Entombed within his house, Rabbi Murdoch paces. He walks up and down his study, the light slanting through the shades, casting shadows upon the sefarim that line his shelves, the very walls. His desk is littered with photocopies and manuscripts, in addition to a stack of papers clearly waiting to be graded. A computer winks in the semidarkness, its screensaver glowing. Rabbi Murdoch continues pacing, stroking his beard, which is neatly trimmed and reddish-brown, contrasting perfectly with his green eyes. Though he does not know it, these features make him the object of desire of his tenth grade class, most of whom lust after him impossibly.
His glance falls upon the stack of papers, and an imperceptible frown flashes across his face. His brows furrow slightly, and he walks outside the room to the kitchen, thinking to make himself a cup of tea, after which he will sit down to grade papers. He stiffens as he hears her voice, shrill and demanding, shrieking into the phone. “What do you mean, you can’t come? One night I ask of you, one night, and this one night of all nights you cancel of me?” A pause, during which he assumes his wife is listening. “That’s no excuse!” she eagerly proclaims, continuing her conversation with the now-irrelevant babysitter. He sighs and reaches for a mug, taking out the tea chest and choosing a regular Lipton tea. He fills up the mug with hot water taken from the tap, wincing in pain as a little of it splashes on his fingers. He dunks the teabag inside his cup, and neglecting to take a coaster, and hoping to avoid Golda, he walks back to his study.
“Baruch!” she says loudly and he can see her coming downstairs, accusing and angry. “Can you believe what Rivky did to me? She tells me she has a big test coming up, so sorry, Mrs. Murdoch, but I won’t be able to come after all.” Golda throws up her hands in the air, adding to the commotion, and he can sense that she enjoys it after all; there is a piece of her that enjoys her own pain. “What am I going to do?”
“It will be all right, Golda,” he tells her calmly, looking at her kindly. She is a good woman, his Golda, if slightly given to overdramatic hysterics. “I will watch the children.”
“You?” she wails. “But I had wanted you to come with me- this was supposed to be our night, one night, where we could talk, and we could go to that new restaurant.”
He sighs. “I’m sorry, Golda- but why don’t you call up Elisheva? I’m sure she would be happy to go with you. You can have a night out; I’ll watch the kids; it’s not a problem- you deserve a break.” He smiles at her, hoping the gesture will hide his irritation. “I’m sure you will have a good time.”
She pauses as though making an earthshattering discovery. “Why, that’s a wonderful idea!” she beams, real joy in her eyes. “Thank you, Baruch; I’ll do just that!” And soon she is back upstairs, standing in front of the mirror, trying on a different outfit, her cell phone nestled under her chin as she debates the merits of different restaurants with Elisheva.
Somehow he had not envisioned it like this, he thinks, closing his eyes, ensconced within the safety of his study. Somehow he had not seen himself married to a woman who would constantly need to be reassured and validated, who saw him as the gateway to her success. She pushed him constantly; it was not good enough that he was a Rebbe at the girls high school; she wanted more, thought he could be better. Why not try for that job at the boys’ yeshiva? Or why not take another job at the elementary school, or sign on for Daf Yomi in the mornings? All her dreams and hopes were centered on him. She would cook for him, and as she would hand him the cup of soup, he saw the hope in her eyes, and it shamed and choked him. He wished he could make her happy with him as he was.
Why could he not take the job at the boys’ yeshiva? He laughed bitterly. Ah, if she knew! But she could not know, could never know. Nobody could know. This was his own private burden, his private pain and misery. There was no one who would not judge him, find him a repulsive and repugnant specimen of humanity. For such as him there was no grace, not even that belonging to God. I have heard from behind the curtain…that Aher cannot repent…no, and that fate was reserved for Baruch Murdoch as well; for such as him there was no repentance; for such as him there was only hell.
He cast off his gloomy thoughts and reached for a pen, a blue one rather than a red one. He thought that for students to receive papers inked over in red was generally a painful experience, as opposed to the softer, more soothing blue. Though he might write the same comments, students were invariably better at reading through and understanding his remarks when they were written in blue pen. And so, turning on his desk lamp, he began to write, the pen softly scratching across the tests, interrupted only by a soft chuckle when he read something amusing one of his students had written to him.
“It’s Rabbi Murdoch! It’s Rabbi Murdoch!”
The girls clustered around the stairwell, several of them hanging onto the banister. They wore their pleated skirts and blue skirts with their button-down shirts. They were laughing, carefree, happy, several of them wearing stickers that read, “Be nice to me- I gave blood today!”
Rena tossed her hair defiantly. “You guys are all crazy over Rabbi Murdoch. Hello, he’s married- and he has two kids!” She kicked her feet up against the stairs, scuffing one of them and marring it with a black stain.
Libby laughed, running a hand through her long blonde hair. “Yeah, but he’s so handsome!”
Deena found it hilarious that so many of the girls obsessed over Rabbi Murdoch. Her passion was for movie stars and rock stars, and pictures of them adorned her walls at home. Of course, officially none of the girls were supposed to have seen movies or have a taste for Pete Wentz or the dreamy Robert Pattinson, but did they really think that Rabbi Murdoch was the epitome of masculinity? He was tall enough, certainly, and impressive as he walked into the room with his suit and black hat (adorably, he always wore a vest or sweater underneath the suit jacket- because his wife liked him to, he had said), but to her he looked like just another teacher, and she found the girls’ fascination with him infantile and honestly, somewhat creepy.
Emily thought differently. Secretly, she admired Rabbi Murdoch, and she did find him handsome- only it wasn’t his looks that particularly fascinated her. It was his air, which was warm, and the fact that he always made time for his students. Countless times she had stayed after class to ask him questions, and countless times he had made time for her, smiling at her and calling her Ms. Goldfeder, because he had made it a habit never to refer to any of the students by their first names, lest he be too familiar with them. That, and he took off his glasses so as not to look at them, a practice which Rena teased him about all the time. But then, Rena was bold, and brash, and had made it her life’s goal to make the Rabbi angry with her. Of course, he had the patience of Hillel- so much so that she had composed an Ode to him, all about his peerless good qualities. Rena tried to hide it, but she was actually very sensitive to Rabbi Murdoch’s comments, and were he to make any that suggested he disapproved of her, or otherwise found her lacking, she would be very hurt.
And here he was, walking up the stairs, and the girls cleared a path for him, except Rena, who, darting excitedly toward him, exclaimed, “Guess what I learned, Rabbi Murdoch, guess, guess!”
He paused, not willing to ruin her fun. “And what would that be, Ms. Schafer?” he inquired.
“Ah!” Rena exclaimed with her characteristic smile. “That would be telling. But, in short-“ and she took a piece of paper and thrust it into his hands. Rabbi Murdoch looked at the paper, and smiled pleasantly.
“I see you’ve searched my name on the Internet.”
“Yup!” said Rena. “And it says here that you won the Bronlein Fellowship! You never told us you had won a fellowship!”
“Perhaps, Ms. Schafer,” continued Rabbi Murdoch in the same pleasant tone, “that was because I did not find it particularly relevant to Halacha class.”
“But of course it’s relevant!” chimed in Libby, who had been gazing at Rabbi Murdoch with soulful eyes as they walked through the classroom door and found their seats, the rest of their classmates having already assembled. “How could it not be? The Bronlein Fellowship is a very important part of learning hilchos borer!”
“Indeed,” smiled Rabbi Murdoch, and proceeded to call roll, marking Sara as absent. His eyes betrayed concern. “Does anyone know where Sara is?”
“She had her wisdom teeth pulled,” Deena remarked casually. “So she’s home eating ice cream and pudding.”
“Aw, shucks!” Rena gaily remarked, smiling at the Rabbi. “I wish I were at home eating ice cream!”
“That’s enough, Ms. Schafer,” Rabbi Murdoch said, favoring his irrepressible student with a glance. “I see that you have controlled yourself and not pinned a picture of my face on top of Obama’s body, making do with your former attempts to relate me to Mel Gibson. That having been said, how about we discuss borer.”
Rena slunk down in her seat, blushing a little. She knew that Rabbi Murdoch found her stunts alternatively amusing or tiresome, but she couldn’t seem to stop them. Attention-seeking as she was, there was something that particularly made her want Rabbi Murdoch’s attention, his good will and his approval. However, her stormy soul and temperament sometimes placed her at odds with him, especially now, where he had somehow slipped from the class discussion to take on a tangential discussion dealing with the proper career path that one was to follow.
Rabbi Murdoch was finishing off, “….whichever career it is that allows you to perform the most mitzvot,” when Rena flew into attack mode.
“That’s ridiculous!” she exclaimed, her color high and her blue eyes flashing. “If I want to become an English teacher, but I have the ability and the aptitude to become a Chumash teacher, I must become a Chumash teacher because that way I am doing more mitzvos?”
Basya chimed in. “Don’t you think we would put ourselves in the way of doing more mitzvos if we are happier as people, Rabbi Murdoch?” she questioned. “Wouldn’t we be happier pursuing the career that we actually want, whatever that might be? I mean, I personally want to be a shaitel macher but if Rena wants to be an English teacher…”
“Ms. Schafer,” remarked Rabbi Murdoch, a tinge of amusement coloring his voice, “would it make you depressed not to be a Chumash teacher?”
“Well, it would hardly depress me,” stated Rena firmly, “but I would like myself, my life and everything about me much better if I were to be an English teacher, and so I will be an English teacher, and serve Hashem that way- and that will give me just as many mitzvos as being a Chumash teacher would be, because it will give me the opportunity to impact my students, which of course I would be able to do because I actually care about the subject I am teaching!”
“Do you mean you don’t care about Chumash?” questioned Libby, perplexed.
Rena rolled her eyes and groaned. “Of course I care about Chumash,” she answered. “You know me; you know I do! It’s only that I don’t want to feel forced or compelled to make Chumash into my career.” She met Rabbi Murdoch’s gaze, though she knew he could not see her because he had removed his glasses. “What do you have to say to that?”
“We already know that you are stubborn,” Rabbi Murdoch commented non-judgmentally. “But that does not make you right.”
“But I am right!” persisted Rena. “Do you really mean to say that God wants us only to be involved with professions that directly have to do with Torah and mitzvos, and if I choose not to do this, I am somehow less worthy, less righteous, less good before Him? You’re creating a God who loves me less for doing something that makes me love Him more! How can that make sense?”
“All that I know,” persisted Rabbi Murdoch, “is that God desires us to be involved with Torah and mitzvot at all times, and anything that will help that goal will be beloved by God. If a man has the ability to learn all day, but he chooses instead to become a doctor and make money, which of those professions do you think God would have preferred for him?”
Rena’s jaw dropped in shock and dismay. “Do you really mean to suggest,” she said dangerously, “that men are not allowed to become doctors? Doctors save lives,” she continued, stating what she clearly felt to be the obvious. “They help people. Doctors are certainly doing God’s will and God’s work.”
“If a man is not cut out to learn,” answered Rabbi Murdoch, “then he can become a doctor. But if a man is cut out to learn…” and he trailed off sadly, leaving Rena with an indignant expression on her face. “But this has gone on long enough,” he said, turning away from her and facing the rest of the class, “let’s get back to borer.”
After class, Rena and Meira came up to Rabbi Murdoch, wanting to continue the discussion. Rena felt as though all had gone wrong with the world, that Rabbi Murdoch had created a selfish world in which God demanded sacrifices from people that they should not have to make, unless they made them willingly. Rena did not want an unwilling doctor who had only pursued the job because he was “not cut out to learn” to be treating her, and she didn’t see how men could ever feel good about themselves if this is what they were told. “You set up this dichotomy,” she candidly explained to Rabbi Murdoch, “where either the men can learn or they can’t. If they can’t, you make them feel bad about themselves, worthless, and only then do they get this heter to go make a living and otherwise pursue their professional leanings. Can’t you figure out a way to make each person, each Jew, feel accepted before God? Every Jew has his own purpose- even the sages in the Gemara used to do menial jobs- they were tanners and coalsmiths! And they all used to help out in the preparation of the Shabbos meals! So how can you say this; how do you suddenly go against what is in our very Gemara?”
Rabbi Murdoch answered her by explaining how special and wonderful it was for a man to learn, how this was his highest purpose, his ultimate form of meaning and self-expression. A man was permitted to support himself, but every moment he spent away from his learning or from his Torah was supposed to pain him, to hurt him to his core. Rena listened unbelievingly.
“That’s all very well and good,” she said, “if your men are saints. But most of them are not saints, and they are being raised in this world, in this place- in the United States of America, for God’s sake! And you want them to give up all the material things they want and the jobs they might long to have, for the sake of an abstract ideal the majority of them cannot even appreciate? And then, if you actually do allow them to pursue what they actually want- suppose that some man could learn or be a brilliant artist, and he wants to be an artist- you’ll only give him permission if you make him feel horrible about himself, about how he can’t learn, about how he’s no good at what really matters- and only after making him feel awful about himself will you let him go!”
It truly pained her, the concept, for she could well imagine how she would feel were she in that man’s situation. Though she had often wished to be born a boy, because she longed for the learning and training they possessed, she was happy to be a woman because of the times that she was allowed to be free, and did not have to come up with excuses to be so. She believed that one was supposed to serve God with his whole soul, with whatever medium was his. The brilliant artist was meant to paint, the brilliant writer to write, the genius of music to play his music. God had given them all talents to develop, and it was these talents she longed to bring to fruition, not just for herself but for all the other, equally yearning teenagers in the world.
Rabbi Murdoch simply smiled at her, and turning to Meira, inquired, “Isn’t she stubborn?”
“Oh!” exclaimed Rena, pretending to be offended (and she was, a little), but seeing this as another aspect of the game, the neverending game of words and expressions that took place between herself and Rabbi Murdoch, to be ended only when he had succeeded in making her cry or otherwise had hurt her far beyond his intentions.
Meira nodded her head gravely, her black curls framing her sweet heart-shaped face, green eyes dancing. “Yes, she’s stubborn,” she agreed. “What would you think if I married someone like her?” she inquired.
“I would think you shouldn’t marry her,” said Rabbi Murdoch, and picking up his papers and placing them inside of his attaché case, he swept out of the room, leaving a somewhat bewildered, somewhat hurt Rena within.
After class he headed over to the Kollel, where he learned for part of the day before returning home to eat supper, watch the children, and prepare for the next day of class. The Kollel was a wonderful place, filled with many bright young men and other Rabbanim like himself, who worked half the day and learned half the day. Today Rabbi Murdoch was learning Kerisos, specifically Kerisos 19a.
“If a man eats either a piece of cheilev or another piece of non-kosher meat,” he read, and continued to read through the list of transgressions a man may commit, including sleeping with his wife while she is a niddah or alternatively sleeping with his wife’s sister, or doing a melacha between Shabbos and Yom Kippur and not knowing on which day he did that melacha, does he bring a chatas? Different sages argued differently, depending on difference in the wording and the text, as to whether a chatas was required and under what circumstances. One sage was of the opinion that a chatas would be required in the first two cases but not the third, because in the first two cases, no matter which action it was that he had actually committed, it was definitely forbidden and he had gained benefit, or pleasure, from it. In the third case, it would not count because of the special situation of melachas machshavas, a thought-through and thought-out melacha, which was the way in which melachos needed to be committed on Shabbat in order to be assur d’oraisa.
Poring over the text, he then reached an interesting question of a mohel who has two infants to circumcise, one of whom is supposed to be circumcised on Shabbos and the other of whom is supposed to be circumcised on Sunday, and who mistakenly mixes up the infants. Now, is he chayav or not? He caused one of the infants to bleed on a day when one is not allowed to wound anyone, but his intent was pure, because he intended to perform the milah of the right baby!
Caught within his world of fascinating Talmudic problems, Rabbi Murdoch did not notice one of the younger boys, Melech, come over to him and stand attentively, waiting for him to turn. Melech was just thirteen, a handsome boy with Sephardic looks, deep brown eyes and darker skin. Finally, Rabbi Murdoch noticed him standing at his side.
“Rabbi Murdoch,” inquired Melech helplessly, “can you help me understand this Gemara?”
Baruch licked his lips nervously. He would rather not go anywhere near Melech, not because he disliked the boy, but for precisely the opposite reason. At the same time, he wanted to help the boy, and a quick glance around the Beis Midrash demonstrated that most of the others seemed busy. Also, the boy had clearly chosen him, in approaching him specifically and asking for his help.
With a sigh, Rabbi Murdoch ran his fingers through his beard and tried to ignore the evidence of his own arousal. Desperation flooded through him, but he remained calm, and seated at his table in the Beis Midrash. He generally preferred the Kollel because the men who learned here were older, most of them working jobs, but sometimes they would bring their sons, or the boys would come here to learn on their own time. Melech was such a case.
Fighting his desire, he answered the boy, and then, reaching for his attaché case, he stood up to leave. He forced himself to walk out of the Beis Midrash calmly, putting on his coat, then holding his attaché case at a slight angle as though in that way he would be further able to hide the evidence of his perversion from others.
He walked to his car, opened the door, then shut himself inside. Closing his eyes, thoughts flooded through his mind, thoughts that were perversions and unclean, of the things that he would like to do to Melech, with him, having undressed him in his mind, having taken his clothes off, fondling him, his fingers just there- and fighting within himself he felt the desire to stop, to shut this off, to retain a humanity that he knew he had completely lost when he fell prey to this desire. He knew that he was sick and he was ashamed but just now he had forgotten that- only for a moment, because he had to, because his lust overcame him, and his desire; it was boys, young boys, little children, ranging anywhere from seven to thirteen. He could not look at them or work with them because he felt sick with lust for them, and nobody knew except he himself, and what was more, he remembered when it had been done to him, how little he was.
He had gone to buy candy from the candy shop and the man, who was religious, and whom his parents had told him he could trust, had told him to step just behind the counter for a moment, because he had a surprise for him, and Baruch, trusting, fearless, had done that. Except then the shop-owner had reached over to him and touched him, right there- rubbing against him with his hand, just the lightest of touches, and then, he handed Baruch a bag full of candy and told him to run on home and keep this their little secret.
And that had continued for a period of years, except that instead of just stepping behind the counter, Baruch graduated to being caught using the bathroom by the shop-owner, who stepped inside and did things to him, things which had permanently damaged him and which he had not told a soul. And when he felt this desire within himself, realized that he too was attracted to what was innocent and pure in others, he had felt sick, sick and disgusted with himself, and he struggled within himself so as to be clean once more, and to run from what he was.
His parents had not known what was wrong with him during those teenage years; he had been moody, depressed; he had not been interested in his learning; he had felt disgusted by himself. And yet every time that he had seen this shop-owner, who was a reputable man in the community, he had forced himself to smile even though inside he was screaming with fear. And to become what he had hated, and to lust to assert his power and control over a being weaker than him, disgusted him. He was disgusted with himself, disgusted by the way he lingered at the park to watch children not his own, the fantasies that absorbed him and pleased him. He was disgusted even as he groaned with pleasure, images of naked children dancing through his mind.
And then there was one time—but that he had not forgiven himself for, could not forgive himself for. For that, he knew, he was damned. God had no mercy upon a person such as he; he had transgressed every law and afterwards, wracked by pain and guilt, he had seriously considered cutting off his hands, somehow torturing himself in order to repent. But there was no repentance for someone who could commit such an act. And so he fled, disappeared, changed and became someone new. He stayed far away from the city where he had perpetrated the crime, the campgrounds on which he had committed this violation. He was too scared and too ashamed to turn himself in, and he prayed and prayed that the child he had hurt would somehow survive the trauma and perhaps even forget. He lived in fear, because what if the boy ever found him…what would he do then…he fought within himself, to tell the truth or to lie- and he knew, that no matter what would happen, he would have to lie.
Because of all the criminals hated by society, pedophiles- and that is what he was- were hated most. Worse than murderers and worse than rapists, pedophiles took a child’s innocence and purity and shattered it, murdered the child’s future for the sake of their own desire. A thousand times he had damned himself with shameful, painful memories, a million times had he sobbed out before God that he was sorry. But it was not enough and he knew that it was not enough.
He had fled to the embrace of the life that he was meant to live, a life where he dedicated himself to the service of God, where he married a good and devoted wife, and yet inside himself he felt unsatisfied. He slept with his wife but he felt no desire toward her, in the same way that he felt no desire toward any of the girls who were in his class. He had a peculiar preference and predilection; he could not control what he felt no matter how he struggled with himself and within himself, and he could not admit to anyone…for who would refrain from backing away in fear, who could see a man in such a monster…and he knew he was a monster, and he suffered for it!
And so he told no one, but went about his life, going home, playing with his children- who, thank God, were different in terms of his preference- behaving kindly toward his wife, toward his students, and trying through his life to make up for his existence. But it all weighed on him, burdening him, and he lived within the shadow of that burden, frightened always lest that boy or his parents find him, accuse him and blast him out of the contented suburban existence he had carved for himself. What to do then? His name, shamed; his reputation, ruined beyond repair. His family members and his children ruined as well…and for what? For his own faults, for a desire he could not undo, for the fact that he was sick, sick and perverted in his fantasies and his desires. Inside himself he struggled to find mercy- yet even within himself he could not find it, for he believed he deserved nothing but pain.
Was it God who had tested him in this manner? Was it his own failure to control his desire, so monstrous a creature was he? He did not know who was to blame for it; he did not know what he should do. He did his best to stay far away from children, but it is impossible within a community as close-knit as this one is…how does one remove children from one’s life as an Orthodox Rabbi…how does one commit oneself, how does one confess…how does one shame oneself and shame one’s whole family…
“Baruch?” his wife calls from upstairs, as he steps through the door and into the house. “I have an idea for you. I was thinking, that Rabbi Davis; he has a boy who needs to be tutored for his bar mitzvah…and he noticed that you lein beautifully and so he wondered…a favor…”
Credits: Little Children
Disclaimer: None of the people in the story are meant to depict real people, and if you think you recognize any of the characters, kindly realize that they are not in any way related to the characters I have created here.