my after the second time does
Ben hear the rabbi's question. "I said,
`With what letter does God begin the
"Uh, with an 'I. "
The rabbi is a patient man and puts on
his best puzzled look. "With an 'I'?"
"You know, 'In the beginning, whatever,
"Do you think God wrote the Torah in
"Oh yeah. You mean in Hebrew." Ben
thinks to himself as he looks around the
enormous library of the rabbi's living room.
"With a 'bet. "
"Very good. B'raisheet bara. The letter
`bet.' Draw one for me," says the rabbi
handing him a pen. Ben thinks, then
begins to draw with the tip of his tongue
poking out of the corner of his mouth. He
has the expression one might have when
shooting marbles for very high stakes.
"Right," says the rabbi when Ben has
finished but Ben has again reached his con-
centration limit and is beginning to
daydream. This time about The Maltese
Falcon. "Now let's talk about it."
Okay. You want to talk. We'll talk. How
about Spencer Murphy? Let's talk about
him. Why don't you start by telling me
where you were the night he got his hair
parted by a slug from an amazingly clean
.38 automatic. I suppose you were here
talking to the big man in the sky. Am I
right? Well? Is He going to vouch for you?
The rabbi's voice produces a sensation
similar to what a sleepy motorist must feel
upon opening his eyes to discover a moving
road. All roads, like all rabbinic lessons,
are pretty much the same and so you never
know just how much you slept through.
"I realize it's a rhetorical question, but
you can answer it anyway."
This apparent non-sequitor leaves Ben a
little dazed. "Huh?"
"On how many sides is it closed?"
"The letter 'bet.' "
"Thank you," and the rabbi sighs im-
perceptibly. "That's all I wanted."
Maybe that's all you wanted when you
started in this lousy business but with
Murphy dead and the necklace gone I'm
beginning to wonder.
"Which three are closed?"
Ben looks over at the 'bet' which is
roughly like a block print 'C' only
backwards. "The top, the bottom, and the
"And the language goes from right to
left." He looks over at Ben to make sure he
hasn't lost him yet. Ben nods knowingly.
"So what do we learn from this? I'll tell
you. The knowledge of man begins at the
instant of that letter. All things knowable
come after it. Put yourself inside the let-
ter. Where can you see? Only forward. You
can't look above" you into the heavens, or
downward into the soul of man, or behind
FRIDAY, MARCH 3, 1989
Art By Maury Komins
The Maltese Torah
"Rabbi," thought young Ben, "I've met
a lot of dames in my time. Pretty girls
with long tender legs. How about your
wiA Rabbi? Does she go for all of
God's mumbo-jumbo?" A short story
that would have made Bogart proud.
MICHAEL B. GREENFIELD
Special to The Jewish News