The Rabbi’s Choice

By Lawngren

I was nine years old that summer, when the Rabbi saved my life and was killed in the process. I was just a Gentile kid who barely knew his name, and he was the only son – the only child, in fact – of a very rich and influential family in my neighborhood. He didn’t owe me anything, much less his life.
There was a landscaping crew taking down a huge tree on the Rabbi’s father’s land. He and some of his friends were watching. It was dangerous, of course, and I wasn’t even supposed to be on the property. That just made me more determined.
I snuck up close through the shrubbery, fascinated by the sound of that saw cutting through that giant old tree a little at a time, and the coordination of the two-man team, one on either end of that long crosscut saw, pulling alternately, fast but never interfering with the other’s pull stroke. Loved the smell of the wood and the oil they put on the blade from time to time. Admired the muscles of the big, strong men and hoped to grow up that strong myself. Every new experience is magic when you’re a kid, and grown-ups are giants!
No one saw me, and I remained crouched in the shrubbery waiting to see the dramatic fall of the tree.
It took a long time. I got tired, but finally the moment came. The crew stopped sawing and all the men listened. There was the fasint snapping sound of wood fibers giving way, and then a chorus of comments – “Yep! It’s goin’ now! – “Hear that wood breaking? We’re done!” – and soon I saw the giant of the woodland begin to lean slowly – in my direction!
I stood up, but froze in fear. When I stood, the crew saw me. The tree’s velocity increased so fast that what happened after that was just a brief terrifying blur. I had time to realize that the thick limbs would get me if the trunk didn’t, and I barely registered someone shouting, “Run north! Run north!
North?
The Rabbi didn’t waste time talking. He was already in motion, so fast! He scooped me up on the run, and we would both have been alright, but his foot caught on a root, and he stumbled.
As he went down, he hurled me as far as he could, and Death failed to grasp me by no more than a couple of feet. Thin, leafy branches whipped me and bounced, whipped again and stopped. My breath left me when I hit the ground, but every deadly limb missed me.
It didn’t miss the Rabbi. I heard the crew yelling. I scrambled up when I could get my breathe back, and saw them desperately tearing at the limbs that hid the Rabbi’s body from view. It was no use.
You don’t let a kid see something like that, and one of them yelled angrily at me to go home. I ran, crying. I knew. I knew. I knew. It was my fault the Rabbi was lying under that massive trunk. I was scared, sick to my stomach with the guilt I carried inside.
That was all. The Rabbi was buried. Time moved on. Life went on, but I was never the same again. I could never forget. Almost every day I remembered the sounds, the anguished cries of the Rabbi’s friends. The years passed, somehow, until the summer that I was seventeen.
I had been sent (anonymously) letters written by the Rabbi’s friends to other people. They said the massive branches kept the trunk from killing the Rabbi instantly, but he was a dead man from the from the moment the tree struck him. His breathing was difficult and painful die to many broken ribs. He was in agony. His friends wrote that it hurt him so bad that when he could feel Death taking him, all he said was, “It’s finished.” When I read that, I was sick. The guilt was tearing me up. I was miserable.
And I was alive. Safe. I hadn’t even been bruised. As far as I knew, no one blamed me, except me. Yet as the years passed, I became more and more miserable from the guilt.
Somehow in the misery, maybe through some novel I’d read, I don’t know, the idea came to me that I had to go to his father and ask forgiveness for having killed his son. I resisted that terrifying thought for some time, but it kept growing in my mind. I came to the point that the fear of facing his father was no longer as great as the pain of the guilt I was carrying.
Finally, I accepted that I had to do it. I’ll never forget that long walk up that driveway. The eternal wait after I knocked on the door. The aged appearance of the Rabbi’s father when he opened the door. Grief had left its mark.
I swallowed and told him without delay.
“Sir, it was me who was responsible for your son’s death. I was the boy he died saving. If … if it wasn’t for me being where I wasn’t supposed to be, sir … your son would be alive today.”
There was a moment of silence that lasted an hour. I had no clue to the thoughts going through his mind. Then he almost whispered, “I know who you are. Come in.”
I followed him in and sat where he indicated, waiting. Just waiting for whatever was coming. Wondering how he knew who I was after all these years, when I had not attended his son’s funeral, had never indicated in any way to anyone what had happened. I saw tears in his eyes, and then he asked, “Why are you telling me this?”
I didn’t know what to say. I had no rehearsed answers. No idea of what would happen. I hung my head, trying to figure out why I had told him, because I really didn’t know. The guilt? But what good would telling him do? It didn’t seem to make sense.
The words finally came out, slow and jerky, but as I spoke I realized they were true words.
“Sir …” – my own tears started flowing, for an entirely new reason. I realized for the first time that I was sorry for what I had done. Not just guilty, but sorry that I had ended a good life – “… sir, I have to apologize for killing your son. I didn’t mean to, but I was disobeying what my parents had told me and what one of the crew told me, and … that makes it my fault that your son is dead.” I still couldn’t raise my head and meet his eyes.
I got stuck there for a minute.
“I don’t know what to say or do, sir. I just … knew I had to tell you … that I was sorry. In old times, sir, you’d have had a right to kill me … and I wish it had been me instead of your son. I’m sorry.”
His reply shocked me: “My son did not save your life so that I could kill you.”
I looked him in the face as he continued, “But you do owe me. And you owe my son. I am going to tell you how you can pay that debt – if you are willing.”
You know what scared means? I was scared. Stomach full of butterflies. I had no idea what he was going to tell me to do. But I suddenly felt glad. There was a chance? A chance to pay that debt? To end the guilt? I knew that whatever he demanded of me, I was going to try to do.
“Sir, I’ll try. What is it I have to do?”

The rabbi’s father replied, “I have always known who you are. I have watched your life from that moment. I sent you the letters describing what my son went through. Guilt either sickens people’s hearts, or turns them into evil, if it is not resolved. You weren’t doing anything about the guilt I knew you were feeling, so I pushed you, with those letters. Something had to be done, or your life also would have been destroyed.”

“I will adopt you. You will not change your name – you should always honor your father and mother – but I will give you another name in addition to your birth name, and you will be given citizenship in my country. A dual citizen, with full rights and responsibilities in both countries. You will tell people how my son died to save your life. And you will, to the best of your ability, live the life my son would have lived. His death was consistent with his life – he lived to help others. You will do the same.”

The Rabbi’s father hesitated a moment, to isolate his next words and give them full impact.
“It may be that someday you will face the same choice my son faced – to save yourself or save another. If that day comes, I want you to follow my son.”
“Will you agree to do these things?”
I don’t know if I can convey the power and the fear of that moment. I was seventeen, and until that moment I had never been asked to make a man’s choice. The father’s words hit me as hard as that tree might have done. I was scared, but I hesitated only one short breath. I was being offered a pardon. Redemption. Unbelievable.
“Yes sir, I will. I give you my word.”
What has followed has been a rocky road. Many times I have failed to live up to the standard the Rabbi set. I was so ashamed and troubled by this that on several occasions I returned to his father’s house and told him how miserably I had failed. But he would not release me from my promise. He just told me that he never expected me to be perfect, only to try with everything I had in me, and to pray to God for forgiveness and start again when I failed.
I said just now that it has been a rocky road, and that’s true. But the way gets brighter and more joyful as the years go by.
I promised the Rabbi’s father to tell people about his son’s sacrifice that saved my life, and now I have told you. You may have read about it. The Rabbi’s name was Joshua ben David. Was. Now His name is “Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Lord of Lords”. We Gentiles call Him Jesus.
What I have told you in an allegory is the truth in fact. You can read the accounts of the eyewitnesses in the New Testament books Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.
And what He did for me He can and will do for you.
“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.‘ ” (Revelation 21:5-7)
” ‘I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you and to give you assurance of these things for the churches. I am the Source and the Offspring of David, the radiant and bright Morning Star.’ The Spirit and the bride (the church, all true believers) say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let anyone who wishes take and drink the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 22:16-17)