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The Frozen Rabbi: Week 10, Part 2

Unable to fully master his newfound skills, Bernie visits Rabbi Eliezer at his workplace

Steve Stern
May 04, 2010

Bernie felt himself begin to shudder and grow dizzy at the sight, felt the familiar thrumming in his loins, the pressure building toward a seismic discharge. He fought helplessly against the coming release, imagining the subsequent stain he would try to conceal with an unavailing shirttail. But in the moment when his whole body was braced against the inevitable convulsion, the pressure reversed itself, and Bernie was catapulted clear out of his skin. In the quiet that ensued, he viewed the study hall, which included his own inert self, through the eyes of his soul from the vantage of eternity.

This was the first of several such experiences, each of which had the result of projecting Bernie into an element of radiance compared to which his sexual longings seemed incidental. Nor was sex the only spur to these ethereal sojourns: A phrase of music from an open window, a candy wrapper borne on a breeze, a red ribbon flickering like a serpent’s tongue out of a knothole in a twisted tree—any of these might serve as the trigger for a spontaneous out-of-body experience. Of course, while in his transports, there was the matter of the body that Bernie had left behind, which would appear as dumb and insentient as a stroke victim to the ordinary observer. It left him wholly unresponsive to a teacher’s questions and vulnerable to the malign scrutiny of his fellow students, for whom he was both an object of suspicion and a figure of fun. As a result, his abandoned corpus might be subject to abuse, to being graffiti’d with Magic Markers or plumaged like a bird in yellow Post-its bearing unkind messages. He might be carried in his cataleptic state to the urinals and his head flushed in a function called a “swirlie,” after which he would exude an odor no shampoo could dispel. Not that Bernie, when in the throes of rapture, cared much about what became of his physical self, though on his return—and always he had to return—he felt pity for the offenses his body may have suffered in his absence. Rather than feeling injured in spirit, however, he tended to view the abuse more as a persecution that lent poignant meaning to his extramundane flights. Still, this occasional absentee relationship to his own mortal form required skills he had yet to master; and the shell of his forsaken self was a spectacle that had prompted more than one teacher to recommend medical attention. In the event, resolving to learn how to manage his flights with more dexterity and tact, Bernie swallowed his pride and set out to seek the counsel of Eliezer ben Zephyr, the Boibiczer Prodigy, in his place of business.

Bernie had thus far studiously avoided the strip mall where the rabbi had established his House of Enlightenment. In truth, he’d felt completely abandoned by his mentor and bore him a petulant grudge, just as he did for his greedy father who was guilty by association. Bernie had even stopped watching TV for fear of seeing the rabbi’s puckered phiz smeared across the screen, reading awkwardly from a teleprompter as he guaranteed his audience that the wisdom of the ages could be theirs for only pennies a day. All this had galled the boy to the verge of disaffection, though his recent transcendental experiences had put him in a forgiving mood, and in the first brisk breeze of October, he walked the mile or so from his school to the Rebel Yell Shopping Plaza.

The House of Enlightenment, with its six-pointed star dan-gling like a neon watch fob in the plate-glass window, was sandwiched between Uncle Ming’s Chinese Take-Out and Layla’s Little Piggies Pedicures. Bernie pushed through the door to the sound of tinkling chimes and stepped into a vestibule that was equal parts gift shop and doctor’s waiting room, with a nod toward a Carpathian study house.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of The Frozen Rabbi. Or, to get each day’s installment of The Frozen Rabbi in your inbox, sign up for the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest, and tell your friends.

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book award, teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.

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