The rabbi rewarded their grateful indulgence with intimate touches, caressing one’s shoulder while pinching another’s cheek, paying special attention to the younger students—such as the ingenue in her red Lycra body stocking, who asked the holy man to please interpret her aura.
“You were in your last life a flower,” croaked old Eliezer, pressing her forehead with bony fingers, “that plucked it the prophet Elijah, may his name be for a blessing, and stuck in his buttonhole.”
The girl turned the color of her costume.
Overcoming his customary reticence, Bernie hailed the rabbi, hoping that once the master set eyes on his erstwhile apprentice he would shake off all his hangers-on. But Rabbi Eliezer merely acknowledged the boy with a nod, then turned back to his admirers.
“Rabbi,” called Bernie, who didn’t like drawing attention to himself, but he was convinced that his predicament called for an urgent audience. “Rabbi, I need some advice.”
The rabbi glanced over his shoulder. “Get why don’t you a pair long pants,” he replied, and upon reflection, “also maybe a haircut.” His sarcasm incited titters among his devotees, who assured him he was a rascal and a scamp. Bernie stood rooted to the spot, cheeks burning, as he watched his mentor borne off on a tide of worshipful women toward a door marked PRIVATE at the far corner of the sanctuary. They were squeezing his pasty flesh (which stayed squeezed) and teasing his sparse hair, the ladies, who appeared to Bernie like devils tormenting a saint—though in this case the saint seemed to be greatly enjoying their petting. Always surprised by the way bits of scripture came back to him now at odd moments, Bernie recalled a verse from Deuteronomy, the one in which Moses says, “Just as I learned without payment, so have you learned from me without payment, and thus you shall teach without payment in the generations to come.” Feeling it was incumbent upon him to remind Rabbi Eliezer of the patriarch’s decree, Bernie charged after the holy man to apprise him accordingly.
“Boychik,” said the rabbi, serene in the midst of the women, “they pay by me only for the time that I lose which I would otherwise devote to earnink a livelihood. As it is written, ‘Torah is the best of merchandise.’ ” Then assuring the boy he would ask if ever he required his advice again, he passed through the doorway along with his entourage.
Mortified, Bernie slouched past the curtain and out the front door of the House of Enlightenment. But on the way home, still crestfallen, he observed the shadow of a day lily shaped like a jester’s cap on the side of a house, and the image propelled him straight into the realm of the sublime.
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