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Monday, September 26, 2022
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Bamidbar: 6:18

Rabbi Zevulun Haimovitz did not have beautiful hair—not that his hair was particularly important to him. It had been rather curly when he was a little boy, and then it got frizzy and unmanageable when he was an adolescent. When it started to go gray in his 40s, the gray hairs were straight while the others still curled over, and he took on the appearance of a porcupine if he didn’t keep it very short. Now that he was in his 50s, Rabbi Haimovitz was happy if it stayed attached to his scalp, but other than that he really didn’t pay his hair much heed at all.

He had been going to the same barber for over 30 years. His real name was Rubin Rachevsky, but everyone called him Rusty. When Rabbi Haimovitz first walked through the door of Rusty’s Scissors: Fine Cuts for Men, in Fair Lawn, Rusty had been a young man, fresh out of the American Barber Institute. Rusty had had a magnificent head of hair which he kept in a pompadour a la Elvis Presley, but nowadays Rusty didn’t have much cover remaining, and he kept a small ponytail pulled back with whatever he had left.

The rabbi’s haircut experience had been going pretty much as usual that beautiful day in May. Rabbi Haimovitz walked in past the barber pole at the entrance and inhaled the Barbasol fumes with relish. Rusty shot the rabbi a greeting as he continued to trim someone’s sideburns. The rabbi responded cordially as he parked himself in a chair and picked up an old issue of Sports Illustrated, back from when it was still football season. He waited his turn patiently as Rusty gabbed with his present customer and the local classic rock station blared in the background, some Rolling Stones song the rabbi vaguely recalled from his childhood about “satisfaction.”

When it was the rabbi’s turn, he parked himself in the barber chair and leaned back comfortably.

“The usual, Rabbi H.?”

“Sure thing, Rusty.”

They spoke about their kids. Rusty had three sons, one in the Israeli Army. Rabbi Haimovitz had three sons himself—one at Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel and two at Yeshiva University in Washington Heights—and a daughter in high school. They discussed the Devils and the Nets (true, they had moved to Brooklyn, but they still considered them the hometown team). They debated the Yankees and the Mets. The usual stuff.

When all the trimming was done, Rabbi Haimovitz paid for the haircut and started walking for the door. Just before he was to leave, the radio began to play “Brown Eyed Girl,” an old Van Morrison song he remembered fondly from his own high school days. He paused in the doorway to listen to the song in its entirety before heading back to his car. It was then that he noticed something strange.

Normally, Rusty would sweep all the cut hair off the linoleum floor into a dustpan and into the garbage. Rabbi Haimovitz had seen him do it a thousand times. But as the rabbi stood watching him in the mirror, he saw Rusty sweep up his hair from the trim and placed it into a Ziploc bag.

“Rusty, what are you doing?”

“Oh, rabbi, I didn’t know you were still here.”

“I am very much still here. Now, what on earth are you doing with my hair?”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story.”

There were no other customers in the barber shop at that moment, as it was close to closing time. Rabbi Haimovitz sat himself back down into one of the chairs for waiting patrons.

“I’m all ears.”

Rusty’s forehead, which stretched all the way back to his ponytail in a long patch of follicly challenged scalp, turned a bright shade of red.

“It’s not what you think.”

“What do you think I think?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how do you know it’s not what I think?”

“I guess I don’t.”

It was relatively quiet in the barber shop for a few moments, as the Beatles played “Love Me Do” on the radio.

“Come on, Rusty, spill it.”

“O.K., so it’s like this, rabbi. You’re the most saintly person I know, or certainly the most saintly guy who ever comes into my shop.”

“Rusty, don’t be ridicul—“

“Now, Rabbi H., just spare me the modesty for a minute, O.K.? Everyone knows you’re a big tzaddik. Your being modest about it just proves my point.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know, my friend. One man’s tzaddik may be someone else’s rasha gamur.”

“Rabbi, I have no idea what that means, but just go with me for a minute, O.K?”

Rabbi Haimovitz shrugged and sat back in his chair.

“My luck isn’t always so good, rabbi. It never has been. If I buy a lottery ticket I don’t match one number. If I bet on a horse, it ends up going to the glue factory. If I buy a car it ends up being a major lemon. So I figured that I wanted to even the odds with God. I wanted to find a way to piggyback my way onto your righteousness.”

“And how did you plan to do that?”

“I was going to collect enough of your hair to make something with it.”

“Oy gevalt. I know I’m going to regret asking this, but like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a pillow or a quilt. Who knows, maybe a nice toupee.”

“Ribono Shel Olam!” the rabbi gasped. “And why in heaven did you think any righteousness could be derived from my hair?”

“I saw it in last week’s parsha, Naso, in the story of the nazirite. When the nazir gets his hair cut off at the end of his vow, the kohen takes his hair and burns it on the altar with the shelamim sacrifice. Now that must be some pretty holy hair! Think how holy it must be to be burned on the mizbeach.”

Rabbi Haimovitz smiled.

“First of all, Rusty, I’m extremely impressed with your thoroughness in reading the parsha. I agree that is definitely an interesting detail about nazirut. But I would respectfully like to offer you a different conclusion. The kohen burns the hair as a sign of humility. It is to suggest that the hair is worthless. The nazir may have grown his hair long in an attempt to attain holiness, but once the hair is shorn off it has no value at all and is fully destroyed. It is like the dust of the earth.”

“I see,” Rusty said, a bit discouraged.

“However,” the rabbi said, “I would say that you are on the right track. I actually know somewhere where you can find holy hair.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. Are you up for a road trip?”

“Is it far?”

“You won’t even need a car.”

“Lead the way, Rabbi.”

The two exited Rusty’s shop, and he locked the door behind them.

Four stores down in the strip mall on Morlot Avenue was The Hair Lair.

The rabbi opened the door to The Hair Lair to let Rusty in.

“So you’re saying that the hair I cut isn’t holy, but the hair Marla cuts down the block is?”

Rabbi Haimovitz patted Rusty on the pate of his bald head and smiled sympathetically.

“Patience.”

A young lady sat in the stylist’s chair wrapped in a smock with a braid of straight brown hair down to her waist. Marla Davidowitz held a pair of scissors and was about to cut off the braid.

“Good. I’m just in time,” Rabbi Haimovitz said.

Marla looked up at the two men who had just entered her store. “Hi R.abbi H. Hey Rusty.”

The girl in the chair looked up as well. “Hi, Abba.”

“Hi, honey. I want to introduce you to someone. Rusty, this is my daughter Bracha.”

“Of course you are. You look exactly like your dad.”

“Well, that’s not a very nice thing to say,” Rabbi Haimovitz said with a sly smile. “Brachale, tell Rusty what you’re doing.”

“I’ve been growing my hair out for over a year, and now I’m donating it to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for people with cancer.”

“That’s quite admirable,” Rusty said. “One might even say it was holy.”

Bracha smiled shyly, looking even more like her father than she did before. “I don’t know if I would go that far.”

“Works for me,” Rabbi Haimovitz said.

“So what should I do with all your hair?” Rusty asked the rabbi.

“Unless you’re planning to use it to clone a new, improved rabbi, I would definitely throw it away.”

“I guess that’s the way to go,” Rusty agreed. “Still, I never considered the cloning thing before.”

“Just toss it.”

“Message received.”

By Larry Stiefel

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

 

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