Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5763 - August 13, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Man or Machine?
a story by Shira Shatzberg

Part II

Synopsis: "You'll be a man, someday, my son, a real mensch," Dovid's mother used to say to her orphan son. Already married, holding down a part-time job but otherwise maintaining a full learning schedule, Dovid feels mature and adult. But with his mother not around any more, he is not sure if, according to her criteria, he has already made the grade.

On his way to work, one morning, he is accosted by a blind man who asks for help in getting to his destination.

I was in a rush. A big one. I prided myself on my punctuality, as did my boss and co-workers. I was a real man: diligent, dependable, hard-working and always prompt. That was the name I had worked hard to achieve all my life and one that I deemed crucial to preserve. Now, however, it was a matter of seconds before that cherished name would be demolished. I couldn't allow myself the slightest tardiness. Too much was at stake.

But a handicapped man had asked me for a favor. Could I decline?

Sure I could. I had given him directions, so why not? Be logical now, Davie. Do you owe the man anything? Are you the only one in town? Let him ask someone else. Now get moving, be a man. Go Davie, go!

I was about to do just that when the blind man's blue T-shirt caught my eye. The words "Cape Cod" were sprawled across the shirt in large letters framed with sea shells. The sight of that, combined with the humidity that was soon to develop into a scorching summer's morning, transferred me back to the picturesque town where I had vacationed with my family and in- laws the previous summer.

While driving along the coast, my wife and I had come upon an isolated beach where we stopped to enjoy the panoramic scenery. I could once again feel the cool ocean breeze playfully stroking my face. I could hear the crashing of the waves against the shore and the screeching of the seagulls high above. A salty scent rose from the brine and permeated my nostrils.

Ahuva had been walking alongside me, giggling softly in response to our crawling toddler's toe tickly treatment when suddenly, a loud snap broke the spell. We looked all around and were surprised to sight two rustic rowboats moored to an embankment of rocks. Apparently they weren't tied strongly enough because one of the knots had just snapped, releasing a boat into the vastness of the sea.

Before I knew what had hit me, Ahuva thrust the baby into my arms and scampered over to the embankment. In mounting horror, I watched her scale the rocks.

"Ahuva! What on earth are you doing?" I shouted.

"Hold on one sec," she called out in her typical, cheerful voice. "I'll tell you in a minute."

I watched her as she reached out and grabbed hold of the runaway vessel. She carefully tied the rope back onto the rocks, tightened the knot firmly, and clambered back up, faster than the tide.

I was waiting for her. "Ahuva, would you be so good as to explain your actions?"

"Certainly. That rowboat would have drifted away. Someone would have lost his boat forever..."

I rolled my eyes. "And what, may I ask, business is that of yours?"

"None at all. But I had the opportunity to save someone hardship and distress. It was hashovas aveida before the act."

I was unwilling to accept her excuses. "Ahuva! Do you really believe that typing up a stranger's boat was your responsibility? Be logical. For all you know..."

Ahuva cut me off. "No, I refuse to be logical." She sat down determindedly on a rock.

I cast her a puzzled look. She was not one to retort and I had never known her to be stubborn. But I sat down beside her, nonetheless. The obstinate look on Ahuva's face was quickly replaced by a softer, apologetic smile. "Sorry about the outburst. I just think it's about time for you to stop insisting on logic."

"What do you mean?"

"You know what your problem is, Davie?" she paused to coo at the baby. "It's that you view life as a math exam. You think that if you line up the figures and add them up without doing anything wrong, then the answers are bound to be right. You think that if you proceed strictly according to logic, the results will be a success. But the theory is wrong."

I looked at Ahuva as though she had fallen from a different planet. "Wrong? What could possibly be wrong with that?"

Ahuva shook her head, trying to straighten out her thoughts. "When I was in ninth grade, we used to get multiple choice literature quizes. I remember that the first time we took them, the majority of my class failed. It was tricky because all the options were very similar, with subtle differences between them. The object was to choose the answer that was most correct. And that's what life is all about, too."

The startling sound of someone clearing his throat jerked me back into the present. A blind man was waiting for an answer. I was thankful that he had not seen my changing expressions as I had deliberated. I looked at my watch: seven fifty-nine. I took a deep breath. Then I held my elbow out to the stranger and latched his hand onto it as I took the lead. I reversed my direction and headed for 23rd Street.

As I walked along, something clicked in my mind. When Mama had talked about being a man, was she perhaps alluding to being human?

Ironically, as I walked into my office twenty minutes late and felt curious stares bombarding me from all angles, I felt more like a man than ever. No longer was I an automatic machine, a computer or digital calculator. I had introduced a new element into my life's calculations and decisions.

I was a human being, capable of discerning between the fine nuances between partially correct and wholly right.

Or, as Mama would have put it, I had made the grade. I was a mensch.


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