Safed is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of 900 metres (2,953 ft), Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel.Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters. Since the sixteenth century, Safed has been considered one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias; since that time, the city has remained a center of Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism.The picture shows a typical Ashkenazi synagogue in Safed. Photo by Itamar Grinberg.

The Penitent’s Note

Wearing tallis and teffilin near the front of the Shul, proctologist Steven Rice M.D. looked up once at the ark where the Torahs were kept and began the penitential prayer. “We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously, we have robbed, we have slandered. We have acted perversely and wickedly, we have willfully sinned…” The text message he’d gotten the night before had disturbed him and it continued to bother him that morning as he prayed. The message had come from a family friend and said in few words that ‘such and such’ had happened to ‘so and so’ and that in some sense Steven had been responsible.

(Note: for legal and ethical reasons it is impossible for me to state the exact nature of what actually occurred. Suffice it to say, that while not tragic, it would threaten to impose hardship on Doctor Rice and cause him, as many things did, an additional measure of anxiety. From here on I will refer to the event simply as: S&S, {so and so}).

Sitting now, with his right forearm covering his eyes, Steven continued his prayer. “We have given evil counsel, we have lied, we have scoffed, we have rebelled, we have provoked, we have been disobedient…” Then, as the Torah was removed from the ark, Steven stood and reached out to touch it with the edge of his tallis and to kiss its tassels, which had touched the Torah’s velvet cover. Though he fought to keep from thinking about S&S, a wave of anxiety washed over him. How could it not? It would have been like asking a person not to think of the proverbial pink elephant. The harder he tried to remove the thought from his mind, the more vivid it became. As the Rabbi began reading from the Torah, Steven felt his gut clench and soon perspiration was dripping from his temples. He reached for a tissue and seeing there were none sticking out of the top of the box, he reached inside and found, not a tissue, but a piece of paper, folded rather expertly, in the shape of a six pointed star. Much to his surprise, his Hebrew name was written on it: שלמה בן גרשון, Shlomo, son of Gershon.

As the Rabbi continued chanting the Torah portion, Steven took the star-shaped paper to the back of the Shul, near where the coffee maker, the cheese Danishes, and the bottle of Slivovitz always were. He unfolded the paper and noticed first, that it was a hand-written note, and that whomever had written it had exquisite penmanship.

‘Dear Dr. Rice,’ it began.

‘I know you are upset. I’m well aware that S&S has happened to you. As a man of faith, you probably realize that, like all things, the Force to whom you pray created this circumstance as well. First, I want you to know that He loves you, and that He’s loved you since before you descended to this place, to wear the suit of skin you call your body. He is with you here at all times, and please forgive Him if it appears that this is not the case. He has to hide Himself for reasons you couldn’t possibly understand, and so, as not to veer off into useless discussions about the nature of reality, etc., let me just say that through very complex means, He has given you the blessing of S&S so He could bestow upon you a goodness that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

That S&S brings you this momentary pain is well known to Him. In fact, He feels the weight of it without any limitations, and as such, His empathy, His compassion for you is whole. Know too, that if you channel your energies, not in resistance, or anger, or sorrow, towards S&S, but rather to comport yourself with dignity, with kindness, and with a warmth of spirit, you will soon see that S&S, was merely a catalyst for the unfathomable growth and joy He wants you to experience.’

Steven rice M.D. took a deep breath as he placed the note in the pocket of his blazer. He looked up once more at the ark, took a last sip of coffee, and walked back to his seat near the front of the Shul.