April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bereishit 37:4

Danny Frankel was standing in shul, putting on his tefillin, when he saw someone he thought he knew across the sanctuary. He hoped he was wrong.

But he was not wrong. It was Lenny Herman, in the flesh. Danny was not happy to see him, not in the least. Lenny had been the bane of his high school existence. Lenny had been a junior when Danny was a freshman, and he had tortured Danny from day one, until he mercifully graduated two years later.

Danny did not know what an “atomic wedgie” was until Lenny had shown him—the hard way. He had once tried to make Danny eat a bottle of deodorant because Danny had chuckled when he saw Lenny spray it on after gym, over his shirt. Danny had been the victim of too many Lenny-led pranks to mention. One such incident that came to mind had to do with Vaseline on his homeroom desk chair. Lenny had made bullying fashionable, long before it became a serious issue in schools.

They had crossed paths a few times over the years, at parties, weddings and various social events. Danny had always ignored him, hoping they wouldn’t have to speak, and as luck had it, they never did.

Now many years had passed, Lenny sat six rows away in shul, and it was making it hard for Danny to focus on his davening. Danny was having fantasies about walking up to Lenny after Shacharit and giving him a piece of his mind, telling Lenny how miserable he had made him, but of course he knew he never would. It was not in his nature. Still, standing up to the bully would certainly have been satisfying.

Was Lenny still a bully? People change. He was probably a mild-mannered man now, with five children, a job as a computer programmer, and a mortgage and yeshiva tuitions to worry about. Maybe he had his own demons in life with which he had to contend. That would certainly be satisfying.

Danny snuck a peek at him during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei. Was he balding? Was he fat? Was he graying, at least? No, much to Danny’s disappointment, Lenny looked pretty much the same.

He would just ignore him. That was probably the way to go. Let bygones be bygones.

They were up to the leining for the day. It was Parshat Vayeshev, telling the story of how Yaakov’s sons couldn’t get along. It was so bad, that it said “v’lo yachol dabro shalom,” the brothers couldn’t even speak to Yosef peaceably. Of course, dabro shalom could be read a different way, too. They wouldn’t even say hello to him, wouldn’t say shalom.

It was then that Danny knew what he had to do.

He rushed to take off his tefillin after Kaddish at the end of davening. He had to catch Lenny before he left.

Lenny was somewhere in the back of the shul, with his back to Danny, chatting with someone and laughing loudly. Danny approached him as he walked toward the rear exit of the sanctuary. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears. This was not going to be easy. He tried to steel himself for the encounter.

Lenny coincidentally turned and faced Danny when he was only a few feet away. Their eyes locked. Lenny seemed to show some sense of recognition, like he remembered Danny, although perhaps he couldn’t quite place him. He parted his lips, as if to speak, but Danny spoke first.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Lenny answered back.

Danny kept right on walking. That had not been easy.

Well, at least he had been able to say “hey.” It did not lay the groundwork for a deep and meaningful relationship, but it was a start. He had been able to “dabro shalom.” Think how much better Yosef’s brothers would have done if they had taken that first step. Maybe they could have avoided three full parshiot of suffering, not to mention hundreds of years of exile and slavery in Egypt. Certainly, at the very least, it would have made the breakfast conversation around Yaakov’s table every morning more pleasant.

Danny unlocked his car and climbed in. He chuckled to himself. Maybe when he ran into Lenny again in five years he could ask him how he was.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

By Larry Stiefel

 Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

 

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