“Are you all right, Zadie?” Dinah asked her grandfather. Zadie seemed to be staring off into space. Dinah was worried. Zadie had been sick, and now he couldn’t be left alone. That’s why she was there. Bubbie, her grandmother, had to go out of the house for a few hours, so Dinah came over to keep Zadie company and help him if he needed anything. Dinah was 12 years old and already had been left to babysit for her younger sister, Ilana.
“I’m all right. I’m just listening to God,” answered her Zadie. “This book I’m reading is a Chumash, the Torah.”
“How can you hear God in a book? Dinah asked.
“This isn’t just any book. It is the Torah. God speaks to people through the Torah. God was talking with me,” Zadie explained.
“God was talking to you? Really? What did he say?” marveled Dinah.
“God was telling me about how to raise children, and about things I might have done differently if I had listened better when your dad was a boy,” Zadie replied, slowly.
“You mean God was talking to you about my dad? Cool!” Dinah exclaimed.
“Not about your dad exactly. Here the Torah tells the story of Jacob and his sons. It made me think of your dad. God speaks to us through the Torah if we listen carefully.”
Dinah lived nearby with her parents and Ilana, her younger sister, but until Zadie got sick she didn’t see her grandparents very often. They would visit Zadie for Rosh Hashanah or Passover, but Zadie and Dinah’s father didn’t get along.
“Does God speak to my dad too? Would God speak to me?” Dinah asked.
“God will talk to anybody who will learn to read the Torah and listen. Your dad isn’t very interested in talking with God, but if you want to learn to read the Torah and listen, God would love to talk to you,” Zadie assured her. “Come, I will show you.”
Dinah sat next to her Zadie, who started reading the Torah. He opened to the story Leah and Rachel, who were both married to Jacob. “Have you and Ilana ever quarreled?” Zadie asked her. Dinah nodded yes, thinking of all the times she and Ilana fought. “Well, if we listen carefully as we read about Leah and Rachel, who were sisters and were very jealous of each other, God talks to us about how sisters can learn to get along.”
Back at home that evening, Dinah told her parents all about her afternoon with Zadie. “He’s showing me how to read the Torah and talk with God,” she said proudly.
“Is he still using that talking with God line? He used to do the same thing to me when I was little. If you don’t want him to bother you with all that, you don’t have to go over there. We can hire somebody to stay with him whenever Bubbie needs to get out,” snapped Dinah’s father.
“But I want to go. I really liked it. I promised him I’d come back on Saturday afternoon. He said I could come every Saturday afternoon,” Dinah insisted.
On Saturday, Dinah visited Zadie, but things were different. Not only was Bubbie there, but the dining room table was set with a fancy tablecloth. Bubbie didn’t do any cooking, although she did have a tray of sweets. When the phone rang nobody got up to answer it.
“Do you want me to get it? asked Dinah, jumping up.
“No need. It’s probably just a salesman selling something. People who know us wouldn’t call on Shabbat,” said Bubbie.
Dinah looked puzzled. Zadie explained: “Saturday is Shabbat, a gift from God. We don’t do any work on Shabbat. It’s a day of complete rest. Bubbie doesn’t cook or clean–not even heat up water for tea. We don’t use the phone. We don’t ride. When I feel up to it, I walk to the synagogue. Maybe in the spring you will walk with me to synagogue on Shabbat. Would you like that?”
“Sure, when I don’t have soccer,” said Dinah. Sometimes she had soccer games on Saturday morning.
Dinah could imagine walking slowly with her Zadie and talking about interesting stuff. She didn’t talk much with her parents. They were always so busy, running around for their jobs. Her parents would never not answer a phone. They each had a cellular phone. They were always on the phone.
“Can we read the Torah and talk to God on Shabbat?” Dinah asked.
“Of course, that’s what Shabbat is all about, resting and talking with God,” said Zadie, taking out the Chumash. “What should we talk to God about today?” he asked.
Dinah told Zadie about a new girl in her class. “Her family just came from Russia. She’s kind of weird. She dresses in really ugly clothes, and she does her hair funny,” said Dinah, recalling how the kids teased her and how sorry she felt for the girl.
“So, what did you do?” asked Zadie.
“I didn’t tease her. I didn’t do anything. Why, what should I do?” Dinah asked defensively.
“Let’s ask God,” suggested Zadie, flipping through the pages of the Chumash. Zadie told about the time Moses called a big meeting of all the Israelites and laid down God’s rules so they would know how to behave. He began to read straight from the Torah: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” [Lev. 19:34]
“What is God saying to you?” asked Zadie.
“I didn’t tease her,” Dinah insisted, but she didn’t sound so sure of herself. She read the words over again out loud. “I guess I should be nice to her and try to be her friend.”
Zadie gave her a big hug. “See, God will talk to you too, when you are willing to listen.”
Dinah kept returning to Zadie’s house almost every Shabbat. They talked and no matter what happened, Zadie could find a place in the Torah where God spoke about it. Well, not exactly about what was going on today but, if she listened closely with the help of Zadie, she could see how the things God said in the Torah were about her life too.
One Saturday Dinah came straight from soccer practice. She was still angry. A girl on her team had cheated and beaten her out for a starting position. “I’m going to get back at her,” Dinah vowed to her Zadie.
Zadie looked sad. “What do you think God would tell you to do? he asked.
“This is soccer. God doesn’t talk about soccer in the Torah,” insisted Dinah.
“This is not about soccer. This is about people, and God tells us everything we need to know about living with people,” Zadie said quietly. He opened the Chumash and began reading from the story of Jacob. “Here is the story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah. You even have her name,” Zadie noted.
Dinah had been kidnapped and abused by the people of a nearby village. Jacob’s sons rescued their sister and pretended to make peace with the villagers, who were very sorry. But a few days later, Jacob’s sons attacked the village when the men couldn’t defend themselves.
“That’s a terrible thing to do!” exclaimed Dinah.
“Why is it terrible? Jacob’s sons were just getting back at the villagers who did something bad to their sister, something worse than cheating at soccer,” argued Zadie.
“But the villagers showed how sorry they were and really wanted to get along with Jacob’s family. Instead the sons attacked the villagers. It was terrible,” Dinah insisted.
“Jacob thought it was terrible too. Right here, he scolds his sons,” Zadie pointed out. “God thinks it is terrible too, which is why God put the story in the Torah.”
Dinah understood what God was saying about not getting back at the girl in soccer, but Zadie saw she didn’t like it. “Sometimes God doesn’t give us the answer we’d like, but God always gives us the right answer. Play your very best. That’s how you get back at her,” Zadie said as he hugged her.
A few weeks later Dinah and her family arrived on Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. Her parents and sister left soon after dinner, but Dinah was staying overnight because Bubbie was out of town. Dinah and Zadie would spend all of Shabbat together.
On Saturday morning, Zadie and Dinah planned to walk to the synagogue, but Zadie complained about feeling too tired. They didn’t go. Instead, Zadie began his morning prayers but soon stopped and went to his room to take a nap. Dinah was a little worried.
By lunchtime, Zadie still hadn’t gotten up from his nap. Dinah peeked into his room. He seemed half awake. “Are you all right Zadie? Can I get you something?”
“A little water maybe. I’m not feeling so good today. I’m sorry,” Zadie replied weakly.
Dinah handed Zadie a cup of water. “Here. Maybe I should call somebody, Daddy or a doctor,” she suggested.
“No, don’t call, not on Shabbat. And anyway, it’s nothing serious. I just need to rest.”
“Call me if you need anything. I’ll be right outside the door,” said Dinah. As she sat in the hallway, she thought Zadie was more than just a little sick, but she didn’t know what to do. Zadie forbid her to use the phone on Shabbat, and she didn’t want to leave him to go find a neighbor.
Suddenly she heard Zadie struggling to breathe. Dinah jumped up and rushed into his room. “What can I do Zadie? I’m going to call the police,” Dinah cried.
“No. Not on Shabbat. Get my pills from the counter. I’ll be okay.” Zadie gasped. Dinah rushed out to get the pills. After Zadie took the pills, he seemed a little better, but she didn’t believe he was okay. If only it wasn’t Shabbat, she would have called for help hours ago. Now, she sat down at the kitchen table and wondered what to do.
God knows what to do, Dinah thought. She thought about the Torah and all the parts about honoring and observing Shabbat, but God couldn’t really mean that she shouldn’t use a phone to call for help for Zadie. Then she remembered a part she and Zadie read together. Dinah opened Zadie’s chumash and searched for the section she wanted [Lev 19:16]. Finally, she found it: “Do not stand by the blood of your fellow. I am the Lord,” it read. Zadie had told her it meant you could violate the rules of Shabbat to save a life. She read the words again and again, listening to what God was saying. It wasn’t what Zadie wanted, but she knew what she had to do.
Dinah picked up the phone and called her dad. “It’s all right. You did the right thing,” he reassured her. He immediately called the doctor.
At the hospital later that day, Dinah was sitting with her family when the doctor came into the waiting room. “He’ll be all right now,” the doctor announced. Turning to Dinah, he said: “If he had waited much longer, he would have died. You saved his life.”
When Dinah visited her Zadie in the hospital, he was much improved. “When you talk with God, you always end up doing the right thing,” he said smiling. Zadie went home from the hospital soon after. A few months later, Dinah walked with him to synagogue. Even her father joined them one Shabbat.
In the years that followed, Dinah grew up and had problems just like everybody else. But whenever she wasn’t sure what to do, she would open the Torah and talk with God. Sometimes the Torah didn’t tell her what she wanted to hear, but it always gave her the right answer if she listened carefully.