Nitzavim by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Nitzavim

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your GOD—every man and woman of Israel…from the woodcutters to the water-drawers—to enter into the Covenant with the LORD your GOD…. And not with you alone do I enact this Covenant, with those who are standing with us this day, but also with those [future and past generations of Israelites] who are not standing with us this day…to study this Torah, and to perform it.
–Deut. 29:9-14 (translation mine)

 

A Report from Warsaw, Poland, during World War I:

There were a great many wagons and coaches parked, but with no drivers in sight. …A young Jewish boy showed me…to the shtibl (prayerhouse) of the Jewish wagon-drivers (Yiddish, balagoolas). [There were] two rooms: one filled with Talmud volumes, the other a room for prayer. All the drivers were engaged in fervent study and religious discussion…I found out…that all professions, the bakers, the butchers, the shoemakers, etc., have their own shtibl in the Jewish district, and every free moment [they can take] off from their work is given to the study of the Torah. And when they get together in intimate groups, one urges the other: ‘Zog mir ah shtickl Torah—Teach me a little Torah.’

Chabad House at Stanford University, Retrieved from https://www.chabadstanford.org/article.htm?Torah-Study-70

 

The Talmud-Study Society of Galaxy Andromeda M31

Sept. 25, 2736—22 Elul, 6502

As NASA Space Flight Engineer Mordechai Kahn eased through the tunnel of USS Space Cruiser Ticonderoga IV, its airlock doors hissed closed behind him. He was careful to touch and kiss the mezuzah that NASA Space Regulations (Section XXIII, Subset 432, Lines 6-9) required of all Jewish Personnel Religio-Capsules. Unlike earthly mezuzote, this one was permanently sealed in plastilex; it might not have been acceptable to the extremely religious, but it was necessary in space, so as not to allow alien microbes to devour the parchment and vegetable-based ink.

As the only Jewish member of the Interstellar Expedition to Starform Epsilon 4943AA, and Conservadox at that, Mordechai could not let a day go by without performing the mitzvah-commandment of daily Torah study b’chavruta—with his study partners. As the only Jew on the Ticonderoga, he could not do this face-to-face, but Star Ship Command, based on the Moon (in the System containing Old Earth, which centuries of pollution and global warming had rendered uninhabitable; hence, all these expeditions to find new planets for humanity to colonize) had handily supplied him with a handy list of other practicing Jews who wished to remotely study SpaceTalmud. This enabled him to fulfill the mitzvah.

Mordechai knew also that there were interested gentile scholars: a Catholic monk and plant geneticist, Father William Mendel, on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, would often participate when his schedule permitted. There was also a Buddhist, George Freeh Rinpoche, a lexicographer based on Pluto who was writing a Romulan-English lexicon, would “relax his mind,” as he put it, by joining in.

Mordechai enjoyed their insights, but he was happiest when he could effect an Einsteinian Hologram Linkup with Eliezer Bokospeichik, the youngest son of Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bokospeichik, who was head of the Maldemer Chasidim, a sect that, after early sensing the ensuing destruction of Old Earth, had contracted with an Israeli aerospace firm to build a Space Ark large enough to float them to Mars. There, they engaged in converting the Martians, marrying them Jewishly, and raising their children in the faith. They were, sadly, finding it difficult to do so; at least, according to Jewish Law—the Martian Race had three genders.

Back over Epsilon, Mordechai eased into his Study Seat and belted himself in, put on his kipah-skullcap and pulled its elasto-band under his chin. To create the sensation of complete engagement with his study partners, his personal rebbe, Moshe Rochev-Kochav, head of the Otto Lilienthal Yeshiva, had ruled that he must learn under Deep Space conditions, without any artificial gravity. Mordechai donned his Hologram-Helmet and adjusted its ViewScreen to allow images of his study partners to appear. Hewas also praying to the Jewish God of all the Cosmos that his other chavruta-partner, Charlie Levine, a navigator on Starship Jules Verne VII, be available—Charlie had promised to change his work schedule to allow time for Torah.

Flicking at the panel of switches and dials before him, and noting the position of the brightest star in his corner of Andromeda M31, Mordechai sent out a homing signal to his chavruta, study partners. There was a soft humming, and then, a slight ringing noise as he made contact, first, with Eliezer—Mordechai muttered a soft prayer; Eliezer’s insights were really, well, insightful.

As for Charlie? Hmm—no luck, today. But, wait! Yes—no—the homing signal flashed into space, and found no receiver. Shoot. Oh, well.

“Eliezer, do you read me? Prepare for hologram-transmission,” said Mordechai.

“Up and running, Chaver Mordechai,” came Eliezer’s voice.

“Coordinates two-two-zero-fourteen.”

“I read,” said Eliezer.

“And lock.”

The image of his chavruta-partner, Eliezer, appeared in Mordechai’s Hologram-Helmet viewfinder. Eliezer smiled: he was seeing Mordechai, as well.

“Shalom Aleichem!”

“Aleichem Shalom!”

“Nu, vosmacht ah Yid? (How’s a Jew doing?)”

“Not bad. Just lonely. Shall we begin?”

“Yes!—I’m on Talmud Kiddushin Chalal, the Tractate of Space-Marriage, Folio 2, Side One. I will read and translate, from the Sparamaic:

“’The 23rd Century Mishnah states: “A Venusian female organism may be acquired in five ways: via money—that is, Martian drachmae; a contract—etched only on the leaf of a Boddhi-tree; or coimplantment—by one other Venusian, male only. There are also the choices implanted via thought-processes: implant-mental-chip, General Electrons issue; Freedom of Will from the Creator. And she acquires herself back in two ways.
“The 24th Century Gemara explains: “Via money—that is, according to Plutonian Rabbi Lychus: a Plutonian drachma. According to Jupiterian Rabbi Hyle: a Jupiterian dinar. And she acquires herself back in two ways: through a writ of divorce, as enacted in a Space Command Jewish Bet Din Law Court, or through the Departure-from-Life-Form of her Male Counterpart.”

“Wow!” breathed Mordechai, “What an amazing piece of Talmud this is! What does New Rashi say?”

New Rashi was the commentary of one Rabbi Shinar ben Yisrael, a Mercury-born Jew-by-Choice who, stranded on Pluto’s moon Styx after his exploratory voyage crashed there back in 2527, had lots of time to write an extensive commentary on the entire Space Talmud, storing it on a Logo Drive and launching it back to Earth. It had become the Universal Space Talmud Commentary, noted both for its ease of usage and depth of knowledge. Rabbi Shinar, known by the acronym New Rashi, was regarded as the 26th Century’s Prince of Commentators.

“Well, let’s see,” said Eliezer, “how much time for Torah-study have you got?”

“At least five parsec-lengths,” said Mordechai.

“That should give us time to get up to the mental-chip section,” said Eliezer.

“I love this!” said Mordechai.

“Hey, what does God say about Torah?” laughed Eliezer, far-off in the deep reaches of Space, “’It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go off, and fetch it for us?”

“’Nor is it in the depths of the sea!’”Mordechai chimed in, “’It is as near as the nearest hologram-transmitter!’”

And the universe spun on….


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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