“Moshe, your new friend is here,” called his mother, a barefoot woman with a blue floral dress and yellow headscarf, as she welcomed me at the door. Through the narrow corridor, painted sky blue, Moshe led me to the room where he lived with his three brothers. Moshe was the youngest. He shared a bed with his oldest brother, Avi, who was now in the Army – a paratrooper, he boasted. Moshe was looking forward to Avi's next leave, and said that now that he had the bed all to himself I could come for sleepovers. I wished I had a big brother, too.
Before dinner, Moshe's mother handed me a kippah with “Good Boy Jerusalem” knitted round its rim, and affixed it to my hair with a hairpin. Moshe's father, Yosef, said a blessing over the food, and together with everyone I said “Amen”.
In the middle of the table was a pile of flat-bread and a large clay bowl filled with a steaming mountain of rice mixed with red lentils, topped with chunks of chicken. “keechri,” Moshe called it, as he tucked his fingers into the mixture, expertly piling the rice onto shreds of pita and popping them into his mouth. I imitated, but the unpleasant sensation, oil greasing my fingers, would not allow me to enjoy the new, exotic flavors, and I kept rubbing the slime off my fingers onto the bread. I felt relieved when we were sent to wash our hands. “My father will teach a chapter from the Bible now,” Moshe told me as we were lining up for the sink.
Intoning the words, Yosef read a few verses from the Torah portion of the week. Then, putting down the small black bible, he looked at Moshe. “So, Moshe, what did you learn today from the story of Balaam?”
“God made a donkey talk like a person and made the most powerful of all wizards do his will. So we can learn that there is nothing God cannot do.”
“This is a very good answer, Moshe. Now Boaz, what did you learn?”
Savta had often read to me the fables of Aesop and La Fontaine, and after each story she insisted that we discussed its moral. I never admitted to Savta, but I had always felt that those fables were for babies. Animals could not talk, so how could a talking animal teach me anything? I loved the stories of Captain Nemo cruising under the ocean or the adventures of brave children saving their country. Just like Savta's fables, the story of Balaam made no sense at all.
“Well,” I said, “Even when the donkey tried to tell Bilam that an angel holding a sword was blocking their way, Bilam could not see it. It's like when children see things that grownups don't, but the grownups still think they know better. Maybe the moral is that because everyone sees different things, nobody knows what is true.”
Moshe's father smiled in approval. “This is very good, Boaz. We never know what is right and what is wrong. This is why God gave us the Torah to guide us so that we always know the truth.”
After dinner, Moshe and I argued on the stone fence in front of his house.
“But your father said that we didn't know what's true, so how does he know that the Torah is true?”
“This is because God gave it to us, so it must be true.”
“But if you don't know what’s true, how can you be sure that the Torah was really given by God?”
“Because it was given to us on Mt. Sinai. Everyone knows that.”
“But you don't really believe that Bilam story is true, do you? It's about a talking donkey. You know that donkeys can't talk.”
“'They do. If God wills it, even a broom can shoot.”