Shaynda Leah’s Shonda
Rabbi Levi was sitting at his desk in his little office, hardly bigger than a closet, in the back of his shul, Bais Simcha. It was 11 PM, Thursday, and he still had no sermon for Shabbos … and there was no time but now to write it. Even after he got a few hours of sleep, his next day was packed from sunup until the sundown that began Shabbos.
There were a dozen tries at sermons balled up and lying on the floor outside his garbage can next to his copier – there were even a few inside the can that didn’t miss because he was such a lousy shot. He stroked his long salt and pepper beard and then rubbed his red-streaked brown eyes. The forty year old Rabbi needed sleep, and he needed a sermon, so he remained awake, exhausted, but sermon-less.
“What can I say to my congregation that will matter?” was the question he tortured himself with.
The week’s Bible portion was Ki Tisa, the incident with the golden calf. In it, after seeing the miracles of the Exodus, like the covering of the land with frogs and locusts, the slaying of the first born of only the Egyptians, then the climax, the parting of the Red Sea, the Jewish people continued to spurn God’s ways and teachings, and returned to idolatry. They actually bowed down and worshipped a golden calf! Why? Because of a little counting error: Moses was late by one day from returning from Mount Sinai. One day!
No one said, “Hey, let’s wait one more day. No voice was heard saying it. Instead, after hundreds of years of bitter slavery, our people immediately rejected God, forgot His miracles, and threw His teachings into the same fire they melted down their trinkets and rings to make a golden calf.
“What can I do?” Rabbi Levi continued. “What can this one Chabad Rabbi do, living in this small town, with this little congregation, with my limited wisdom? What can I do to help my people move away from the modern day golden calf, and closer to His ways? My congregation can’t see God’s miracles on a daily basis like they did 3,000 years ago. They have doubts. Real doubts. Some say God is hiding. The more faithful say God isn’t hiding, he’s just less revealed. Either way, what do I say?”
Rabbi Levi wrote down these questions: What can I do? What can I say to you? He would start the sermon with them. He printed it out, looked at it, grimaced, and thought, “Just like a Rabbi. I will start with a question, and end with a question, and answer all the questions in between with more questions. I worship questions. But who am I? What do I stand for? He crushed the paper into a ball and aimed with great care at the garbage can. Another throw. Another miss.
When the pounding came on the front door of the shul, Rabbi Levi jumped out of his skin and lost a few of the 120 years he hoped to live. He tiptoed from his office through the dark synagogue and looked out the peephole. It was Shaynda Leah Rabinowitz.
Shaynda Leah was 32 and just slightly to the right of zoftig. Her bleached blonde hair looked sculptured, like she just came from a beauty parlor. She applied a touch too much makeup, and her soft full lips were painted a red that was too bright. She was wearing a pretty new brown dress, cut far above the knees, designed to show off her curves. Her attractive appearance was ruined, however, by her eyes.
Rabbi Levi had a dilemma. He did not want to open the door, for a few good reasons, not the least of which was it would not look right for a Chabad Rabbi to be seen talking alone at the synagogue to a young, unmarried woman late at night. It definitely would not look right. He also needed to finish his sermon and this interruption would completely derail his train of thought. It would be easier, he reasoned, to stand still, hold his breath, not answer the door, and wait for her to go away.
He tried it for a few seconds, and then gave up. He felt too much like a coward … because there was still the issue of Shaynda Leah’s eyes. There were tears running from them, and down her cheeks.
“Shaynda Leah,” Rabbi Levi said, opening the door.
“Rabbi … can … I … come … inside … and … talk … with … you?” she stuttered between sobs.
“Shaynda, it’s late, and it wouldn’t look -”
She walked right by him into the shul.
“Shaynda, I think it would be better if you spoke with my wife.”
“I … just … came … from … her … she … sent … me … to … talk … to … you.”
Shaynda wiped her eyes with a tissue she pulled from her expensive pocketbook. Then she went to his office in the back, sat down on the chair facing his desk, crossed her legs, and waited.
Rabbi Levi was definitely caught in a dilemma now. It was clearly wrong to be seen talking alone with a woman not his wife … but if his wife knew about it, and arranged it, was it then allowed? What about if someone saw them talking, didn’t know it was allowed by his wife, and started their tongue wagging anyway? Gossip – Lashon hara – was a force of nature, all by itself.
Rabbi Levi shrugged and went to his office. In that shrug, he decided to allow the Holy One, blessed be He, to draw the ultimate conclusion, and the gossipers in his congregation could draw whatever conclusions their minds told them to. He closed his office door, drew the blinds, turned off the powerful overhead fluorescent lights, leaving on only a dull little desktop lamp. He didn’t need to help lashon hara, he also decided.
It took a never-ending ten minutes for Shaynda Leah to calm herself down enough to speak about what was bothering her. The rabbi waited patiently, staring between her and his empty computer screen that was supposed to be full of the words to his sermon, and still only contained the date it was supposed to be given.
“He asked me,” she said finally.
“Who asked you?” Rabbi Levi asked.
“I see. What did this Abe ask you, Shaynda Leah.”
“He asked me to marry him.”
Rabbi Levi shook his head, and narrowed his eyes.
“So what’s the problem? Why are you crying?”
“You didn’t ask me what he did for a living, Rabbi.”
“Okay, Shaynda Leah, what does he do.”
“He’s a doctor.”
“Mazel tov! You did well!”
“Two specialties! Double mazel tov!” Rabbi Levi smiled. He recalled there was a new young OBGY man in town named Goldman. Yes, Abe Goldman. What was there about him that he heard?
Shaynda became quiet, and the rabbi waited, hoping she would continue. When she didn’t, he asked:
“So what’s the problem, Shaynda?”
“I’m pregnant,” she said, and started crying again.
“Oh boy,” he said.
He waited for more of the story, but Shaynda, once again, didn’t continue.
“Is he the father?” the rabbi asked softly.
“OF COURSE IT’S HIS!” she shouted.
“I’m sorry for asking, Shaynda, but in this day and age, I’ve learned to not take anything for granted. I’m sorry if I offended you.”
And I’m not a mind reader, he thought. Shaynda continued crying and the rabbi continued waiting. The tension was killing him. Finally, he asked:
“So, Shaynda, what is the problem?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I didn’t have to tell your wife. She knew right away.”
“Well, Rebecca is better at these kinds of things than I am. Why don’t you help me out here a little and explain what the problem is?”
Shaynda balled up her wet tissues and threw them at the garbage can. Right in. Two points. The rabbi sighed.
“I don’t love him,” she said simply.
“That’s all you have to say? ‘Oh’. Not – ‘Well you loved him enough to let him get you pregnant.’ … or … ‘Well, don’t worry, love will come, along with the baby … before, during, or after, what’s the big deal?’ … or … how about – ‘Love is over-rated.’ The last was from my mother.”
“I gather you have discussed this with a few other people.”
“A select few. People I could trust to keep their mouths shut.”
“What did my wife suggest?”
“I already told you. She said to talk to you.”
“But she didn’t make any suggestions other than that?”
Why did Rebecca pass this off to me, the rabbi wondered, it’s not like her. Rabbi Levi took a deep breath and decided to plunge into the problem, head first.
“Tell me a little about Abe. What kind of person is he?”
“He’s a wonderful person. Intelligent. Kind. Considerate. And very generous.” She lifted up her left hand and a huge diamond engagement ring shimmered in the dull light of the desk lamp.
“How would you describe his personality?”
“He is the sweetest, funniest man I have ever met. Tactful. So tactful you would think honey is dripping from his lips. His patients adore him.”
“I see. How is he in the looks department?”
Shaynda suddenly looked like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.
“Rabbi, he has the biggest nose that God ever gave to a human being. It looks like someone stuck a banana right in the middle of his face. And not just a little miniature gourmet banana. I mean, it’s a Chaquita Banana el Grande. It’s big enough to grab peanuts with. When we go to the zoo, the elephants are envious.”
That’s what the gossip was about, the rabbi reminded himself.
“But that’s not the worst part, Rabbi Levi. The worst part is on the tip of his huge nose, there is the ugliest mole. It’s black and monstrous and gross, with three hairs growing out of it. I’ve counted them. Three hairs. When we talk, I try to concentrate on something else besides his nose, but it’s impossible! All I can think of is that I want to take a tweaser and yank out those three hairs, one by one, and then take a curling iron and burn off that mole. Then I want to drag him to a plastic surgeon and get him a nose job.”
“I see,” Rabbi Levi said. “Is there anything else about him that upsets you, or is that it?”
“No. I like everything else about him.” Shaynda Leah looked around the room, leaned forward, and whispered, “Maybe it’s not modest to say this, but he is a superb lover, also.” Then she sat straight up, and added, “But with that nose, and that mole, and those three disgusting hairs, I just can’t bring myself to love him, and I can’t image what it will be like married to a man that I don’t love for the rest of my life.”
“Have you discussed this with him, Shaynda?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Didn’t I just say I did, Rabbi?”
“And what did Abe say?”
“That’s the most infuriating part of this, Rabbi. He absolutely refused to change his nose. He added that if I insist, he will always love me, but he won’t marry me.”
“Are you prepared to have this baby out of wedlock, Shaynda?”
“I don’t want to. And I would never get an abortion. NEVER! … So will you help me, Rabbi?”
“What is it you want me to do, Shaynda?
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