Being the oldest student in the yeshiva didn’t make me bitter, but being old and single while young men came and went away married was like road rash after high siding your bike and sliding half a mile on rough asphalt. Just when you got used to the pain, it got even worse. The flames were already raging when I got to the yeshiva at the age of late thirty-something, and though I acted more civilized than I did in my biker days, under the surface a hungry animal was waiting to rage at these polite post-college boys. Hanging out with bikers in the East Village was a semi-lethal outlet for my anger that I hadn’t found an alternative for in Israel. Yeshiva had extinguished the flames, but the coals of anger still burned red hot in my heart. Every day, I sulked in the corner of the study hall, watching young men wear their religious zeal like a new shirt with the factory sharp creases still showing. They thought I was dressing down, wearing fashionably worn country clothes, but these were the only clothes I owned. They were fresh from frat parties, beer stains on their white shirts.
I watched as one after the other, they would go out on dates returning to piously announce that they had finally found their soul mates. I had made the jump a decade earlier, leaving a career and a motorcycle behind, landing in Israel as a stranger in a strange land. My daddy’s obligations to watch over me were long fulfilled and there was no net in sight.
And here I was, ten years later, living in a dilapidated caravan with less than one hundred dollars to my name. Even worse, I was more alone than a man had a right to be. God had let me down and someone was going to pay for it.
Going into Purim with that kind of attitude can be dangerous for yourself as well as those unlucky enough to be around you. Though I tended towards the lenient in most Biblical commandments, I was extra strict when it came to the mitzvah of drinking on Purim. This one year, I woke up with the idea that being a mean drunk suited me. I started drinking as they unrolled the megillah for the nighttime reading and I didn’t let go of the bottle when I fell asleep in the grass, ten feet short of the door to my caravan. Alcohol usually doused the coals of anger, turning me into a soppy morose drunk, but this year, the alcohol turned my soul into a flambe, feeding the flames of my anger. When I woke up with bottle in hand, it was clear that my happy Purim was about to get ugly, and maybe if I tried really hard, it might even get dangerous.
The reasons for these extra-high expectations of dragging my soul to new lows were clear. As a lead-up to the holiday, I danced through four weddings, hating myself at every moment for hating the grooms. My jaw still ached from sitting through a dinner time lecture by one pre-groom given to a wide-eyed group of young men on how to recognize your soul mate. It’s a strange thing, but recognizing your soul mate is easier when you are young and it gets progressively harder with time. As I stood in the kitchen chopping vegetables, I felt like he was telling me how to ride a bicycle after I had just crashed my Harley for the fifth time. Like I said, I was bitter and angry.
I drank all night and began sucking at the bottle again on my way to morning prayers and megilla reading. We were supposed to go to the festive meal at the rabbi’s house following afternoon prayers and I wanted to be blitzed before I got there. I somehow managed to pray, despite holding the prayer book upside down in one hand and drinking with the other. I was stumbling out of the study hall when one of the students grabbed me and pulled me back inside. He led me to a table where three young men sat. All the other students stood around us, obviously nervous, making me wonder what was up.
The oldest of the three stood and announced in a loud voice “ We have formed a beit din, a tribunal, and have decided that you will meet your soul mate, your beshert, this year.” He sat down and the other two judges congratulated him, slapping him on the back. The students began to sing but I cut them off with a primal roar.
“So you think it’s that easy?” I weaved forward on unsteady legs. “ You think I’ve been faking it? You pompous gathering of little boys!” The circle around us grew larger as everyone took a step back. “You don’t know the first thing about wanting your soul mate. Every time I think I’ve found it, it gets snatched away, right from in front of my face.” I swung the bottle to illustrate, spilling wine on the esteemed members of the court. “ Do you know what it feels like?” I slammed the bottle down on the table and put my hands down, leaning over them. “You little wimps don’t have any idea how hard I’ve tried. I can do a lot of stuff. I can push a 1960 Boxer up to 130 miles per hour. I can scare a kitchen full of misfits into producing classical French cuisine. I can round up a pen full of bulls and get them on the truck to go to the slaughterhouse. I singelhandedly picked up the front end of a Toyota to get it out of the mud so I could save a friend. I can do a lot of stuff that little girly-boys like you wouldn’t even know how to try. But getting my soul mate to step into the room…” I took a slug of wine, “that’s out of my hands. The only reason she isn’t here is because the big guy upstairs is pissed at me and has decided that now isn’t the time. I’m black and blue, inside and out. I could do Yom Kippur for three days in a row and it wouldn’t be enough. I’m angry at God and he knows it. I’d be even angrier at Him but I know he’s right. I suck and absolutely do not deserve my soulmate.”
The middle boy smiled like he was smelling something bad and started to talk. “We’ve decided…”
“You can’t decide what clothes to wear unless your mommy lays them out for you. I’ll tell you who has decided.” I pointed in the general direction of up, my finger waving to present multiple options. “He’s decided. And you aren’t man enough to go against that.”
The middle guy decided that since he had the longest beard it was up to him to try again. “We have decided, all together…”
“Careful,” I said as I slammed the bottle down, on its side this time since it was empty.
“We have decided that you will meet your soul mate this year.”
I sneered. “And what if God still holds a grudge? What if he hasn’t changed his mind? What if this isn’t the year? Maybe I’m not ever supposed to meet her. What then? Are you willing to decide against God’s will?”
They glanced back and forth and I heard some harsh murmurs from the crowd around me. The three consulted in quick whispers. Long beard spoke again. “Yes. Even so.”
I leaned over them, wanting desperately to grab the two outer heads and smash them into the center. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re good boys who got religious because that means being gooder. You’ve never even snuck out the back door if your parents grounded you. You are willing to make a court’s judgment against god’s will?”
Again they leaned their heads together to whisper, tempting me again to smash their pumpkins. “Yes. We stand by our judgment.”
“You make me sick.” I gagged and almost spewed out an illustration. “I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your help. I hate you. How about them apples?”
They were white-faced and visibly shaking but again they held a quick conference. “The judgment of this court stands.”
I staggered back. “ You little…. I’m going to…. You don’t know… I….” My knees gave out and I was on the floor, curled up, crying like a baby. The whole yeshiva jumped to life and began dancing around me. Someone grabbed a tallis and a chuppa blossomed over my head as they sang wedding songs.
Needless to say, six months later, one week before Rosh Hashanna I went on a date, one I was too tired and worn out to prepare for. I showed up at a friend’s Shabbos table and just listened to her talk, too weak to express what my heart was feeling. Two weeks later we were talking about marriage.
But all isn’t sugar and candy in the land of Oz. I danced at long beard’s wedding but somewhere along the way we stopped being friends. After moving heaven and earth to bring me my wife, he decided he didn’t like me anymore.
The dear friend on his right got married but got a nasty divorce and hasn’t seen his daughter in six months. She is the same age as my daughter, born a week before her in the same hospital.
The other dear friend on his left drifted away, getting lost in the land of ‘gotta get’, running after numbers in his bank account to prop up his ego. I tried calling him a few times but he remained single and has left his search for god behind. I pray it is a temporary stage. The phone calls were strained, him afraid to reveal too much of what was too plain to see. And I found myself lecturing when I really wanted to reach through the phone to give him a hug with no strings attached.
I found out I was wrong about a lot of things. I was wrong about those little boys. They didn’t stay little, though now I wish they had.
And I didn’t stay bitter even after I stopped believing I could change. Maybe I was right about God. Maybe I was right about me. But maybe I was wrong on both accounts.
I’ve discovered what I’ve always known. Defying God’s will is a dangerous and painful path to take. But sometimes it is the only path. And I even think that sometimes, it is God’s will that we defy him, that we rage at his injustice. May we all be blessed to find our beshert, soon, and in the sweetest possible way.And have a happy Purim.