Torah and Secular Learning
By Bogi Takács
22 October 2012
We will have to rebuild you from scratch,
when this is over, he says,
then smooths down his brown beard
speckled with grey. His beeper sounds
and he scuttles away
with a homey spring in his steps.
His white coat always has a wrinkle
or two in strategic locations;
you can almost see the way
he throws it across a car seat
in his white van like yeshiva boys
driving a mitzvah mobile
would toss their spare shirts
on a back seat, leaving them to fester.
You construct a scene around an illusion;
the coats are hospital property,
never to be removed from the building.
He speaks of hashgacha pratis,
the unceasing divine providence
that micromanages the life of each soul.
His large kipah slips to the side
and he pulls at it with practiced fingers
that might cut the flesh in the same
swift, darting way—
no, he is a neurologist, not a neurosurgeon.
He looks away—outside the window
spring is gathering force.
You are well behind the front lines.
He says this is inevitable,
but we can go into it prepared.
Beads of sweat on his temples.
He's never driven an armored vehicle
and he has never lived through
the searing pain of the divine influx,
he does not know what it's like to do battle
and call the angels, like comrades, by name;
but he knows the words,
all the heimishe Ashkenazic terms
of a more placid childhood.
You find his bare existence reassuring.
This is your tradition,
not the Goetic names for all the demons
or the convoluted Enochian cyphers
occupying and freeing up the mind.
He is the first one you come across
who speaks with the same words
you heard in your midrasha as a girl.
Yet he's not a Chabadnik, he studied at YU,
swore by the newfangled philosophy of
Torah and secular learning.
You can see through him, literally,
and you expect him to flinch
in instinctive revulsion and dread
like the other doctors draw away from
the divine warriors of your kind.
His motions remain steady.
You can see through the world
and soon you will fall, burning,
like the serafim constantly destroyed
by the closeness of the sacred
and reconstructed in every second
simply so they can persist.
He will be there to rebuild you,
with his gentle smile informed by
merciful words of Torah uttered at
a hundred thousand Shabbes tables.