Harry Potter and the Rabbi’s Glasses.
Harry discovers the magic of being a Jew. For Harry Potter fans only!
The letter! What did it mean? Written on parchment, in a strange calligraphic script, it said,
Dear Mr. Harry Potter,
Mazal tov on your upcoming bar mitzvah.
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into Yeshiva Chazon Torah, starting September 1.
In preparation, bar mitzvah lessons will begin immediately.
Harry sat on his bed, reading the letter again and again. He fingered the parchment, took off his owlish glasses, and squeezed his eyes shut.
What was a bar mitzvah? What was this Yeshiva Chazon Torah? Was it some kind of club? Why did he need lessons? Who was this Rabbi Eliyahu, and how did he have his name and address?
Harry rubbed his eyes.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Loud knocking at his door made him jump.
“Wh-who is it?” Harry mumbled faintly.
“Rabbi Eliyahu!” came a booming voice, as the door swung open.
A huge bearded man stood there, wearing a knee length black frock coat, and a wide brimmed black hat.
“Harry!” the man beamed. “Look at you! I can’t believe you’re already almost bar mitzvah!”
“Almost what?” Harry stammered. “And who are you?”
“I told you who I am! Rabbi Eliyahu! And you’re almost bar mitzvah, you know, thirteen?”
“I know I’m almost thirteen; well, in a year. But what is bar mitzvah?”
Rabbi Eliyahu looked troubled. “Harry, you don’t know?”
“Know what?” Harry was getting more confused by the minute.
“Don’t you know who you are?” Rabbi Eliyahu knit his craggy eyebrows.
“I’m Harry Potter! What I don’t know is who you are and what you’re talking about!” Harry was getting red in the face.
Rabbi Eliyahu came closer to Harry. Harry shrank back. Rabbi Eliyahu looked into his eyes and said gently, “You’re Jewish, Harry. Didn’t you know that?”
Jewish! Harry felt something flicker inside him. He didn’t know what that meant, but he did know that he had always felt as if he didn’t quite belong, that there must be something more. Could this be the answer?
“What do you mean?” Harry ventured. “No one ever told me I was Jewish! How could I be Jewish?”
"Your father was a graduate of our yeshiva. Your name has been in our records ever since you were born. I brought this for you." Rabbi Eliyahu held out a yellowed newspaper clipping. "When I heard the terrible news about your parents' deaths, I filed away the clipping to show you one day."
A photo of his father smiled up at him. Harry felt his breath catch. "Mazal tov to Rabbi and Mrs. Jacob and Leah Potter on the birth of a son. May they be..." and here the text gave way to unintelligible letters -what language was that?
“You – you knew my parents?” Harry felt his eyes growing moist.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s eyes looked moist too. “Yes, and a finer couple there never was. Always learning, teaching, doing chessed, loving every Jew and bringing them close…We were all crushed when we heard that they were killed.”
“In the car crash,” murmured Harry.
“The car crash!?” Rabbi Eliyahu’s eyes blazed. “You mean they never told you how your parents were killed?”
“What do you mean?” asked Harry, his eyes wide.
“Your parents were heroes, Harry! They died fighting for the Torah! They brought Torah out to the spiritual wilderness of Birmingham, and did a fine job too, establishing a beautiful shul and community centre. But before they had gotten too far, they were cut down in the prime of their lives by the bombing!”
“What bombing?” asked Harry, feeling faint.
“The shul bombing, the synagogue bombing, by terrorists. Harry, your parents were killed for the crime of being Jewish, and for spreading the light of Judaism,” Rabbi Eliyahu said grimly. “Some people find that threatening.”
Harry felt his eyes prickle. “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?” He whispered.
“Harry, your aunt and uncle aren’t Jewish. Your mother converted to Judaism. But after she was killed, there was no other family, and your aunt in Cornwall was your legal guardian. She must have thought it was safer for you not to know.” Rabbi Eliyahu looked at him compassionately.
“So how did you get here now?” Harry asked.
“When you were younger, we tried to convince your aunt that you needed a Jewish education, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Now, before your bar mitzvah, I thought I’d approach her again. Years have passed since the bombing, and she agreed that you could go to yeshiva if you chose to.”
Harry put his head in his hands, and tried to digest all this new information. His thoughts were whirling. Jewish! His parents! A bombing! What did it all mean?
He heard the crackling of plastic, and looked up. Rabbi Eliyahu was riffling around in his bag and pulled out a cardboard box. “Aha! Here it is! Maybe a little smooshed but that shouldn’t affect the taste!” His huge smile was back.
“What’s that?” asked Harry.
“Well, I brought you that newspaper clipping about your birth; you don’t think I’d forget that it’s your birthday today, would you?”
Rabbi Eliyahu opened the box, and there was a chocolate cake, with “Happy 12th Birthday Harry” written on it in green icing.
Harry felt the corners of his mouth starting to tug up in his first smile of the day. This was really too much, on top of everything.
“You remembered my birthday? You brought me a cake? Why?” Harry asked.
“I’m going to teach you for your bar mitzvah! I’m going to be your Rebbi! We have to make a l’chaim!” beamed Rabbi Eliyahu, pulling out a small bottle of grape juice from one of the pockets of his long jacket. From another, he pulled out two mini plastic cups.
“A l’chaim? What’s that? And what is bar mitzvah?” Harry was feeling really confused by now.
“Bar mitzvah is when a Jewish boy turns thirteen and becomes responsible for doing all the mitzvot.” Rabbi Eliyahu looked at him intently. Harry opened his mouth.
“What are mitzvot, you were going to ask?” Rabbi Eliyahu smiled gently. “Those are the commandments, six hundred and thirteen of them, that God gave to the Jews at Mount Sinai.”
Harry was starting to feel overwhelmed. “Six hundred commandments! How can one person do all of them?! And what are they?”
Rabbi Eliyahu’s eyes twinkled. “Don’t worry, Harry, one person doesn’t do all six hundred and thirteen, but the Jewish people collectively. And you don’t do them all at once, either; you do them one at a time as situations arise. They’re things like loving your fellow Jew, giving charity, learning Torah, saying blessings….”
“What is Torah? And why do I have to say blessings?” This new idea of being Jewish was intriguing, but wasn’t this all asking a bit much?
Rabbi Eliyahu’s face glowed. “Torah, Harry. Torah is the greatest gift from God. It’s His user’s manual for life!”
Harry perked up. “What does it say?”
Rabbi Eliyahu smiled. “It tells us about the mitzvot. It tells us about our history, what it means to be a Jew. It even tells us a bit about how God created the world!”
“Wow.” Harry thought. “So that’s what you’re supposed to be teaching me?”
“You’ve got it, Harry!” Rabbi Eliyahu grinned. “You’ll be learning the mitzvot so that you’ll be able to keep them when you turn thirteen! And the most important mitzvah of all is to learn Torah, of course!”
“Of course!” Harry gave a lopsided grin. So maybe this strange new world was starting to make a bit of sense. Almost… “But wait…” He looked down at his letter. “What is Yeshiva Chazon Torah?” he read, his eyebrows furrowing.
“That’s a school where Jews learn Torah!” Rabbi Eliyahu said. “It’s the finest yeshiva high school in Europe! And we’ll start with your bar mitzvah lessons right away so you’ll be comfortable by the time you start there.”
Harry was lost in thought. A whole school full of Jewish kids, learning Torah? Did he want to go there, and immerse himself in another world?
He glanced back at Rabbi Eliyahu, who had cut a piece of cake (onto a plate, which he had also pulled out of his bag, Harry presumed), and held it out to him. “Nu? Make a bracha!”
“What?!” Harry was getting fed up with not understanding anything.
“Oh sorry! Make a blessing. We say a blessing on food before we eat it. And after, too. I’ll show you how. But first…” His eyes twinkled again. “I have something even more special for you.”
He took off his glasses and held them out to Harry.
“I already have glasses!” Harry exclaimed.
“They’re not regular glasses, Harry. They’re kedusha-scopes!”
“Whaat?!” Harry wasn’t getting anything.
“Kedusha is holiness. These glasses can see the spiritual world, which is all around us, just as real as the world you can see. Actually, much more real!” Rabbi Eliyahu held them out again. “Just put them on over your regular glasses.”
Harry tentatively put out his hand, and took them. He put them on slowly and looked around dubiously. “Everything looks the same,” he observed.
“Wait,” said Rabbi Eliyahu. “We’ll make a bracha. A blessing,” he added, to Harry’s confused look.
“Repeat after me. Baruch ata Hashem,”
“Baruch ata Hashem,” Harry repeated awkwardly, feeling silly.
“Elokeinu melech haolam,”
“Elokeinu melech haolam,”
“Borei minei mezonot,”
“Borei minei mezonot.”
“Now take a bite”
Harry took a small bite of cake. Yum, it was good, he had to admit. What-?!
The cake was glowing.
He looked at Rabbi Eliyahu. “Wh-what happened? Is this radioactive?”
“Don’t worry, Harry,” Rabbi Eliyahu chuckled. “You’re wearing kedusha-scopes, remember? Take them off, you’ll see that it’s regular cake. It’s just been spiritually elevated by your bracha.”
Harry removed the glasses. The cake sat on his plate, looking unassumingly normal. He looked up at Rabbi Eliyahu, who nodded encouragingly. Harry slowly put the glasses back on again. The cake was glowing!
“What did I say?” Harry asked wonderingly, his eyes on the cake.
“Well, I’ll translate for you. ‘Blessed are You, God, our Master, King of the universe, Who creates species of nourishment.”
“What language is it?” asked Harry.
“Hebrew”, said Rabbi Eliyahu, his eyes twinkling. “But the formulas for the blessings were written down by our great sages two thousand years ago. When you say a blessing, you elevate the physical world, by acknowledging that everything comes from God.”
Harry caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. He swivelled, and let out a yell. A shimmering human-like form was standing by his side. “What’s that?! How did it get in here?”
“Shh, it’s ok, Harry.” Rabbi Eliyahu smiled gently. “That’s just a malach, an angel you just created with your bracha.”
“I created an angel? I can’t create angels! I was just repeating after you!” Harry babbled.
“It’s ok, Harry, I know you’re shocked. You can take off the glasses. People can’t usually see their angels – anybody would be shocked to see one! I own the only kedusha-scopes in the world,” he said proudly. “But the reality is that every time a Jew does a mitzvah, he creates an angel, which protects him and helps him.”
Harry took off the glasses and looked around. His room looked normal – no otherworldly being in sight. Except maybe for Rabbi Eliyahu. He looked at the glasses. They looked perfectly ordinary. Was this all a hoax? A dream?
He slowly, tentatively, put the glasses back on. It was all still there. The cake was glowing, and a quick glance past his shoulder showed him that the shimmering presence was still at his side. Harry shivered.
“Would you like to watch me make a bracha?” Rabbi Eliyahu asked softly.
Harry nodded jerkily.
“Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu melech haolam, borei minei mezonot!” The air seemed to ripple around Rabbi Eliyahu, and Harry could feel the power of the bracha as he said it. He saw the moment of the cake changing from a regular piece of cake, to a holy piece of cake. There was no other word for it. He saw an angel come into being next to Rabbi Eliyahu. This angel was radiating even more energy than his angel.
“Wow,” Harry whispered. “How did you do that? Why was yours so much more powerful?”
Rabbi Eliyahu looked down shamefacedly. “I have a bit more Torah learning under my belt, Harry, I learned the meaning of the blessings, the intentions to have in mind when you say them, things like that. It makes for a more powerful bracha. You’ll get there.” He smiled encouragingly at Harry.
“Now, don’t get scared, but look up!”
Harry held his breath and looked up. What he saw took his breath away. He could see through his ceiling – he could see his ceiling, and beyond at the same time. A rope of light seemed to be connecting them with the very heavens, getting brighter and more powerful the higher it went. He could see energy – or it must be holiness? churning up there, radiating bursts of light, sending flares in all different directions, which were then activating other energy concentrations, or something, to send out their own flares, looking like constellations of gears of energy turning each other.* Or that was as close as he could fathom.
“What..is that…” Harry breathed, looking back down at the ropes connecting them to …. it.
“Whenever we do a mitzvah, it affects the whole world. The effect in the heavens is exponentially greater than what we see in this world.” Rabbi Eliyahu explained. “You, Harry Potter, have just elevated the whole world, and opened up a flow of blessing to it!”
Harry looked slowly at the angel beside him, and glanced away. He took deep breaths and tried to ground himself. Funny idea, grounding himself, after what he’d just seen! But if he ever needed grounding, it was now!
“Listen to me, Harry,” Rabbi Eliyahu’s voice penetrated his thoughts. “There’s a statement in the Mishna – that’s part of the oral Torah, that was written down by our sages two thousand years ago. ‘Rabbi Yehuda ben Teima says: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven.’ Harry,” Reb Eliyahu said, watching him closely, “you’ll need these qualities to leave your familiar world behind, and immerse yourself into something totally new. But your parents had that courage, and I see you have it too,” Rabbi Eliyahu said, his eyes twinkling again.
“How do you know?” asked Harry. He certainly didn’t feel brave at the moment.
“You could’ve run away at the first mention of ‘weirdness’, or at least when you saw the spiritual world! But you stayed, you’re listening, and trying to assimilate the new information. That takes a lot of courage and honesty, Harry,” Rabbi Eliyahu looked at him proudly.
“But wait –“ Rabbi Eliyahu held out a mini cup of grape juice. “We were talking so much, we forgot the l’chaim!”
“Please just tell me what that means. I’ve had enough confusion to last a lifetime. And I hope it’s simple!” Harry said prayerfully.
Rabbi Eliyahu laughed. “It’s just a toast. L’chaim means, “to life!” This is certainly an occasion for a l’chaim, is it not?”
Harry grinned back at him, and accepted the cup. He put it to his lips.
“Don’t forget the bracha!” said Rabbi Eliyahu.
“No, we wouldn’t want to do that, would we,” murmured Harry, but he felt a flickering of hope – or was it joy? – inside him that he didn’t remember ever feeling before.
He recited the bracha slowly along with Rabbi Eliyahu. He tried not to be surprised as the grape juice glowed and two angels came into existence next to them. He took a tiny sip of luminescent juice. It certainly tasted like regular grape juice. Was there really a whole world that he’d never known about? And could he learn how to activate it? Rabbi Eliyahu had said that they’d learn the User’s Manual for Life, direct from the Creator. Wow, that would be something, he smiled.
Harry’s gaze focused on the shimmering rope connecting him to the heavens. Was he really brave enough to do it? To leave behind everything he had ever known, including his perception of the world, and go off on his own to learn how to be Jewish?
Rabbi Eliyahu was watching him. “You are never alone. God is always with you,” he said softly, “wherever you are.”
Harry nodded, his eyes bright.
Rabbi Eliyahu lifted his glowing cup. “Now, we say l’chaim!” he beamed.
Harry grinned back slowly, and raised his own cup. “L’chaim! To life!” they said together.
And the angels danced beside them.
"I'll see you next week, Harry! Happy birthday!"
Glasses back on, Rabbi Eliyahu squeezed his huge frame through the door.
Harry sat unmoving on his bed. Had it all been just a dream? He reached up to feel his own, familiar round glasses. Without the kedusha-scopes, there were no angels in sight. Had it all really happened?
He looked down at the letter next to him. Rabbi Eliyahu. At least he had written proof that the man existed.
Harry shook himself out of his reverie and ran to the window. By the light of a lone streetlight, he saw Rabbi Eliyahu getting onto a huge motorcycle. He heard the engine roar to life. The streetlight flickered – Harry blinked, his eyes straining in the dark – Rabbi Eliyahu was gone.
With thanks to J.K. Rowling!
* Derech Hashem (The Way of God), 3:2