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The Wheat Doll

by Doug Lipman

At last, Rabbi Pesach Mendel was cleaning his study.

Make no mistake. He had always understood the virtues of cleanliness and order. It was just that, under the pressures of serving God, he had allowed some clutter to build up.

In his eagerness to find answers to difficult questions of Jewish law for his parishioners, he had sometimes pulled a book off the shelf in haste, then left it on the table when another pressing question presented itself.

Dozens of poor people came to him daily, asking for an ear for their troubles - or for advice. Or for wisdom, which all too often seemed elusive. As they talked, the rabbi would scribble notes to himself on scraps of paper, which had a way of falling to the floor when he rose to speak in passion. And with so many waiting to speak with him, how could he make them wait while he crawled under the table to pick up the scraps?

Not to mention the dust. Somehow, it had accumulated over everything.

But this day, he had resolved to change things. He got up an hour earlier than usual - so he could first pray and then clean before the first parishioner arrived. He worked feverishly to be done in time.

With moments to spare, the rabbi stood and admired his tidy study. Everything was put away. Every surface was dusted. For the first time in perhaps a year, he could see the heavenly order, and not just the human mess!

As the first parishioner knocked on his door, Rabbi Pesach Mendel felt tired and grumpy from lack of sleep. But the clean study was worth it.

Most of the villagers who came to see the rabbi early in the morning were on their way to work. But the man who entered now was a baker, coming straight from a night's work, even as the sun was just rising.

The baker, a large, awkward man, stood for a moment in the doorway, baking hat in hand, before he gingerly entered Rabbi Pesach Mendel's study. At the rabbi's invitation, he lowered himself into the chair - the very chair that Rabbi Pesach Mendel had laboriously dusted just moments before.

As the baker sat down, still in his baking clothes, a big cloud of white flour was launched into the air. It billowed from the baker's clothes. From his skin. From his hair.

Rabbi Pesach Mendel saw all his hard work undone in an instant. "Show some respect for a rabbi," he snapped. "Change your clothes before you come to a place of God!"

The baker looked up, crushed. He murmured an apology and left quickly, his question for the rabbi still unasked.

As baker left, Rabbi Pesach Mendel glimpsed his wife, looking at him from the hallway. Her face had the familiar look that suggested she was going to offer him a way to improve.

"And you," he barked at her, "do me a favor. Stay out of this!"

His wife turned and left without a word.

small decorative rule

Two days later, Rabbi Pesach Mendel sat in his study, trying to grab a moment of quiet in which to decipher a difficult mystical text.

His concentration, for once, was so strong that he was oblivious to the sounds coming from the front room of his house.

A loud thump startled him. Running into the front room of his house, he saw his wife dancing around the room. In her frenzy, she bumped into a wall - thump! She careened off it, singing at the top of her lungs. She carried something in her hand - something that she was clearly singing to.

Rabbi Pesach Mendel said, "Mimele! What are you doing?"

She stopped long enough to hiss, "Shh!" Immediately, she continued her dancing and singing.

As the rabbi stared at her, he noticed that the object in her hand was a stalk of wheat. He hadn't recognized it at first, because it was wrapped in a white cloth. No - it was dressed! His wife had apparently made doll clothes for this wheat stalk! It even wore a little white hat!

As his wife danced around and around the room, she knocked into the coat tree. It swayed. The rabbi ran over to keep it from falling and crushing the little table next to it.

He said, "Be careful!"

His wife said breathlessly, "I'm performing an act of teshuvah, of repentance." She continued her mad dance.

He could only stand and watch as she sang, talked to the wheat doll, caressed it, and carried it around and around the room.

By the time she stopped, he was dizzy. His wife walked calmly over to him, and handed him the doll. "Here," she said.

He took it.

If he were not at all times so deeply convinced of his wife's wisdom, at this moment he might have doubted her sanity. As it was, he just waited for her to speak.

At last, she caught her breath and began:

This morning, dear husband, we ran out of milk. So I walked out to buy some.

But I was so absorbed in the task of getting the milk - of fulfilling the holy commandment to feed our children - that I carelessly stepped off the path. When I noticed where I was walking, I looked down and saw that I had trod on some wheat. In fact, I had broken one of the stalks.

What had I done? I picked it up and spoke to it: "I was in such a hurry to do something holy, that I forgot to notice that you, too, little wheat stalk, were created by G-d."

So I came back home and began to sing to it. To praise it. To talk to the godliness in it, until I could feel that it heard me and forgave.

The rabbi asked, "But why is it wearing clothing?"

His wife replied, "Well, it's hard to see G-d in a stalk of wheat. So I dressed it as something that should be easy to see G-d in. I dressed it in the clothes of a baker."

Rabbi Pesach Mendel gasped. Then he smiled. "Sometimes I think, Mimele, that without you I would step so far off the path I would never find my way back." He took her hands. "Thank you."

The two of them danced around the room, grinning and laughing with the joy of singing to the G-d in each other.

Note: Rabbi Pesach Mendel is a fictitious rabbi created by Doug Lipman.

A sequel to this story is Can You See the Turning?

New! This story will be recorded on Can You Hear the Silence? - Hasidic Stories for the 21st Century, a recording of new Hasidic stories and songs that speak to the joy, humor, mystery, and wisdom we've come to love in Jewish mystical stories - presented in a form that's accessible to listeners of any background. Pre-order in the next 7 days, and save up to 34%! Buy three (great gifts!) and save up to $22.20! Read more at http://storydynamics.com/cyhs.



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This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 5, 2003
Copyright©2001 Doug Lipman