Short Tales

Jewish World Review Sept. 25 1998 / 5 Tishrei, 5759

Ted Roberts

The Bubbie and the angel: A Yom Kippur tale

LEAH WAS OLD AND LEAH WAS SICK. That's why she lifted her head from the pillow and called out -- in her heart -- to her G-d. To be more specific, she called out for the Malech Hamoves, the Angel of Death. With her entire being, she pleaded: "Take me. Take me." And G-d and His angels heard.

After all, this was Leah Rizenberg. A 7-candle soul on the ethical scale. A soul as sweet smelling as the aroma of the Shabbes challah she baked every Friday --- until she was stricken.

However, it must be admitted, Leah suffered from one slight imperfection. She was a procrastinater, a delayer. Why burden today with tomorrow's obligation. "Why rake leaves today --- they'll blow away tomorrow," she often said. And she loved Gin Rummy; her favorite form of procrastination.

When the angel on duty that night heard the call erev Yom Kippur, he immediately dispatched the Malech Hamoves to collect this priceless soul and begin the preparations necessary to receive her illustrious Neshoma (soul); and "turn her around" as they say in the Transition Division, upstairs. The soul must be refitted for a newborn --- it was the ultimate in recycling.

Luckily, the Malech Hamoves was already on Earth attending to business; which was excellent. Never since the first half of the forties had he been so busy. There was famine in Africa and bloody wars in the Balkans. The Angel of Death was in a great mood -- he liked to stay busy -- when he arrived in New York City to pick up Leah.

He came to her as she struggled through an uneasy sleep. "Leah, it's me," he whispered. "You called me --- the friend of the sick and the sufferers."

Immediately, she was awake. "Ah," she gasped. "You're a prompt old bird. You couldn't have waited fifteen minutes?"

"You call --- we haul," replied the visitor, who was accustomed to malignment. "After 82 years, 73 days, and approximately 6 hours, what's the significance of another fifteen minutes? ANOTHER goodbye to your family? ANOTHER pill? Come -- you're as old as stone -- take my hand. The Transition Division tells me there's an impatient infant in the womb of a lovely mother --- her first. A perfect fit for your Neshoma. They await you in a quiet suburb of Lisbon --- you'll love the summers."

Leah waved a crooked finger in the Dark Angel's face. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Not just yet. It's Yom Kippur. Tisha B'Av is a holiday to die on --- not Yom Kippur. I'm feeling a little better. How 'bout a quick hand of Gin? You know, next week I'Il be a great grandmother.

The angel, who had been through eons of final scenes like this, knew it was best to humor the reluctant ones. He considered it unprofessional to drag them off wailing as they clung to the bedposts. A messy scene --- bad for his reputation.

"One game of Rummy. Only one. I'm in demand all over the world. I really can't give each client much more than a few moments. They're calling me from Bosnia. And my Asian Regional Manager tells me that business is booming in India --- plenty of Muslim and Hindu customers. We've got 'em lining up to take a number.

The petitioner listened, but said nothing. She dealt the first hand and although she wasn't at the top of her game, she easily subdued her impatient guest. But not by so much that he didn't consent to a second game. The stakes? "OK, OK, if I lose, I'll go today. Right now," agreed Leah.

As she picked up the deck and skillfully built a hand that would catch her foe with a handful of pictures, she prattled. Who was the family in Lisbon that awaited her Neshoma?

"Did you know that my own granddaughter in Queens is scheduled to deliver, G-d willing, NEXTweek? So why couldn't ..."

Her opponent threw down his cards.

"Don't even think it," he screamed. It is NOT done. You're assigned to Lisbon, not New York. And I can't wait a week for you."

As he ranted, Leah drew her card; and quietly, almost apologetically whispered, "Gin."

So the Angel, not accustomed to defeat by mortals, agreed to one final match. If she won, she could hang around a full week and provide the soul of her own great grandchild. A loss, she agreed, meant a clasp of the Angel's cold hand and prompt departure even though it was Yom Kippur.

It was a classic encounter --- almost like like Jacob and the angel. Leah struggled. And the Malech Hamoves played with intensity.

I won't tell you who won, but a here's a clue: 25 years later in Queens, New York, there was a heckuva Gin Rummy player named Leah who cherished the memory of a great grandmother she never met. A lady who wouldn't go gently on Yom Kippur.

JWR's Ted Roberts is a nationally syndicated writer living in Huntsville, AL.


©1998, Ted Roberts