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The rabbi's sermon

a passage of the Bar Mitzvah scene from A Cobbler's Tale.

“Today is a wonderful day. It has been a while since I think I have said those words. Let me say it again and cherish each one.” The Rabbi closed his eyes, spread his arms wide in front of him and said slowly, briefly pausing between each word, “Today is a wonderful day.”

The congregation nodded in approval.

“In all my many years as your Rabbi I have seen many things, both good and bad. I am sure you all can say the same.”

Heads nodded in agreement.

“But why do we simplify our memories into these distinct categories of good or bad? How can our complicated lives be boiled down to these two results?”

He paused allowing the question to linger.

“This is how our minds work. Our memories are born of moments that are etched into our consciousness. We store these memories in the rooms in our mind,” the Rabbi said pointing his long, crooked finger to his forehead.

“When we are young these rooms are very large and filled with wonderful simple memories such as birthday parties. Or maybe something sad like losing a pet.” He said finding a few children poking their young faces through the balcony railing. “As we get older our experiences, our lives, our moments, create new rooms both good and bad. The good moments we store in the rooms that we keep open and easily accessible for times to share with our family and friends. This is healthy and makes us happy.”

The Rabbi turned briefly to look at Moshe, smiling. “Today will be a happy day that will create a room in your mind, a good memory that you can visit from time to time.”

He paused and his expression changed from light and carefree to serious. He clasped his hands together and shook them back and forth.

“We also have bad memories. Dark moments of our lives we don’t want to remember. Where do we put these? We tend to lock them up in rooms, wrapped them with heavy chains and hide them in the deepest darkest corners of our mind.”

Clara sat up at this remark. Is the Rabbi speaking directly to me? She knew any mother would have done the same thing to save a child, but giving herself to Berbecki was just too hideous a memory, one that she needed to find a deep, dark corner in which to bury it.

“This is what our minds like to do. It is our way of coping with tragic events in our lives. It’s how we move on,” he stopped and looked up to the balcony where Clara stared back.

“While it feels good to bury the bad moments, the bad memories, it is not healthy. We think these rooms are locked up, safe from affecting our well-being. But they are not. These memories have ways of sneaking out through the cracks and poisoning the deepest parts of our minds. What happens next? We start behaving in ways that takes us farther and farther away from Hashem.”

The Rabbi hesitated; looking at the many faces now all silent waiting for his next words.

“What is the result as we lose our way? We lock up more bad memories. Our minds become warehouses of dark secrets.”

“Each of us must fight the battle every day between good and bad. Between the light and the dark. You may say to me, ‘Rabbi I cannot deal with the bad. The darkness haunts my dreams.’ I have news for you, the darkness haunts my dreams too.”

The congregation gave a collective gasp.

“How do we cope when we have experienced such darkness? Where can we store these memories if we cannot lock them up and throw away the key?”

He paused as if waiting for an answer.

“We accept it, we embrace it. We use it as fuel to move forward. We will not succumb to the darkness. We will move towards the light,” he said raising his arms to the heavens.

“We have indeed suffered a great deal. Let us not forget what has happened. Instead let us use this dark moment in our lives to make us stronger, to give us the resolve to move forward as Jews and follow the teachings of Hashem.”

The Rabbi summoned Moshe to stand next to him. He wrapped his long lanky arm around Moshe’s shoulder.

“Today is the day the light takes over the darkness. Today is when we open all the doors in our minds to both the good and to the bad. We are no longer afraid. Our village of Krzywcza may be small and inconsequential in this world at war, but we will continue to carry forth the light. A beacon of hope for those who still believe in the power of Hashem.”

The congregation waited silently as the Rabbi turned Moshe to look at him.

“Today Moshe Potasznik you are a man. But you are so much more. You are our beacon of hope. You are our light drowning out the darkness. You inspire us, you inspire me,” the Rabbi paused to wipe away tears rolling down his face.

“Not all great men are old men. Some great men are only 13 years old.”

The Rabbi hugged Moshe and then he turned and looked up to Clara in the balcony. He held his clasped hands out to her and said “Mazel Tov Clara.”

“Mazel Tov,” the congregation replied in unison.

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