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A Riddle for Shabbat

Did you know that Israel is known for having the most interesting anthills in the whole wide world?

"Have you ever heard anyone claim differently?" the older man asked Tommy. "Well, no," Tommy said, thinking back over all the claims he'd ever heard from anyone at all. "Then it's a fact," his grandfather said with a tiny glint in his eye that only Tommy could see. "I've got a riddle for you."

A Riddle for Shabbat

Tommy was carrying his grandfather's pale blue silk pouch with the prayer shawl inside. His grandfather was carrying Tommy on his shoulders. Tommy's other job was to make sure that the breeze didn't blow the kippa off his grandfather's head. After a while, the older man sat down on a wooden bench under the fragrant bougainvillea and carefully lifted his grandson off his shoulders onto the bench beside him.

"Did you know that Israel is known for having the most interesting anthills in the whole wide world?" the older man asked the young boy who was very very good in all manner of sports.

"Really Saba?" Tommy asked, half frowning and half smiling, not sure whether his grandfather was telling him the truth or another one of his tall stories.

"Have you ever heard anyone claim differently?" the older man asked Tommy.

"Well, no," Tommy said, thinking back over all the claims he'd ever heard from anyone at all.

"Then it's a fact," his grandfather said with a tiny glint in his eye that only Tommy could see. "I've got a riddle for you."

"You do?" Tommy smiled in anticipation. He liked his grandfather's riddles because he always told Tommy the answer at the end and then Tommy could tell it to his friends, stumping them, since he wouldn't tell them the answer unless they were his best friends.

"Yes," his grandfather said. "It goes like this … What is so big that you can put the whole world inside of it?"

"Give me a clue," Tommy demanded after thinking a long moment.

"Well," the older man thought about the riddle and what he could give away without giving it all away. "Its walls are indestructible no matter how strong you are or how hard you try to destroy them."

Tommy thought he could destroy anything. He made a muscle with his thin arm and insisted that his grandfather admire it, which he did. Tommy requested, "Another clue."

His grandfather searched around for another clue that would be a clue but not a clue at the same time. He found one and said, "It is very beautiful, but only to those with eyes to see."

Tommy was stumped. Everyone he knew had eyes to see. Then he thought about the little blind boy at the restaurant that one time. His parents had told him not to stare. Tommy asked for, "Another clue!"

Now his grandfather had run out of clues that were not clues and was left with only clues that were really clues. He said to himself, "nu … shoen," as though he were waving a white flag, and then to Tommy, "at the very center of it are two silver candlestick holders with two tall white candles in them."

Tommy thought he knew the answer from the final clue but the other clues didn't make sense to him. He looked down at the ground and said, "I give up."

His grandfather smiled at him and said nothing.

"Nu .. Saba!" Tommy insisted.

The older man answered, "The Sabbath."

 

PostScript and Notes:

The real Tommy is far away in another land and his real grandfather misses him very much.

"Shabbat" means "Sabbath" in Hebrew.

"kippa" means "yarmulke" or "skull cap" in Hebrew.

"Saba" means "Grandfather" or "Grampa" in Hebrew.

"nu shoen" is pronounced "noo shern" and means "oh well" in Yiddish.

"nu" by itself means "well" in Yiddish and is usually said impatiently.

 

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