Enough time has passed since I wrote the following piece that I'm certain nobody can figure out who the boy in the story is. Extra credit question: To what, or whom, does the title refer?
By Susan Esther Barnes
There was a period of time last year when I repeatedly asked God, “What do you want me to do?” and the answer I kept getting was, “Pay attention.” I kept trying to pay attention, but it seemed God might never give me the answer to my question. It took a while, but eventually it dawned on me that God wasn’t saying, “If you pay attention, I will tell you what I want you to do.” Rather, God was saying, “What I want you to do is to pay attention.”
Yesterday morning I was greeting people at the synagogue entrance when Rabbi Lezak asked if I was planning to stay for services. I told him I was, and he said, “There are a lot of boys here today. They are very excited…” I responded, “Maybe I should sit behind them, and if they make trouble, I should smack them on the back of the head?” He just smiled and walked into the sanctuary.
Often, when a lot of kids come for a Bar Mitzvah, they sit toward the back of the sanctuary. For some reason, these kids chose to sit in the front, to one side. Consequently, I couldn’t sit behind them, but I was able to find a chair beside them, in a place where I wouldn’t normally sit.
When I looked for a prayer book, I noticed a thin binder sitting in the seat back in front of me. Sometimes classes or meetings are held in the sanctuary, so I assumed the binder contained notes someone had left there earlier in the week. But something about the binder was bugging me, so I picked it up and turned it over. On the front was a label with someone’s name, and some doodles. I thought, “Yes, I was right, it’s some kid’s class notes,” and I put the binder back.
Then, I suddenly thought, “That name sounds vaguely familiar…Is it the name of the kid having the Bar Mitzvah right now?” A part of my mind told me, “Stop with the binder already. You’re supposed to be praying,” but I just couldn’t let the thought go. I gave into my compulsion and picked up the binder again. This time I opened it. Inside I found some handwritten pages, and in the pocket on the left was a typewritten sheet headed by the word, “Drash.”
“Okay,” I thought, this is the Bar Mitzvah boy’s binder, but maybe this is just an extra copy of his Drash.” I thought about waiting to see whether he needed the binder, and running up with it if he did, but as I pictured him standing there and starting to panic if he thought it was lost, waiting didn’t seem like the best option. By this point, the Bar Mitzvah boy was starting to walk the Torah through the congregation, so I took the opportunity to take the binder up to the front of the sanctuary, where I handed it to Rabbi Lezak, saying, “In case he needs this.”
When the Bar Mitzvah boy returned to the bimah, he set down the Torah, looked around, and then turned to his parents, making a gesture that looked like he was holding up a binder. Just as he was starting to look concerned, Rabbi Lezak handed him the binder. He looked relieved, opened the binder, took out his Drash, and began to read.
Maybe the boy won’t remember this small event, since everything turned out fine. But maybe, somewhere in his subconscious, there is the thought, “On one of the most important days of my life, when for a moment it looked like everything was about to go horribly wrong, the rabbi stepped in and saved the day.” Down the road, where might a thought like that lead? God only knows.