Naomi Cantor’s stomach flipped and flopped. And her heart? Pounding. And how many times had she told her husband she was fine? Oops, a white lie is still a lie, but, well, the last thing he needed was worrying about her.
Yet, of course, she knew he wasn’t fooled—each time a thought tickled her brain (how will tonight affect your future? where do you go from here? will he end up blaming you?), her stomach did its flip-flops and with each adrenaline spike she grew lightheaded. Daniel had even made mention of her audible heavy breathing.
Naomi walked out of the kitchen expecting to find Daniel where he’d been sitting before she’d compulsively run to grab another brownie.
“Daniel—” Where’d he go? “Daniel?”
He emerged from their bedroom having again changed his tie. “How’s this look?”
This third change of clothes belied his otherwise calm exterior. Each time she had begun a sentence with, “Maybe we should. . .” or “Why don’t we wait. . .” he had gently shushed her. It was clear he was determined to carry out his plan for this Friday evening, yet Naomi did receive some momentary satisfaction in his tugging at the new tie. Aha—he, too, was nervous.
“Oh, honey, you’re wearing the tie I gave you. I love electric blue on you.”
Daniel bent down, kissed the top of her head, and placed his arm around her waist. “We need to go.”
That was her cue, as in “Naomi, get your purse.”
They were almost out the door, when he snapped his fingers. “The alarm.”
“Oh, we always forget that, don’t we?”
Daniel punched the code in the keypad, took hold of his wife’s hand, and they began their familiar Sabbath walk to Temple. Their last such walk.
Naomi squeezed her husband’s hand, “I talked to Melinda. She has a whole lot of people praying for you…”
“She’d better. She’s the cause of all this.”
Her stomach muscles clenched as she recalled Daniel’s recent fury directed toward her. His rejection was so painful. Less than three weeks ago, he refused to touch her. “You are unclean,” he’d told her in response to discovering her secret faith in Yeshua.
And only her newfound faith in the Messiah strengthened her to endure that agonizing period of time. But this comment, blaming Melinda—what if he isn’t teasing? What if . . .?
Daniel lifted up her chin, allowing her to see the playful crinkle of his eyes. “I need to meet Melinda sometime soon . . . to thank her. Because of her you came to believe. Now I . . .”
He seemed unable to finish his sentence. “Daniel, what?”
His eyes sparkled while using one finger to affectionately trace her lips. “Once upon a time, long ago it seems, you and I talked about b’sheirt. Remember?”
She nodded. Oh that glorious day when divine providence brought them together. “Of course I remember. I was standing outside the synagogue in Brooklyn and wondering why my feet felt like they were velcroed to the sidewalk—and then you came out.”
He exhaled and shook his head with a look of astonishment. “How much we didn’t understand back then. How could we have known He would lead us to this very night?”
Daniel removed his hand from her chin, and displayed both his hands. “I know they’re shaking, but still I know God will walk us through this, and speaking of walking . . .,” he said as he gestured toward the front door.
“We’d better keep moving. I know.”
Once they picked up their pace, Daniel observed, “You’re limping.”
Without stopping, she assured him, “Don’t worry. All that hiking in Israel for the last two weeks—I should have worn better shoes, I guess—but I’m okay.”
On their way out of their housing development, they waved to the guard, and stepped out onto the sidewalk on Boca Raton’s main thoroughfare, and were instantly assaulted by the din of Friday evening rush hour traffic.
Between the blaring of the car horns and the blazing July sun, Naomi couldn’t help but consider how much more comfortable they would be if riding in their new air-conditioned shiny red Oldsmobile.
“This is just as hot as it was in Israel.” She tugged at his jacket sleeve, and cautiously looked up at him. “Daniel, could we now consider . . .”
Something about the way he abruptly asked the question. It was clear he knew where she was heading. She looked up into his penetrating gaze and his raised eyebrows, and responded with, “Never mind.”
Once again she momentarily panicked—she could never again endure the sting of his rejection, but assured herself it was simply her wacky insecurity. Since the miracle at the Wall in Jerusalem he now shared her faith in their Messiah. So what if he continued believing they must walk on Shabbos? A little sweat and a few blisters on her feet—that would be a small sacrifice. Anything to continue basking in not only Yeshua’s love, but also in the love of the man she adored.
It seemed as if Daniel must have heard the sharp tone of his response to her, and did not want the past to cast its ugly shadow. He had shared recently that the memory of how cruel he had been to her still caused him to cringe. He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed it.
About a half block from Temple Beth Shalom, members of his congregation recognized their rabbi and began waving their arms. Daniel turned to Naomi and arched an eyebrow. She knew what he was thinking—when was the last time his members beat him to Friday night service?
Typically Daniel was the first arrival on Friday, then a smattering of the faithful would meander in, and all during the service others would saunter in, greet those already seated and flagrantly disregard whatever religious ritual was taking place in front of them.
“They must have missed you and are probably anxious to hear about Israel,” Naomi volunteered.
Daniel and Naomi approached those gathered and were greeted with a chorus of “Shabbat Shalom.”
They, in turn, wished all the smiling faces a peaceful Sabbath as well.
“Oh, Rabbi, we missed you so much,” Mildred gushed as she batted her eyelashes.
Naomi couldn’t help but feel sorry for this 80-year-old woman—she was infatuated with her young rabbi. Naomi had warned Daniel on a number of occasions about this but he continued to say, “Naomi, you have a vivid imagination.”
Morris Bagliebter stepped between Mildred and Daniel, and in his gruff voice told him, “That guy you got to fill in, Rabbi Solomon, he was okay.” Morris then went into a prolonged coughing jag.
Naomi looked to Mrs. Bagliebter and tried to offer an empathetic smile. How much longer did her husband have left? Well, I guess maybe Rabbi Solomon will do the funeral. After tonight, they’re not going to want my husband. Why can’t Daniel wait a little while before . . .?
Naomi gave Daniel her familiar doe-eyed imploring expression. He pulled her aside and moved them toward the sanctuary.
“They liked Levi Solomon, maybe he has a full-time job waiting for him.”
Upon seeing them, Jay and Sandy Marcus ran toward them and hugged them. Daniel and Naomi shared a secretive glance. Both knew their special friendship with this couple would very soon end. No more barbeques, beach excursions . . . at best a polite avoidance of one another. And what about their son Jake? He would probably be forbidden from even talking to the traitorous Cantors.
But for now, they were welcomed as one of the tribe. “Hey, great to see you back in our land. That was an incredible trip. Sandy and I were saying how much we appreciated you putting it together.”
Sandy confessed to Naomi, “I haven’t even begun unpacking yet. So tired after all that walking.”
Naomi simply nodded and smiled.
Once seated in the front row, Naomi whispered, “Are you sure?”
“Honey, trust me, I’ll take care of you. And more importantly,” he pointed his finger upwards and said. “He’ll take care of us.”
They were interrupted by the sound of the shofar and the chanting of the Shema. Now it was time for Rabbi Cantor to step up to the bema.
Daniel’s voice carried its usual strong authoritative tone, but Naomi believed it exuded a special new warmth as he said, “Let us welcome the Shabbat together. Psalm 95 in your Siddur.”
Naomi noticed that while her husband waited to hear the familiar sound of the pages being turned, he slowly and deliberately ran his hands across the dark polished wood of his podium.
A shared look between them accompanied by his wistful smile assured her they were recalling the same moment—when fourteen year-old Benjamin, beaming with pride, presented his woodworking project to the family’s rabbi as a birthday gift.
“I did it in shop class,” he had boasted.
Naomi recalled how cute the young boy was as he nervously kept pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Daniel smiled toward Naomi and subtly mimed pushing an imaginary pair of glasses up toward his nose. A sweet silent chuckle transpired between the couple.
Pursing his lips together, Daniel appeared to be chasing away the nostalgic reverie and steeling himself for moving full-on into the present moment. He instructed the congregation, “Read with me, ‘O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation . . .”
Others continued reading from the Psalm but Naomi noted Daniel’s voice breaking off and then observed his eyes lift heavenward. She knew exactly what he was experiencing as she recalled the first time sitting through a Shabbat service as a new Believer. She had been overwhelmed by the beauty of words once recited by rote year upon year. And tonight how much more so it must be for him.
Slowly she noticed the voices of their congregation trailing off, their faces reflecting a sense of confusion. Why was their Leader not leading them?
Daniel wiped the tears from his eyes and reached for the glass of water always situated on a ledge inside his podium. “Let us welcome the Sabbath as a groom welcomes his bride.”
He cleared his throat. “Dear friends, please, bear with me. I am changing our usual service for the evening. I have some announcements to make.”
To Naomi the pause Daniel now took seemed like an eternity. The congregation communicated their impatience by noisily shifting in their seats and murmuring to one another. They felt it. They knew something very different was in the air.
Daniel, do you know what you’re doing? This is our life. I’m not ready for everything to change.
With Daniel’s foot on the accelerator, Naomi longed to jam on the brakes. While all eyes were looking expectantly to their rabbi, Naomi’s eyes were drawn to the indigo velvet Torah cover—so beautifully plush. With the help of Shirley, one of the older women at the Temple, Naomi had labored over the sewing and then the embroidering of this intricate design. It had some obvious flaws—the gold silk threads were a bit tangled and the design of the menorah at the center was a bit off-balance—but Daniel had assured her it was perfect.
Daniel shifted his weight from one leg to the other and clasped his hands in front of his stomach and then behind his back. Finally he spoke. “Apologies are never easy. However, I need to apologize to every one of you sitting here tonight because I have loaded you down with burdens too heavy for any man to bear. I realize I have spoken many many times about our responsibility as Jews to take up the yoke of the law. But I now realize none of us can take up that burden—not even your rabbi.”
After another swallow of water, he continued. “My first announcement is that I will be resigning as your rabbi.” In response to the gasps and murmurs, Daniel extended his open palms toward his congregation, “Please, be patient and wait for me to give you an explanation.”
Naomi put her head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone who might be looking her way. The roar in her ears must be an indication her blood pressure was rising (she had read that somewhere).
Meanwhile she heard the uproar all around her. People turning to the person next to them or nudging the person in front of them. Naomi heard a general mutter of “What’s this all about?”
And how could she be afraid? Or angry at Daniel? Oh, how she must be disappointing Yeshua. Only three weeks ago, she had been fervently praying that her husband would share her faith. But I didn’t expect him to . . .
Daniel intentionally cleared his throat loudly into the microphone, effectively silencing the crowd as they looked up expectantly. “My wife and I will be available to any and all of you to come to our home and ask more questions—you see, what I am going to tell you next will startle you, and I am praying some of you will want to know more.”
Daniel rubbed his neck, as if trying to massage out a crick. Naomi had told him more than once, “Honey, sometimes you get this nervous gesture with your neck.” He must have recalled her advice because he stopped and glanced at her.
Daniel leaned into the microphone, the felt cover brushing against his lips as he softly addressed the congregation. “Have you ever had an experience where in an instant everything changed? Have you ever had a revelation that made you see things differently? No, excuse me, it is more like suddenly you see with clarity . . . crystal clarity.”
With the word clarity spoken, Naomi witnessed a profound transformation in Daniel. His jaw unclenched and the tightness around his mouth softened. Naomi perceived what seemed like a glow. She often chided herself for her vivid imagination, but this radiance was no illusion.
There was something in the Bible . . . something we read while in Israel. I think it was in a book called “Acts.” Something where one of Jesus’ disciples was filled with the Holy Spirit and appeared to glow. Well, something like that. Is that what’s happening to Daniel? But I think that’s the guy who they stoned until he was dead.
“The first night we arrived in Israel, although it was late and everyone traveling with us checked into their rooms, my wife and I went to the Western Wall. I was carrying a heavy burden and believed if I prayed there at the Wall, that burden would be lifted.”
Daniel turned to Naomi and she mouthed back, “I love you.”
“While praying at the Wall, the burden I took with me was lifted, but not how I thought it would be. The true burden I was carrying had been that heavy yoke of the law. I need to read you something.”
Would anyone notice the Bible their Rabbi had reached for from the podium and was now holding up—would they notice it contained the New Testament?
Daniel stepped away from the podium. At the precise moment he opened his Bible Naomi’s stomach growled—loudly. Except for the brownies, she hadn’t eaten all day. Those around her turned in her direction and chuckled—her stomach was always a troublemaker. It caused enough of a stir to catch Daniel’s attention. He looked toward Naomi with a quizzical look, but quickly shrugged away the distraction.
“Psalm 118 always made me wonder. It says that the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” He paused and looked out at the congregation. “Let me ask you something. If it is referring to us as the builders, if we Jews are the builders, then who is it we have rejected?” He paused and scanned the crowd.
A few people leaned forward in their seats and raised their eyebrows. They were paying closer attention to their rabbi than Naomi had ever seen before. It seemed to have registered on them where her husband was going. Their increasing scowls expressed their displeasure.
“In Yeshiva we were taught to avoid certain Scriptures, one of them is the one you just heard. Why? And why do you think all year long we avoid Chapter 53 of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah? Are any of you familiar with this passage in your Tanakh?” Their heads shook no. “I didn’t think so.
“For the first time today, you will hear it. Listen and consider who Isaiah is speaking about when he says, ‘He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’”
Daniel looked up from his Bible and into the faces of his congregation, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our in—”
Naomi heard the sharp intakes of breath from the congregation. Frozen in her seat and afraid to move her head lest anyone catch her eye, she stole a sidelong glance and saw them muttering with one another.” However, when Daniel stepped down and walked up the aisle, Naomi turned her whole body to watch.
He fixed his intense blue eyes on theirs as he continued speaking, “My professors taught us that Isaiah is speaking of Israel, but I never could reconcile that being true. It is so clearly speaking about a person, and if you continue the rest of this chapter and try substituting Israel each time it says ‘he’ you’ll see it doesn’t make sense.”
He implored, “Please go home and read this chapter for yourself. Then ask if this is not about Israel, then who is it describing?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Is it your Uncle Irving?”
When Daniel approached a row, those seated there stiffened their backs and turned away from him. The angry voices grew louder and a few rose from their seat until soon they had formed small gatherings, and soon these gatherings turned into one large angry mob. Demands were shouted, some demanded he sit down and others demanded that he leave the building.
One demure eighty-something year-old lady in an aisle seat, reached up to tug on Daniel’s jacket. In a reedy voice, she said, “Rabbi, genug iz genug. Enough is enough. You’re getting us all fermisht.”
He stooped down and softly said, “Please, Mrs. Schwartz, I know everyone’s getting shaken up by this, but, please, give me one more minute.”
Jerry, a burly man in his sixties, walked menacingly over to Daniel. “What? Someone pay you to convert so now you’re trying to convert us?”
Daniel walked past Jerry and climbed back up to the podium. Naomi was amazed at the calmness of his voice. “As I announced at the beginning, I will be stepping down as your Rabbi and will arrange for a new leader.” Taking one more swallow of his water, he tucked his Bible into the crook of his arm. “And again, if you want to discuss this further, please know our door is open.” Down two steps, with one more to go, Daniel appeared to realize he was not finished.
“Please pray and ask God to show you the truth about our Messiah.”
Naomi, her chin tucked into her chest, saw Daniel’s hand suddenly reach for hers and she immediately grabbed it. He scooped her up in a tight embrace, shielding her from the angry crowd.
Several feet away from the parking lot, Daniel and Naomi finally escaped the clamor following them out of the Temple. Daniel leaned down and kissed her tenderly. “I heard your stomach growl.”
Daniel cradled her head in his arms and ruffled her hair. “Hey, curly, let’s walk into town and get something to eat.”