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 disturbed him and 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.’ (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’s gut clenched 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 felt inside and found, not a tissue, but a piece of paper, folded rather well, 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 note, and that the penmanship was exquisite.

Dear Dr. Rice,’ it began.

I know you are upset. I’m well aware that S&S has happened. As a man of faith, you probably realize that, like all things, I created this circumstance as well. First, I want you to know that I love you, and that I’ve loved you since before you descended to this place, to wear the suit of skin you call your body.

I am with you here at all times, and please forgive me if it appears that this is not the case. I have to hide Myself 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, I’ve given you the blessing of S&S so I could bestow upon you a goodness that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

That S&S brings you this momentary pain is well known to me. In fact, I feel the weight of it without any limitations, and so My empathy, My 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 I want you to experience.’

Steven, took a deep breath as he placed the note in the pocket of his blazer. He poured himself a cup of coffee and walked back to his seat near the front of the Shul.





3 thoughts on “The Penitent’s Note

  1. If you’ll permit this goya a measure of latitude . . .

    Peter, I don’t think you fully appreciate how powerful this vignette is for me right now – as I embark on my 40 day interior sojourn of Lent (as this is Ash Wednesday). I will be seeking to empty myself of my fear and selfish impulses that fill my life in order that I might trust God more resolutely. So the message found in Dr. Rice’s blazer really resonates with me right now . . . dare we say that your writing and posting this piece on this very day is providential?

  2. This reminds me of how special our lunch together was last week. You are writing in the best tradition of 19th Century Russian literature. At times I heard Gogol and Dostoevsky and for sure Sholem Aleichem. Your words continue to move me. Precious is our time on this planet. Do you know the difference between yesterday’s tree with no name and the Penitent?

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