Tuesday. 4:10 p.m. I’m driving north down Livonia and swinging left on to Pico Blvd.
The light is green.
I’m 20 yards behind an SUV that has turned left on Pico and headed west.
I’m traveling at about 10 mph.
I’ve had the day from hell. I’m looking forward to feeling this (comparatively) new van handle the curve and then zoom up the street.
I notice a big white guy on a bicycle on the north side of Pico at the crosswalk.
He disappears from my vision.
I turn into Pico through the crosswalk and suddenly I’m right on top of the big white guy.
It’s Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom. He’s on a bike wearing a helmut, his tzitzit flying in the breeze, a look of surprise on his face competing with the awesome serenity that only comes through Torah study.
I bet he had just finished teaching the Rambam’s 13 essential principles of the Jewish faith and was praying that part of the service wherein one thanks G-d for His protection..
He turns awkwardly away from me and west on Pico.
He’s no Lance Armstrong and I’m no Danica Patrick.
I slam on my brakes. My hand rushes to my mouth and then waves imploringly in the air for him to forgive me.
"I’m sorry," I say into my air conditioning.
He gives me a gracious wave and peddles uphill.
Sheesh, if I have to kill a rabbi today, why can’t it be a Reform rabbi? Why does Rabbi Etshalom have to die for my sins? He hosted me for a meal on a Jewish holiday 2001. He was my Torah teacher. He was wise and funny. He made a great team with Rabbi Adlerstein at the late lamented Project Next Step.
Why does Rabbi Etshalom have to (almost) die for my sins?
Oh, rabbis Cohen, Muskin, Weil and Union were right to eject me.
Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this burden of sin?
Just imagine if the last thing Rabbi Etshalom saw in his life was my sweaty semi-converted face?
Just the void.
There is no Judge and there is no Justice.
For my iniquities, he was (almost) smitten. For my transgressions, he was (almost) run over by a car.
Surely he is G-d’s suffering servant as prophesied by Isaiah 53.
My feelings of shock slowly turn into relief as I drive behind him on Pico Blvd.
I’d sworn to follow him until his dying day, to sit in the dust and soak in his teachings, but this is takings things too far.
From behind his back, he gives me another gracious wave and turns left through two lanes of traffic heading east.
I zoom past.
"Oh, how horrid, how embarrassing, how shameful," I think, "but at least I’ll get a blog post out of it."