, “…I said…. 613!”.
“Why won’t it do anything”, asked my mother, still clutching her apron about her body.
“Why is it MY mashgiach”, I said, too afraid to take my eyes of it.
“It says bipherish right here”, said Tatee, flipping through the manual as he squinted at it, “That’s our model number, It’s the Freundlich 3000.”
“So why won’t it start”, asked my mother.
I think it heard. It must of heard. Because even as the words left my mother’s mouth, Reb Lieb’s eyes rolled slowly, white over black, to find me.
“AHHHHHHHHHH”, I screamed.
“Hello Shmuley”, said Reb Lieb, in Reb Lieb’s voice.
“Holy Moly”, said my father jumping back as startled as I was, “that nearly scared the farfel straight out of me.”
“It’s his digestion”, my mother explained to Reb Lieb’s head, hoping to reclaim a little of our families first impression, “it’s not what it used to be.”
Reb Lieb’s eyes rolled from me to my mother, “Rebetzin”, he said breaking into a toothy smile, “thank you for having me as a guest in your home.”
My mother was fanning herself with the hand not fidling with her apron, “he called me Rebetzin”, she told my father.
“Reb Lieb”, beamed my father, moving closer to the floating head of my mashgiach.
“Reb Herschel”, said my decapitated Rebbi, “It’s good to be here.”
“It’s our pleasure to have you here, I can’t tell you how much we need your help”, said Tatee placing his hand jovially on the top of mechano-mosh’s lid.
“Errr… Rev Herschel.”
“It’s probably best”, said Reb Lieb’s head, glancing at my father’s arm, “to treat me in the same way as you would treat a sifrei kadosh, or better yet, a sefer torah.”
“I am so sorry, my good Reb Lieb”, said my father removing his hand and waving it as if it had just been on a stove.
“No no no…it’s fine… it’s fine”, said Reb Lieb’s head in good nature, nodding up and down inside his can, “but just think of it this way…in my memory banks, I contain every word of torah ever written….period. And my entire personality chip is modeled after a godol bitorah and a torah true yid.”
“It’s amazing”, said my mother, “it’s just amazing.”
“I can’t shake the sense that I’m talking with Reb Lieb”, said my father shaking his head, “it’s uncanny, just uncanny…to be just a head..Hey….Hey….Reb Lieb”, said my father smiling too wide, a sure indication of impending grade school humor….
“Did someone else buy the Freundlich 1500…” he said, having difficulty talking through his mirth as he marched in place in demonstration of what a disembodied pair of legs might look like, “to walk the kids to shul…”
“Herschel”, scolded my mother.
“The 750…” he said too caught up to stop, solitarily amused, and glancing at me as potential co-conspiritor, he made quick circles with a lone hand, “you know, Shmuley…to help with the dishes…”
I donated a thin sympathy smile.
“Enough”, said my mother.
“Rav Herschel”, said my mashgiach.
“Like a sefer…”
“I’m so sorry”
“No no no, it’s fine, it’s fine, but think of me like a sefer torah….farshtiest !!”
“I got it”, said my father, “don’t worry…. I get it now.”
“You know”, said Reb Lieb’s head conversationally, bobbing unaturally to it’s own magnetic wave, “you can ask me shailos, I am a qaulified posek for a twenty four hour period until human verification is performed.”
“Now that’s going to be a time saver”, said my father snaping his fingers and sobering up, “not having to wait to see the Rabbi to find out the halachah…this is paying for itself already.”
“Oh I’m already hard at work making your life easier”, said the mechano-mosh, “I’ve remotely reset all alarm clocks in the house to have everyone up and ready an hour before shachris.”
“It’s just wonderful”, said my mother.
My father was scratching his head.
“Awww”, I said.
“Shmuley”, said my mother harshly.
“I have restructured your bank accounts so that your shul dues are paid through to the year 2052, as well as automatically detucting ma’aser from your direct deposit.”
“Hey…now…”, said my father looking a bit pale.
“Rav Herschel, try and understand”, said mechano-mosh, shaking his head back and forth in his canister, “I’m not Reb Lieb who sits across from you in shul…I’m a synthetic personality…and fully adherent to the laws of robotics with the 2034 religious exemption module.”
My father now looked a bit pale and a bit confused.
“Herschel, Herschel…I cannot cause, or through inaction allow you to come to… spiritual harm”, said Reb Lieb lovingly, “that means…it means your neshamah is in my hands now…”
“It’s like having a safety net, where you can’t fall”, said my mother in translation.
My father looked only partially convinced.
“Rev Herschel, your hishtadlus was to get me in your house, the rest….the rest I take care of for you. Ha’Ba Li’Taher….Misayin Oisoh…”
My father slowly started to nod his head in agreement.
“Nu” said Reb Lieb so authentically that I was forced to imagine his hands waving in small circles with thumbs up at his side, “let’s avoid bitul z’man, we’ve got alot of work to do here…”
My mother had her hands pressed together, “It’s a fresh start…just in time for Pesach…”
My Father was looking over at her and smiling, “Just in time”, he repeated with a wink.
Seeing my parents gel into such a solidified edifice of converging opinion made the acrid aspirin taste in my mouth all the more bitter.
How could they do this to me ? This wasn’t Bein Hazmanim…it was Mussar Seder concentrated times ten to be adhered to 24/7….I would break…I would snap…
Turning on my heel, I ran to my room, fleeing the scene in an escape that led me a full three feet down the hall and quick left into the small spot I called my own. I heard my parents calling after me but I paid it no attention.
“Shmuley”, said my father.
“Where does he think he’s going ?”, said my mother.
“It’s all right”, said Reb Lieb’s voice in quiet wisdom fading in and out of my ability to hear it, “Let me….I’ll…..teaching……”
I kicked the door shut with the back of my foot, loud enough to make a decent slam.
Wasn’t it bad enough to be a known underachiever every day in Yeshiva ? Did the feeling have to follow me home in a stainless steel jar?
I flopped into bed and shifted my glasses to my forehead, rubbing my eyes because I was tired…not because I might cry. I opened them and viewed my room through the comfortable blur of nearsighted focus, the sharp edges of life dulled and melded into meaningless soft color. From the doorway I saw movement, and I squinched my forehead droping my glasses back into place.
“Hey”, I said, more out of shock than out of the need to comunicate anything in particular.
It was Reb Lieb…his head, that is to say, gliding effortlessly through the opening door…his eyes found me and he smiled so genuinely, with so much caring.
How did he……?
“Shmuel”, he said moving towards me and shaking his head back and forth in a way that created the uncanny illusion of him swimming through the air by some unnamed neck stroke.
“You can’t”, I said almost breathlessly feeling the last delicate dew drops of privacy dehydrate into vapor, “I mean… don’t you have to knock…”
“I’m not a person”, said Reb Lieb, all brilliant smiles, “that you could be embarrassed from…come on…let’s talk.”
“No”, I blurted angrily, “this is my room…”
“Shmuley….be reasonable…we’ll talk it through.”
“I don’t want to talk with you…”
My mother appeared at the door followed by my father.
“Shmuley”, said my mother, “you said you would try harder…you told me you would do better…why not start now…”
I saw no way to make it through the day with my Mashgiach’s head following me around like an unwanted puppy, but the look in my mother’s eye told me I had already promised her something and I had to keep her faith.
“OK…fine…I don’t even know what this Robot wants anyway…”
“Watch your mouth”, warned my father, sternly, nodding in solidarity in Reb Lieb’s direction, “this is the err…”
“Embodiment”, said my mother coaxing the sentance from his lips.
“Yes”, said my father, “the embodiment of a sefer torah, and we’ll treat it…him…that way.
“Shmuley”, said Reb Lieb’s head, floating to a level at which we were eye to eye as I sat at my bed.
He wasn’t exactly solid. If I looked hard enough through the dark eyes I could make out the inner back end of the canister, the serial number, and the warranty sticker. And he flickered, the light sources that created his hologram dimming and lightening, like an artificial pulse. But as I talked with him, watching the chubby cheeks flex and stretch over his wide mouth, his eyes flicker and wayne with sincerity, I had to admit I was drawn into the illusion.
This was Reb Lieb, or at least as close as it could be to him without the rest of his body.
“Shmuley”, he said with pride, floating just a few inches from my face, “you’ve taken the first brave step to a brighter future…all on your own…but you have to seal it…with a positive action !”
“He’s talking in riddles” I complained to my parents, “I don’t even understand…”
“Shmuley”, said Reb Lieb floating so close I could smell the metal and plastic of his housing, staring deeply at me with those piercing eyes, “I have scanned your room and found one fiction novel of a Goyishe nature that could be detrimental to such a developing mind, as your own.”
“Awwww”, I said to the mechano-mosh, “this stinks, don’t I get any privacy.”
“Now we are getting somewhere”, applauded my mother, clasping her hands together at my doorway.
“It’s clean up time, Shmuley”, said my father apologetically, “we are all going to have to run a tighter ship from here on in.”
I couldn’t believe this.
It was like mutiny. My mother, father, and this flying tin can all ganging up on me.
“Shmuley”, said the mechano-mosh in a deeper, sweeter tone like molasses, “Yiras Shemayim, is about making your own judgments about your relationship with the aibishter, you are going to have to come to terms on your own about what it means to be mevatal your zman with narishkiet. When you begin to think about it, you will know what to do with that book. A small part of your growth as a Ben Torah will hinge on this realization.”
“No really….think about it…”, said Reb Lieb with a friendly wink.
“It’s…He’s… so reasonable”, said my mother.
“It davkah has a real personality to it”, said my father, eager for another chance to brag, as they both watched from my doorway, “it’s no coincidence he’s the best selling model.”
Reb Lieb winked once at my parents.
I hated them all for a moment.
“Did you think about it?”
“No…I mean I’m thinking…”, I said.
“You should seriously consider it in T minus 5 seconds.”
“A good time to come to a conclusion would be approximatley T minus 4 seconds.”
“This is crazy…”, I said, “this flying toaster is threatening me.”
“Don’t be a michutziv”, said my father quickly.
“Is it so crazy to get results ?” asked my mother.
“Gashmius destruction comencing in T minus 3 seconds…”
“Shmuley”, said my father, “I think you better get your book.”
“Fine”, I yelled, “you see what you did”, I said, as I walked over to my bookbag, unzipped it and chucked my latest Asimov into the trash hard enough to make a bang, “now I have no place to be myself, my whole life is a commercial for better yeshiva living.”
“Shmuley, your over reacting,“ said my mother, “give it a chance and you’ll see how you start to feel better…”
“No, Mom, I’m not going to feel better..”
“Please….let me handle this…”, said the Mechano-mosh, “I have over three thousand collected mussar shmusen and parables from the Rabbinic lights of our generation and the past.”
“Awwww”, I said.
“Once in a small town in lithuania”, said Reb LIeb’s holographic head in apparent deep thought, “there was a young man, who wanted nothing more that to meet the prince…”
“This is a bunch of cr…”, I started.
“Shmuley, you better start listening”, scolded my mother, “this is going to be the way it is untill you shape up.”
“…As it turned out”, Reb Lieb continued oblivious to my interruptions, “the prince wanted nothing more than to be a regular..”
“Tatee, can’t you do something, this is ridiculous.”, I pleaded.
“…One day at the market, the king sent the prince and the young man…”, continued Reb Lieb, unwilling to be derailed.
“Shmuley, come on, wise up kid-o, listen to your mother, you can’t go on this way forever…I know how hard it is for you, but the only path is the path up, you gotta find a way through your problems…trust me there is a light at the end of the tunnel…”
“…The prince and the young lad were both amazed to find the treasure right beneath their feet…”, continued Reb Lieb, his holographic head looking both surprised and elated at the stories end.
“This isn’t facing my problems”, I told my father trying to talk louder than the mechano-mosh in a rare moment of father son honesty, “this is ignoring the idea than problems can exist…this is pretending one right way is the only way for everyone.”
“…And so we see…”, said Reb Lieb, his simulated brow furrowing at the lesson at hand, “that sometimes, the greatest treasures are the treasures right in front of our eyes, that we did not see… before we tried to look…in the right way… using the glasses of torah and maasim tovim…”
“Shut up you crazy robot, get out of my face”, I exploded.
“Shmuley”, said my father sternly, “haven’t you been listening….you have to treat Reb Lieb’s…uhh… head… here, with the same kovod you would give a Rabbi, it holds the collected works of kol hatorah kulah, you want that kind of avierah on your hands….come on.”
A red light began flashing on the side panel of the mechano-mosh, and Reb Lieb pouted and began to look around from side to side in confusion.
“Oh great, you michutziv”, shouted my mother, “now you broke it …him… with your nivel peh.”
“No I didn’t”, I said, uncertain if such a thing could happen.
“Alert”, said the Robot Lieb, in a voice that sounded much more mechanical, his eyes now dreamy and distant.
“This would be coming out of your allowance”, scolded my father, “if you had one.”
“Alert”, said the mechano-mosh, “four hours untill pesach, commencing emergency bedikah”, and with that he floated up and away forcing my parents to part like the red sea as his canister passed between them on it’s way to the kitchen.
“Huh ?”, said my father.
“But the house is already spotless for Pesach, I’ve been scrubbing for weeks”, complained my mother, with a look of shock on her face that such a detail could ever be doubted, as she hurried to behind the mechano-mosh, my father and I quick on her heels.
As he reached the counter, Reb Lieb looked as if he had eaten something he needed to cough up.
“System overide….Initiating chametz deep scan…”
“Uhhhh…I don’t like the sound of that”, said my father, “maybe we should all go wait in the den.”
My mother shook her head, stranded in some foreign land between the welcome relief of our new family member and a new…growing… outrage.
Though my father had surrendered his ma’aser and morning snooze, and my Asimov now rest in the garbage bin, there was one member of the family who awaited correction, and my Father and I turned in trepidation towards my mother.
I almost wanted to warn Reb Lieb…didn’t he have a chip for qauntification of impending danger?
“Den ?? Oh…I’m not leaving my kitchen”, my mother informed us, Reb Lieb, and the world in general; with her arms folded in front of her in a sudden change of aliegence, “There is not so much as one crumb of chametz in MY house”, she said.
“Do you have any idea”, said my mother to Reb Lieb’s head, with the telltale quiver of deep emotion on her voice, “how hard….HARD…I worked to get this place spotless….how many meals, yes meals, I’ve eaten on my outdooor front steps, how many moldy crevases I’ve cleaned with a toothbrush, how many appliances, too heavy for a workman to lift, I’ve crawled behind and cleaned goo you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole…” she trailed off near to tears…but not a drop spilled. It was more anger than sorrow, more fierce opposition than apologetic.
“Chametz…” said Reb Lieb looking sharply over my mother’s shoulder and furrowing his brow, “…detected.”
They faced each other then, for just a moment. Like two windblown gunslingers of the old west, except instead of swift fingers tracing the handle of a classic colt, my mother’s practiced hands found their way to the wooden charoset spoon. She grasped it then in preparation, her eyes never leaving Reb Lieb’s, while they squinted down to angry slits in challenge.
But Reb Lieb showed no signs of swerving in this game of chicken and from the bottom of the mechano-mosh extended a soft redly glowing orb, not more than a marble for size, but bright enough to hurt my eyes.
“Initiating….Bedikah”, said Reb Lieb’s head, his holographic gaze locked on my mother.
“You stay out”, said my mother sharply, “not one foot…er…head in this kitchen”, she snapped, “you hear that” !!
“Chavah, chavah”, pleaded my Tatee with outstretched hands ready to remind my mother about what it meant to have a sefer torah in the house, until he was silenced by the death stare my mother shot at him.
“Rebetzin”, pleaded Reb Lieb’s head, “I know how hard you worked…boruch ha…”
“No you don’t”, said my mother, “NO YOU DON’T”
“The miracle”, said Reb Lieb, “Is how much chametz you DID clean…”
“Don’t you cross this line”, threatened my mother drawing an imaginary boundary in the air with her wooden spoon as Reb Lieb floated forward, “Not one more inch…”
“You can’t expect yourself”, said Reb Lieb in his most soothing tone as he trespassed into kitchen air space, “to catch every pico-gram of chametz with human eyes…”
“Back”, threatened my mother winding the spoon up at shoulder length like she might be aiming to swat a fastball to the fences, “you stay back now”.
“But I can help you”, continued Reb Lieb’s head, drifting Lazily over the counter, “I couldn’t…. NOT…. help you, If you were Chas Vesholom oiver on Bal Yeraeh…”
“….or Bal Yimatzeh, on my watch”, Reb Lieb was shaking his head in regret and sadness even has he contemplated this possibility, “better to just get rid of some risidual shmootz than chance an issur dioiriesah !!!”
Reb Lieb focused an aiming beam in the deep chasm between the refirgerator and inbuilt kitchen cabinetry.
“Don’t you dare…”, said my mother with a crazed look in her eyes, as they darted about searching, perhaps, for any one else in the room foolish enough to take her on in her own kitchen, “DON’T YOU DARE !!!!”
“One quick bedikah”, said Reb Lieb as if he were preparing my mother for her flu shot, “and we are all through…”
It happened quickly then, almost too quickly for me to process.
I think my mother swung first, she must have swung first, becuase when she hit the mechano-mosh with the charoset spoon not only did the loud “gong” sound drown out his yell: “OY- my head !”; but he also misfired the laser, probably because the force of the blow spun him halfway across the kitchen.
The laser…well, that laser didn’t hit any chametz at all, and missed it’s mark by at least a foot landing not in the dark crevase next to the fridge but insidie the open refrigerator door, where upon meeting a uniformly tinfoiled interior, it bounced back out, straight into the tinfoiled cabinets on the otherside of the room.
Which was when my wide eyed Tatee must have yelled:
Which I did.
Although, he must of yelled it before doing so himself, and that laser rebound from tinfoiled cabinetry to tinfoiled counter took his hat right of his head in transit.
“Son of a…”, said Tatee grabbing to keep his Yarlmulke on his head as his knees involuntarily ducked for him.
“Bizzzooouuuuu!!!!”, screamed the deflected laser as it scitered off of the kitchen coutner tinfoil ripping through the air into the dinning room where it ricoched next off of Eliyahu’s Kos not ten inches from my Zaidy’s face, who magically remianed oblivious to anything but his book.
“Mmmm”, said Zaidy to his sefer, stroking his beard and turning the page, “dos is a chidush ???”
“Bzzzaaapp”, It must of hit the bottom of the Silver Kiddush cup, I didn’t see it, cowardly hugging the floor as I was, but it must have hit the rounded bottom and deflected down, because the frying, sizzling, chametz-intended, fizzle that it created occured dead center in one of the freshly cleaned corn rows of our white living room carpet, a small puff of smoke grandly introducing the giant burn stain on the frazzled carpet fibers.
Everythig was quite for a few seconds then and …. I don’t know….
I’m thirteen and quite aware, but I’m not an expert in human emotions, I don’t have any degrees or even a high school education. I barely even know what the Yeshiva told me I’m supposed to know; which is: who’s fault is everything when a Shor falls into a Bor.
But as I watched my mother I knew something.
I knew I was watching something breaking. I don’t know what people have in their heads, or what keeps it together, but I saw a snap, two things pulling apart that won’t be put back together.
I guess she just stared at that carpet for moment, letting the dark spot on the fabric imprint itself on her brain in some deeply primitive way, tatooing itself, perhaps to her very soul.
“My carpet…” said my mother with barely an expression on her face, “my..my perfect, white, carpet.”
“Oy”, said Reb Lieb, finally managing to stop from spinning in a circle, “It will be a Nes if I don’t need some maintenance…”
“You”, said my mother, finally managing to tear her eyes off the carpet to look at Reb Lieb.
“Enough”, said Reb Lieb firmly, “Sofo shel dovor, you have twelve picograms of chametz in two locations, and seven microscopic bugs on your romaine lettuce…we can make a big deal about it….”
“You”, said my mother with blank eyes as if she were talking to us from some far away place, “did this….”
“Or”, said Reb Lieb, “we can tidy it up…”
Not the response anyone had perhaps expected, “Aggghhhhh”, said my mother, leaving go the conventions of speech and reason for something more basic and raising the spoon in a fashion that would have made virile viking warriors run for the hills, “Aggghhhh”
“This isn’t in my programing”, said Reb Lieb’s head nervously as he dodged a spoon swipe that would have crushed him like a wad of aluminum foil, “perhaps a story from the Dubno Maggid would help…”
“YOU”, screamed my mother as she jumped to place one sturdy hit on his canister as he floated at top speed to the relative safety of the high kitchen ceiling.
“STOP”, I yelled, surprised to hear myself speaking. It must have shocked everyone, because Reb Lieb paused from attempting to Zap the bugs off of our vegetables, and my mother loosened her whitened knuckles from their grip on our heavy salt shaker, that she had cocked like a catepult to bean Reb Lieb in his…well…head.
“Stop”, I said more quietly.
“Rebbi”, I said to Reb Lieb, “you CAN’T create rules that are impossible for people to follow…it’s…it’s tirchah di’tziburah….it’s not what hashem could have ever meant for…a halachah that’s impossible for the kihillah to complete….you can’t create a standard that no one can follow….”
“You see”, said Reb Lieb to my parents from the safety of high altitude, “look how much better Shmuley’s remembering from his chavrusahs, and I’ve barely been here an hour…it’s Gevaldig !’
“He has a point”, said my father finally caustiously rising up, from where he had hidden in a crouch behind the counter, with his hat in his hand, “that’s a nice little shtickle toirah…”
He had more to add, but accurately determining my mothers body language allowed him to duck back behind the counter before the salt shaker was launched at him.
But I had more Asimov in mind than I did lessons from the shulchan Aruch.
“But you HAVE to clean the bugs and clean the chametz”, I informed Reb Lieb, “because you can’t allow us to be over an issur.”
“That’s true too”, said Reb Lieb nodding his head, even as he warily eyed my mother, “My central programing would not even allow me to turn on circuit number one in my CPU if I didn’t protect you from issur. “
He looked thoughtful for a moment, “Perhaps the answer is that when two pesukim contradict each other…you need a third to be machriah beyneyhem..”
“But you CAN’T ask us to clean microscopic bugs and dirt”, I said more loudly now, ignoring him, “because you can’t create a religion that humans can’t follow…”
“I’m sure there is a sugyah that deals with this”, said Reb Lieb shaking his head in confusion, “I’ll reference my memory banks.”
“But you HAVE to clean the chametz”, I screamed, “because you can’t allow us to be oiver an issur dioriesah.”
“I have a terrible sinus pressure”, complained Reb Lieb as he began to drift slowly down from the level of the ceiling fan, “like my hat is too tight on my head.”
“But you CAN’T intend for us to clean up microscopic chametz and bugs”, I said loud enough to feel the scrape of the words on my throat, “because you CAN’T create a religion that humans cannot follow.”
“I’m sure….a…parable…could explain…”, said Reb Lieb, as he drifted listlessly over to our dinning room table.
“But you HAVE to clean up…”
“Enough…”, said Reb Lieb’s head looking ill, “DLL error 7 78 1…Oyyy.”
And like that… he was gone.
Vacated of his presence the empty contraption dropped the last few feet from where it floated and landed with a thud on the dining room table, cracking it’s delicate innards, and sending out a thick stream of black oily goo, like a well pressurized water fountain, that covered half of the gleaming silverware on the table, with a wondrous new speckled pattern of motor oil. A little bit even landed in my grandfather’s cup.
“My silverware…my table…” mourned my mother, awaking from insane anger into a fresh emotion of sadness beyond condolence.
My Zaidy, finally distracted from his sefer, anxiously peered at the black sludge in his mug, and catching my mothers eyes as she surveyed her paradise lost, he voiced his dissapointment.
“Mit creme”, he stated simply, banging his fist on the table in wonderment as to why his simple request could be so difficult to fulfill, “dos is schvartz coffee… ich viest nisht….coffee….mit a bissel creme.”
The last straw landing on her back my mother simply fell to her knees.
And she cried.
It was hard to understand her through the tears, but my Father and I listened.
We listened very closely.
“Is it too much to ask….just to have a time to be together with my family…”, she said, and now she was smiling a sad smile, “MY brothers and sisters…their children…to be together.”
“And to have just that little time together…I have to work my fingers to the bone ?”
She was shaking her head, “For what ?” she looked over at the empty container of the Mechano-Mosh, “…for him ? Floating around and barking orders…Look at the mess he’s made”, she said looking around at the destruction her Erev Yom Tov had become.
My Father looked uneasy and unsure as to what the answer to such a question could be. It almost seemed to broad for him to get his arms around. He clenched and unclenched his large fists as if he needed to wring the life out of something but couldn’t pin down exactly what it might be.
“It’s….” said my father, “It’s…that Robot…that crazy Robot…”
My mother began to nod in agreement, “We were fine until that crazy Robot tried to come into our lives and control everything…”
My father grabbed the remnants of Reb Lieb’s holographic transport container off our table and slammed it harshly into the garbage.
“A piece of junk”, he yelled more loudly than I was used to hearing, and hunched over the trash and almost out of breath I saw him start to piece things together.
“Where’s the siechel”, he said shaking his head over the remains of our new technology, “How did I get it into my kup, that a tin can, with no soul, could guide a yid with a neshamah; what’s even the haavah aminah that something that can only compile and catalouge rules into more rules and spit them out….could guide a mishpachah…my mishpachah”.
“It could never work”, agreed my mother standing back up, “even on the surface it doesn’t make sense…”
My father was grinding a fist into an open palm and his teeth were clenched, “What was I thinking that this flying chulent pot could tell us what to do ??? It’s…It’s not even thinking about what it’s saying…”
“Of course not”, said my mother, “How could it without a brain…it’s just a head.”
“It just follows..”, My father struggled on, “some kind of a …”
“Algorithim”, I said.
“No”, said my father.
“Formula”, said my Mother.
“Not that”, said my Father, “you know….mamesh as if you just drop in a number…”
“A variable”, said my Mother.
“A function”, I suggested.
“No, no”, said my Father trying to get around an idea that was to big for him, “how do you describe a chochmah that…that follows the rules but can’t see itself at work…can’t look at itself from across the room…can put the numbers together all the while unable to grasp the end result….”
My Father truly looked in deep frustration at not being unable to express what was so clearly tying his psyche in knot. The idea that his life was enforcably governed by an archaic matrix of barely logical connectors, was so close to the tip of his tongue, and yet so unspeakable.
“It was a stupid….Robot.” Said my mother offering what was her take on the final summary of events.
“That’s it…you got it….that’s it”, said my father first holding up a finger and then pounding his fist into his hand. He accentuating each word by giving the garbage a hefty kick, “It was a stupid…stupid….Robot.”
We stood there for a moment then…unbound and unsure. Almost as if we had unraveled our life enough, sifted deep enough through the dust to be at some long forgotten and deeply buried fork in the road. The next steps forward seemed so unclear…
“Oy Herschel”, said my mother breaking the silence, “look….look at my house, my kitchen, my carpet…ruined…ruined…”
I tried to think of something to say to comfort my poor mother, all her hard work now in shambles around her, but it was my grandfather who found his way over to her doing his best to speak in english.
“I help to clean up”, he offered stooping to the floor, his stiff arthritic fingers doing their best to coax a few styraphoam S’s back into the mechano mosh’s box, “See dat…”
“Yeah, me too”, I chipped in grabbing a big handful and dumping them back into the container.
My fathers anger turned quickly into a well harnessed energy and he truly beamed, “we’ll have this place cleaned up in no time…”
My mother actually began to look a little relieved…and looked around at us with eyes that wanted to believe it could be so. And for a moment we felt so much like a family.
“I tell you”, said my Zaidy, “You don’t need dat”, he said pointing at the fallen hologram in the garbage.
“In de alt country…we don’t have it…”
He pointed at my father and mother in turn, his small watery eyes moving back and forth between them, “You…unt you….you in the charge…no ??”
“Pop”, said my father, “you’re so right, Pop”
“A lifetime of Toirah study”, said my mother, “that’s where wisdom comes from…”
“It’s really true”, said my father, looking at his father with admiration.
I suppose we could have healed then…
Probably could have taken a path with our families needs at the center, who knows, maybe my parents would have been a little kinder to themselves, and a little happier.
But my Zaidy, oh Zaidy…he had one more piece of wisdom to offer.
“Also, da coffee dat ting makes”, said Zaidy shaking his head, “Feh ! Don’t drink it …terrible…not good for nothing….”
“Papa”, said my mother in confusion, “you didn’t drink…..”
“Pop”, said my father, “Oy…Pop.”
“Should we call the Doctor”, I asked.
“Call the hospital….Who knows what was in there”, screamed my mother, until a second, more dire realization hit her.
“Herschel”, she said quitely, perhaps trying to control her dawning terror by keeping it as close to a secret as possible.
“Herschel…that stuff is everywhere…my silverware…my table….what’s…what’s in it ????”
“No”, said my Tatee, immediately sensing what was pushing my mother to the edge of unrecoverable panic, “It’s not a shialah at all…it’s not even Rauy liachilas kele…..”
He trailed off as he watched my grandfather try to wipe the oil out of his mustache.
“Terrible”, Zaidy confirmed.
And as quickly as we had come together…we unraveled.
My mother had balled her hands in to fists next to her face, “My family will be here in an hour and my house is ruined and full of chametz !!!!”
My father was burning through the instruction manual, “It would say”, he stuttered, “it would have to say…”
“Forget that !” screamed my mother, “Get Rav Hahnemann on the phone, he’ll know…”
“I got it”, said my Father lurching to grab the telephone of the wall and hit the speed dial, “I got it right here….”
“YOU don’t have anything”, screamed my mother as the panic flooded her like ice waters numbing the body and mind.
My father was already yelling into the phone, “I don’t care if he went to the Mikvah, fish him out, we’ve got an emergency situation here..”
“It’s under control”, my Father pleaded with my mother as he cradled the home phone on his shoulder and dialed on his cell phone with the free hand, “Yes”, he said loudly in to his cell, “Information? Yes! Yes, I need an emergency carpet cleaning…EMERGENCY!!!”
My mother was shaking her head.
“No”, said my father loudly into the first reciever, “Of course, I don’t wan’t Rav Hahnemann to clean my carpet….listen….listen….I have a very important shailah about some motor oil that is all over our house, and my Father drank it…he drank it, do you hear, he mamesh drank the motor oil…so the shailah…”
My father had the confused look of hearing two seperate conversations at once, and he yelled back on his cell, “No! Yes! No! I don’t need an Emergency room, you heard my right the first time, Carpet cleaning… Emergency carpet….”
He paused for a moment holding both mouthpieces away from his beard, and giving my mother a nod of confidence, “Taken care of…we are set…totally set, it’s fixed… right now”, he said with a tone that implied that all would be resolved with enough time to read the paper and maybe play a round of gin rummy.
“Oy”, said my mother, as the suffocating world closed in around her, “We are not going to make it in time for Pesach…we are not going to make it…there is no way we are going to make it….”
I looked back and forth between my parents as the self imposed madness took hold.
My mother locked eyes with me.
“And don’t for one second think this gets you off the hook”, she seethed.
“Awwwwwwwww”, I said.