The Blessing

My accountant had asked me if my cancer made me believe in God more. She was assuming that I believed in God some. No, I told her. Although I have returned, mostly because I have more free time, to Atheist Torah Study. At least that's what I call it. I can't guarantee that the others are atheists, but they're irreverent and don't believe that the Torah is the divine word. Atheist Torah Study is held in a blank conference room in a university not far away. The past three times there have been three or four of us at the table. One is an ordained rabbi, who insists that he didn't originate the study sessions, he didn't organize them, and he doesn't lead them. He knows the most, though. Today one professor told this story:

The other day he'd been in his office when a man stopped at the open door and asked if he was a kohain, a member of the priestly class. The professor's name is a variant of Cohen and his name was on the door. (In Judaism, we assume that people named Cohen and the like are descendants of the temple priests.) The prof told him yes. The other man was very religious, with tzitzt hanging under his shirt. He was a buyer-back of textbooks; that's why he was roaming the university hallways at this time of year. The man asked if the prof would give him the priestly blessing. The prof is not that religious, though he belongs to a progressive synagogue. He nevers wears a yarmulke (skull cap) but that day he had one in his pocket because of something having to do with his wife, his car and his glove compartment--one of those explanations that takes too long to delve into. He also knew the priestly blessing. I'd never heard of the priestly blessing, but then I'm from the tribe of Levi, according to my family. The prof started to recite the blessing for us, and it sounded familiar. He said he knew it from going to services. When he dropped his daughter off at college, he said he'd recited a line to her. So the religious man was blessed, he thanked the prof, and that was it.

We joked a lot about it, the rabbi saying that the kohain happened to have had the yarmulke in his pocket that day for a reason, conjecturing that the man had disappeared into the air afterward....

Technically, my husband L is a kohain, though he is a true atheist who says of organized religion, Nisht fur mir (Not for me.) A couple of years ago he came with me to a family bar mitzvah, where he met my religious young cousin. This kid is a born-again, or a baal teshuvah (a non-Orthodox who became Orthodox). The cousin was excited to learn that L was a kohain and told him that he, L, cannot ever become extremely drunk because the messiah could come at any time and L would be needed at the synagogue within 20 minutes. I mentioned this at Atheist Torah Study and the question raised was, Is the 20 minutes so that he can round up an animal to sacrifice? The only handy animal around here is squirrel, and that's not one of the official sacrificial mammals mentioned in the Torah. I know that from study.

Today is the first day of Shavuos. We should stay up all night studying Torah and eating blintzes. When I lived in Iowa City I planned a big Shavuos gathering. I called the local supermarket looking for frozen blintzes, which are traditionally served on the holiday. The guy thought it was an obscene phone call. I ended up making them from scratch.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

so funny!
you make me want to hide in the room as you all study together.

You read beautifully today on WBEZ. Did you choose the music? Your pieces touch me in a more intimate way when I hear you read them aloud. Looking forward to the next broadcast.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I heard you on Chicago Public Radio. I just wanted to say that I enjoy your writing enormously, and I wish you well. Best wishes.

jodi Cohen said...

i wonder if the 20 mintues should be increased--in this day and age we have farther to travel. walk to our car/bus/train, wait, pay a ticket, buy a token...buh buh buh.

i was called to read the torah as a kohain once. i'm not. my grandfather's name was kravitz and he changed it to cohn. then an "e" got added. and so. i read from the torah anyway, but felt guilty, so it all worked out.

have been listening to your readings on WBEZ. it's wonderful and i'm glad they're broadcasting your work to everyone. you sound great. i hope you're enjoying the experience. radio is odd because you're cut off from everyone, just sitting in a room. know that we are all on the other end, listening and cheering you on.