So it had come to this. He was dead, and it was judgement time.
His first grade Rebbe had warned him about this moment. Rosh Hashanah davening had reminded him of it. And now, 83 years later, it was really happening.
“When you arrive in heaven, you’ll stand before God on His heavenly throne, surrounded by all the angels. And you will be tested on everything you learned, to see what you remember.”
Currently, he could remember jack shit.
For fuck’s sake. He’d read some of those verses 40 times. Then once more every year on that week’s parsha. A lot of good it was doing him now.
His early stage dementia certainly wasn’t helping.
He’d studied so hard, all those years ago. And his Rabbis stood by, assisting in reminding him that no matter how hard he tried, it wasn’t nearly hard enough. Not even close.
“Be glad you’re not in Yemen,” they had admonished. “In Yemen, boys would keep an orange under their chin while studying; if they looked up and the orange fell, they’d get a beating.”
They reserved beatings for more serious crimes, like when Ariel Rubanovitch threw an orange peel at the teacher.
His classmates had made games to pass the time.
How many times would the Rabbi adjust his glasses in a single class? (103)
What was the record for most times one kid got smacked in a row? (23)
What if he’d spent more time studying and less time counting blows?
“Torah is not like math or science. When you learn those things (not that you ever will, or should) you learn them once, and remember them forever,” explained Reb Yechiel, his all-knowing first grade Rebbe.
“Torah is different. If it were like that, you’d just learn it once, remember it all, and move on. So there’s a blessing where you will keep forgetting the Torah you learn unless you constantly immerse in it, as the verse says ‘she is your young elk wife of love, her breasts will satiate you at all times.’.”
Velvel could think of nothing that sounded less like a blessing, or less sexually attractive.
Forget about forgetting. Even if he remembered everything he’d learned, years and years of information which he’d desperately shoved into his dense brain, it was only a matter of time, minutes probably, before the test reached the outer realms of his knowledge and fell into the category of “you should have learned that if only you’d tried a little harder”.
He was sure he could have tried a little harder. The test was rigged. He was fucked.
No one was impressed when you remembered. That was how it was supposed to be. But there were sure as hell pissed if you forgot.
His Father in Heaven was not impressed.
“Nu, Velvel, not a single verse?” He peered down his heavenly beard, his Almighty face overcast and stern. (Velvel found himself noticing, despite himself, how similar God’s face looked like Reb Yom Tov’s his third grade teacher) He’d stopped running the entire universe to judge Velvel, and it was proving remarkably disappointing. The fun of the hunt only exists if the rabbit doesn’t just roll over and take it in the ass.
Velvel emitted an indiscernible squeak. The angels bounced and chattered around God’s throne, supremely entertained. Michael and Gabriel, perched on each of God’s shoulders, jeered at him like a pirate’s monkeys.
It wasn’t every day that someone got their ass handed to them by God during a heavenly judgement. Oh wait, it was. It was every day. Multiple times a day. What fun it was to be an angel!
“What’s gotten into you Velvel?” asked the all-loving one, not unkindly.
“Wait.” God’s lips tightened with suspicion. “You weren’t eating… olives, where you?”
Velvel felt his stomach drop. A wave of shame flooded over him. He felt exactly the same way as he had at 5, watching Reb Avraham scream at him and the rest of the class who had lost their place in the book. God, not much had changed in 83 years.
He gave the slightest of nods, not daring to raise his gaze from the floor and his awkwardly fidgeting feet.
“Olives!!!! How could you???” roared God, spit flying out of His mouth like sparks. Wait, they were actually sparks. Several landed on the wincing Velvel, causing him to wince even more than he ever thought possible.
“You didn’t even think to pour olive oil on it to negate some of its effects?”
“I usually did…” Velvel managed to rasp weakly.
“Usually is not good enough!” raged God. “All it takes is once to forget 70 years of learning, I was quite clear about that (Yavamos page 33 side b)! Of course you don’t remember jack shit (yes, I can read your mind, duh), what do you expect?
“And it gets worse! Gabriel, the recording if you please.”
Gabriel scampered over to a giant projector off to one side of the heavenly courtroom and hit play. Velvel watched a giant version of his much young self – maybe aged 18 or 20 – walking down the street. Passing by a fire hydrant, a shop, between two women walking in the other direction….
“Stop the tape!” screamed God. Gabriel stopped the tape. “Look at that!!! Walking between two women? Is it any wonder your mind is as blank as the day you were born? Did I not clearly specify that walking between two women, two non- Jews, or two dogs could induce forgetfulness?
“Satan! Take him away. Let him burn, along with all the other evil ones. Does the verse not state that forgetting one word of Torah is as though you have spat in God’s face?
“H-how long are you sentencing me for?” gasped Velvel. This was even worse than Reb Yom Tov had described it.
“Twelve months!” Said God, striking his heavenly gavel so that a gigantic thunderclap echoed through both heaven and earth. “As the verse says, ‘gehenom for the wicked is 12 months.’
“But,” gloated God, leaning forward on his heavenly staff and looking smugly at Velvel. “You’ll find that 12 months of eternity is a very long time indeed.”