Don't Go Gently on Yom Kippur
By Ted Roberts
Leah was old and Leah was sick.
That’s why she lifted her head from the
pillow and called out - in her heart - to her G-d. To be more specific, she
called out for the Malech Hamoves, the Angel of Death. With her entire being,
she pleaded - Take me. Take me. And G-d and his angels heard. After all,
this was Leah Rizenberg. A 7-candle soul on the ethical scale. A soul as
sweet smelling as the aroma of the shabbos challah she baked every Friday -
until she was stricken.
However, it must be admitted that Leah suffered from one slight imperfection.
She procrastinated, she delayed. Why burden today with tomorrow’s obligation.
“Why rake leaves today - they’ll blow away tomorrow,” she often said.
she loved Gin Rummy; her favorite form of procrastination.
When the angel on duty that night heard the call erev Yom Kippur, he
immediately dispatched the Malech Hamoves to collect this priceless soul and
begin the preparations necessary to receive her illustrious Neshoma; and “turn
her around” as they say in the Transition Division, upstairs. The soul must
be refitted for a newborn - it was the ultimate in recycling.
Luckily, the Malech Hamoves was already on earth attending to business; which
was excellent. Never since the first half of the forties had he been so busy.
There was famine in Africa and bloody wars in the Balkans. The Angel of
Death was in a great mood - he liked to stay busy - when he arrived in New
York City to pick up Leah.
He came to her as she struggled through an uneasy sleep. “Leah, it’s me,” he
whispered. “You called me - the friend of the sick and the sufferers.”
Immediately, she was awake. “Ah,” she gasped. “You’re a prompt old bird.
You couldn’t have waited fifteen minutes?”
“You call - we haul,” replied the visitor, who was accustomed to malignment.
“After 82 years, 73 days, and approximately 6 hours what’s the significance of
another fifteen minutes? ANOTHER goodbye to your family? ANOTHER pill? Come
- you’re as old as stone - take my hand. The Transition Division tells me
there’s an impatient infant in the womb of a lovely mother - her first. A
perfect fit for your Neshoma. They await you in a quiet suburb of Lisbon -
you’ll love the summers.”
Leah waved a crooked finger in the Dark Angel’s face. “Wait a minute, wait a
minute. Not just yet. It’s Yom Kippur. Tisha B'Av is a holiday to die on -
not Yom Kippur. I’m feeling a little better. How ‘bout a quick hand of Gin?
You know, next week I’ll be a great grandmother.”
The angel, who had been through eons of final scenes like this, knew it was
best to humor the reluctant ones. He considered it unprofessional to drag
them off wailing as they clung to the bedposts. A messy scene - bad for his reputation.
“One game of Rummy - only one I’m in demand all over the world. I really
can’t give each client much more than a few moments. They’re calling me from
Bosnia. And my Asian Regional Manager tells me that business is booming in
India - plenty of Muslim and Hindu customers. We’ve got ‘em lining up to take
The petitioner listened, but said nothing. She dealt the first hand and
although she wasn’t at the top of her game, she easily subdued her impatient
guest. But not by so much that he didn’t consent to a second game. The
stakes? “OK, OK, if I lose, I’ll go today - right now,” agreed Leah.
As she picked up the deck and skillfully built a hand that would catch her foe
with a handful of pictures, she prattled. Who was the family in Lisbon that
awaited her Neshoma? “Did you know that my own granddaughter in Queens is
scheduled to deliver, G-d willing, NEXT week? So why couldn’t I. . . .”
Her opponent threw down his cards. “Don’t even think it,” he screamed. It is
NOT done. You’re assigned to Lisbon, not New York. And I can’t wait a week
As he ranted, Leah drew her card; and quietly, almost apologetically
So the Angel, not accustomed to defeat by mortals, agreed to one final match.
If she won, she could hang around a full week and provide the soul of her own
great grandchild. A loss, she agreed, meant a clasp of the Angel’s cold hand
and prompt departure even though it was Yom Kippur.
It was a classic encounter - like Jacob and the angel. Leah struggled. And
the Malech Hamoves played with the intensity of the fiend that he was.
I won’t tell you who won, but a here’s a clue; 25 years later in Queens, New
York, there was a heckuva Gin Rummy player named Leah who cherished the memory
of a great grandmother she never met.
A lady who wouldn’t go gently on Yom Kippur.
Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work
appears in the Jewish Press, as well as in Disney Magazine,
Hadassah, Wall Street Journal, and others. He has contributed frequently to the Jewish Magazine. He lives in Huntsville,
from the October High Holiday 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine