A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Detective’s Revelation: Words come alive and lead him on new case

Rabbi James Stone Goodman

He was accustomed to the close reading of texts, but on that day he sat with eyes that had never seen before and watched words on the page before him grow legs and dance, legs became wings, and words flew off the page like pigeons off of cobblestones. 

On that day, he sat in his fifth floor walk-up where he lived and worked and read from the book of Leviticus. He read the clue words: zot tih’ye torat ha-metzora, this shall be the teaching of the Metzora, and he stopped. Words were clues, he a word detective.

The words began to change for him. They grew legs and scampered over one another like mice. Then the words separated like mitosis and he read: ha-motzei ra instead of ha-metzora, he read “revealer of evil” instead of “the metzora” and he got no further that day than this one singularly devastating clue: the one word that had become two.

He searched his experience of the world but found nothing that resonated like the evil for which he felt he had been called to reveal.

He had trained himself to turn the world upside down by standing on his head. It was his business. Because he was willing to turn himself inside out or stand on his head if he had to, the detective often cracked clues which left the guild detectives bewildered. There were no simple answers; the answer can’t be right if it’s simple, he used to say.

In the great tradition of kabbalists and saxophonists who play jazz, the detective was attentive to the bustling textural and tonal variety beneath surfaces. It was the rhythms and tones lurking beneath the obvious he heard.

He spoke the clue-words of the Psalmist: Save me, O God, for the waters are come into my soul (Psalm 69:2). At that moment, the right arm of God was extended, and the detective found the courage to take hold of it. 

He was pulled out from a well, from his death-wrestle with all that is fragmented, disintegrating, chaotic, death-dealing. He found purpose and hope.

Whenever the detective felt that way, he prayed.

He often prayed alone in his office. He began to recite the prayers. He felt the terrible weight of his summons being released, and by the time he reached the Kedushah, he was filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and well being.

He spread his own arms like wings, and in the language of the angels he whispered, kadosh kadosh kadosh. He gobbled the words up like a handful of raisins and he felt himself being released from the now oppressive summons to which he had been called.

Like all creations in Nature whose purposes are certain, like leaves pushing through leaves to sunlight, the detective surrendered, released himself from his unholy responsibility, ha-motzei ra, the revealer of evil, and turned it over. He continued praying in an ecstasy unmatched in his prayer existence. He was off the case.

But like all good detectives, he couldn’t quite give it up. In a posture of obvious eligibility, the detective sat in his office, waiting for the phone to ring and watching the sign flash on and off outside his window. 

He saw her profile through the smoky glass door of his office, outside of which she paused to collect herself. She didn’t bother knocking.

She came in like fresh air. She asked for his help. She told him a story of such wickedness, deceit, and corruption that it made his ears tingle to listen to it.

“Maybe this is the case I’ve been waiting for,” he said, and he told her the story of the clue of the one word that had become two. 

Her story pointed to nothing beyond itself. It was the evil acts of evil people. This was evil for which there were no excuses left. He knew then that he was not free to relinquish the task.

“I’ll take the case,” he said, getting up and gathering his trench coat from the sofa on which he slept. “I know a nice little diner where I take my messages and meetings. We can talk there.”

He closed the door of the office behind them and headed for the stairs. Now part of a holy opposition of two, not yet in love (that would come later), but reaffirming his original summons, ha-motzei ra, the revealer of evil, was on the case.

A broken radiator was hissing steam in great billowing clouds into the hallway. The detective slung his trench coat over his shoulder, put his arm around her, and said out of the corner of his mouth, “You know kid. . .this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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