How Rabbi ! got his name


The moaning of the Moodus Noises was not the only uncommon occurrence at the Epiphany Cafe that day. After the Lisping Barista amazingly said yes to the Geeky Guy and before the Moodus Noises ceased their moaning, Rabbi ! entered the building. Then there was a re-enactment of the creation of the universe.

Rabbi !, who presided over Kenilworth’s Reform congregation, owed his exceptional name to his eccentric parents. ! was the name on his birth certificate, both first and last. It was the name on all his report cards, the name he used when he had his bar mitzvah, and the name on his divinity school transcripts. ! was how he signed his checks, his tax returns, and all the Temple correspondence. Among other things, ! represented the victory of persistence over bureaucracy, for every registrar he and his parents came across objected to the designation. Nonetheless, his parents would doggedly insist that’s what they named their child. If the official continued to object, his parents, both Holocaust survivors, would roll up their sleeves, show their concentration camp tattoos, and call the office holder a fascist. That always clinched the matter, for no one wanted to be put in the same category as Hitler over a punctuation mark.

The next trouble Rabbi ! and his parents encountered over his name was that no one knew how to pronounce it. They preferred to say that it was unpronounceable, like the unpronounceable name of G-d, blessed be His name. Rabbi !’s father, who was a rabbi, also, and his mother, who might as well have been a rabbi, would give a sermon whenever someone asked how to pronounce !’s name. ! was made in G-d’s image, and since G-d’s name is unpronounceable, therefore !’s name should be unpronounceable, also.

Everyone said the same thing.

First, they would uncomfortably laugh, “Ha!”

Then they would say, “What do we call him, then?”

His parents would answer, “You just said it.”

“What did I say?”

“‘Ha!’ You said ‘Ha!’ That’s what you call him. Call him Ha!”

And so, Rabbi !’s name was pronounced, “Ha!” like a laugh.

It turned out that giving Rabbi !, the name, !, and pronouncing it, “Ha!” was prescient, and his parents didn’t even know it. That’s because Rabbi ! grew up to be a man who laughed a lot. In fact, he laughed so much that many people who knew him and preferred not to have to explain his name to others, just called him the Laughing Rabbi, instead.

Just to prove my point, the Laughing Rabbi was laughing when he entered the Epiphany Cafe, despite the ominous rumbling of the Moodus Noises in the background. The Laughing Rabbi stepped up to the counter, laughed again, and got the attention of the Lisping Barista, who should have been paying attention to something else. She should have been paying attention to an empty carafe she absentmindedly left on a hot burner. That’s when the creation of the universe thing occurred.

There was an explosion.

Hot glass shattered everywhere, on the counter, on the floor, one acrobatic shard vaulted into someone’s Sumatran Americano. The whole business of the cafe came to a halt while the Lisping Barista swept up the damage with a flashlight and a broom and brewed the flustered customer a gratis replacement.

She apologized to Rabbi !.

The Laughing Rabbi, who was very patient, laughed. Then he stroked his beard and said, “That’s OK, young lady. You have demonstrated what happened when Ein Sof created the universe.”

Then he laughed again.

Ein Sof,” he said when he finished laughing, “is a Kabalistic name for G-d. But it’s not an ordinary name. It’s a name that’s not a name. A name for a nameless being. Ein Sof refers to those characteristics of G-d that are beyond any human comprehension and, so, any name would just scratch the surface. It’s the designation for whatever existed before anything existed.”

He laughed as you might shake a sack to settle the contents, to make room in our little brains for an expansive paradox.

“When Ein Sof made the universe, there was a catastrophe. He poured His Infinite Light into vessels that could never contain it. They shattered. Shards of the vessels and sparks of Infinite Light went everywhere and now they are in every little thing. Whenever you laugh, whenever there is joy, you’re finding debris from Ein Sof’s accident.

“My parents named me ! for the act of finding Ein Sof’s sparks. Our job is to go over the whole world and collect these sparks and put them all together so they can all be whole again. Every time you laugh, you’re finding another one, another little bit of Ein Sof.”

He concluded his sermon by saying his name over and over again.

“Ha! ha! ha!”

The Lisping Barista looked down from her sweeping at the dustpan. Jewels of glass glistened in the dust. And then she, despite everything, laughed also.


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S. Harry Zade

Writing a blog keeps me alive.

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