Did your rabbi ever tell you the tale of the 35 tzadiks who secretly circulate in our world?
They look like me and you, but inside they glow with righteousness. They are the spies of G-d, and their mission is surveillance of the human heartscape.
Every Pesach they take the ethical pulse of humanity and report to the Creator, determining the fate of the world the following year. If all is ethically well, the harvest is bountiful, the S&P 500 zooms, winter is mild, and summer is balmy. Except for death and taxes, bliss reigns.
But the Berg family had no time for rabbinic tales. They were busy planning for Passover. They would have a guest this year, they decided — some homeless stranger. A real mitzvah it would be.
The next morning found Sarah Berg dialing several Jewish agencies until she found her man. Sure, they had a candidate. A young, rootless fellow passing through town.
What a glorious Passover it would be, Sarah thought: a sumptuous meal, the seder ceremony and the added mitzvah of the indigent guest. As the haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”
But so much preparation and post-meal cleanup. She cringed at the thought of dirty dishes piled in the sink, crusted with the remains of five courses. She’d get a maid. A small luxury.
Now it’s seder night. The doorbell rings. It’s the guest. He’s in torn jeans, a plaid shirt and a Bulls sports cap.
But the Bergs welcome him with smiles. Uncomfortably, they make small talk as the stranger sits stiffly at the table. They proceed with the seder, but he seems to have no understanding of the service. Nor is he interested in Daniel Berg’s Passover anecdotes directed at both him and the children.
“When do we eat?” he says as they pass the matzah and maror sandwiches around the table.
The guest eats steadily as the family participates enthusiastically in the service. They talk of ancient miracles as he devours the brisket and roast chicken. The children swing their heads from the derelict to their parents in silent wonder at the sullen guest.
In the middle of this tension, a horrible crash of china comes from the kitchen. The floor is littered with the shards of Sarah Berg’s wedding china, a gift from her mother, who died two months ago.
The elderly maid had slipped and upset the card table holding the dirty dishes. She stared down at her clumsy handiwork. A silent tear ran down the old lady’s cheek as Sarah looked at her mother’s heirloom, now-splintered china all over the kitchen floor.
A great sadness seized her heart. The failed holiday, the memory of her mother, this incompetent human who couldn’t clear the table without disaster. But she swallowed the lump in her throat when she saw the remorseful tears in the eyes of the old lady.
“That’s OK, that’s OK,” Sarah said as she patted the shoulder of her Passover helper, who swept the remains of Sarah’s mother’s Lenox china into a brown paper grocery sack.
Sarah returned to the table, determined to crown the evening with ceremony appropriate to the holiday. Fitfully, the family resumed singing. Soon, mercifully, the evening came to an end.
The maid, still red-eyed, was paid handsomely in deference to the holiday and sent home early with a plastic bag full of roast chicken. The kids — sleepy, irritable, appalled by the rude guest — were ordered upstairs to bed.
The family went to an uneasy sleep, where Sarah’s dreams were strangely filled with the bright, tearful eyes of the clumsy maid. A miserable night.
Ah, but what a golden year followed for the Berg family and the world they inhabited. A warm wind blew over the face of Earth and unlocked the cold heart of humanity. Earth smiled, and her harvests were plentiful. The S&P 500 index zoomed. The winter was mild, and the summer was balmy.
All for the price of a pat on the shoulder, a plastic bag full of leftover chicken and a set of dishes. Who would suspect that a tzadik’s duties included sweeping the kitchen floor?