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Forgiving each other

By David Mazel / April 25, 1983



I loved my maternal grandfather, a very pious old Jewish man who spent much of every Sabbath reading his books, holy books, without end. Often I would peek in the door of his study and watch him scratching his parchment-crinkly forehead or pulling his long beard while he pondered the eternal questions.

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He loved me, too. Spying me there in the shadows, he'd put down his book and call me over, lifting me onto his lap. Then he'd bounce me up and down until, growing melancholy from the weight of books, he'd sway us both from side to side and hum a tune from his own childhood.

But once I did something that offended and hurt him deeply.

Like all pious Jews, my grandfather believed that certain foods were not proper to eat. The Book of Leviticus had said so, and that was enough. One of these foods was pork. Pork, my grandfather said, often pointing at it from a horrified distance in the supermarket, was vile, full of damnation.

The more he forbade it to me, the more I longed to savor this forbidden meat; I had to know what I was going to miss in my days, and if it was much, or little.

One morning, when my grandfather was away at the synagogue, praying, I went and bought with my allowance money a big package of pork chops. Then, running back to his kitchen, I fried every piece, piled the whole crisp temptation on my plate, and dug in.

What made my grandfather come home earlier than usual that morning, I never knew. Perhaps the angel who was keeping the book on the good and bad of me as a child could not bear to make the entry that I'd eaten the whole package, and so he sent a sort of warning whiff to my grandfather's nostrils as he prayed. Anyway, before I'd eaten even two pieces I beheld his long, narrow-eyed face at the kitchen window. He was sniffing the air and looking at me with stunned disbelief.

All of a sudden his face vanished, and the next thing I knew he'd burst into the kitchen, grabbed the plate of pork chops, and flung them on the floor. ''Shame, shame, shame!'' was all he'd say as he led me by one ear down the stairs into the basement. There, in a corner dark as sin itself, he made me stand, face to the wall. I could hear him sobbing softly as he went back up the stairs and shut the door.

This was the first time my grandfather had ever punished me, so I had no precedents to tell me how long I would be left there to contemplate the terrible thing I'd done. Never in my short life had I felt such desolation, such remorse. Neither God nor grandfather, I was sure, would ever even want to look at me again. And when, after several hours, the darkness began to teem with demons made of pork, I wondered if they had come to exact retribution by making a meal of me.

I could hear my grandfather pacing back and forth in his study upstairs. Perhaps he was taking down every holy book from the shelves, scouring the wisdom of the sages of blessed memory for a merciful answer to what should be done with such a grandson. Perhaps his hands were clasped behind his back, to keep from tearing his beard, and his head tilted toward the ceiling, beseeching guidance from God.

I'd nearly resigned myself to standing in the corner until I perished of starvation, when the basement door opened and my grandfather came slowly down the stairs. At the bottom, he stopped and sighed.

Convinced that he'd brought himself to perform that chastisement abhorrent to his gentle nature, a spanking, I cried out, still facing the wall, ''Forgive me, Grandfather, please! I didn't even like those icky pork chops!''

His voice was unexpectedly soft, and full of kindly sadness. ''I'm an old man with a beard, full of bearded words. All my life I've done what was commanded, and avoided what was forbidden. If I was tempted by iniquity, I cleaved all the harder to piety. I've never understood anything else.'' He sighed. ''What you did was wrong, David, but I just don't have the heart to be angry with you any longer. You have a wildness of spirit, of imagination, that will get you in trouble with strict people all your life. But you're a good boy just the same. I will forgive you for your pork chops. Will you forgive me for my anger?''

Turning from the corner, I ran and leaped into his outstretched arms.