By Keith Bloomfield
The Receptionist enjoyed a commanding view of the entire floor. No one could enter or exit without her knowing. She liked that. She always knew who was at work and who was out. She was the queen of gossip and the arbiter of information for any and all visitors. That she liked most of all.
On this particular morning, when everyone was hard at work in their offices and the phones barely rang, the elevator doors slid open and a stranger emerged from the glare of the tiny cab. The Receptionist heard the bell ring even before the doors opened and she waited for its occupant to step into her world and break the day's monotony. The stranger was certainly not what she expected. She had seen men like him before in their long black coats and hats. "How can they dress like that? Even in the heat of summer," she mused. He wore a trimmed, though scraggly beard and his eyes twinkled as though he knew a secret that he was eager to share. His eyes swept the reception area and settled on the Receptionist. He made his way toward her desk, waddling, off balance like a duck. He carried a heavy leather briefcase, scuffed, and battered from years of use. He shifted it from one hand to the other and back again as he approached her.
"I'm looking for the person I was sent here to find. Do you know where I can find him?"
"Run that past me again," she said, squinting at the visitor.
He carefully lowered the heavy case to floor. "I am the Messenger and I was sent here to relay a message to someone. Can you help me find him?"
The Receptionist craned her neck to see the briefcase at the Messenger's feet. "What d'ya got in there, a package or an envelope? Ya gotta have a name on it."
"No," he replied, tapping the side of his head, "the message is in here, but whom do I give it to?"
"Hell, if you don't know, how should I?"
"Can I look at a copy of your telephone directory?"
"I'm not supposed to do this," she explained, "but if it's going to help." She presented him with a typed copy of the company phone directory, enclosed in a plastic sheet protector.
The Messenger ran his finger down the list and stopped at one name in particular. "You know him?" asked the Messenger.
The Receptionist looked at the name next to his finger. "Oh, Mr. Jacobs, he's one of our Department Heads. I'll call him and let him know you're looking for him." When she looked back up at the Messenger, he was gone. The Receptionist immediately dialed Robert Jacobs' office extension.
Jacobs was Director of Training for the company and his tiny office was crammed with loaded bookshelves. The phone rang and Jacobs answered it.
"There's a Messenger on his way to see you, but he doesn't look like any Messenger I've ever seen."
"I'm not expecting anything," replied Jacobs.
"Well he's got something for you."
Jacobs heard a knock on his door. "I think he's here. I'll call you back. Thanks." He hung up the phone and turned to the door. "Come in," he shouted.
The door opened and the Messenger strolled into the office. The door seemed to close right behind him, though as Jacobs thought back on the event, he assumed that the Messenger closed it with his foot, though he never actually saw it happen. The Messenger walked right to his desk and rested his heavy case on the desktop.
"Are you the person I'm looking for?"
Jacobs took a deep breath. "I don't know. Who are you looking for?"
The Messenger rested both of his arms on the top of the case and leaned forward toward Jacobs. "I'm looking for the person who is studying Kabbalah."
Robert Jacobs's eyes widened. "How could he know?" thought Jacobs. No one in the company knew of Rob's studies. No one cared and he never discussed it with anyone. Not even his family. How could this stranger know? "It's a coincidence," he thought. "He picked a name that sounded Jewish. That had to be it," he concluded.
"Well, are you?" repeated the Messenger.
"I guess I am."
"Who is your teacher?"
Jacobs did not know how to respond. He was studying on his own. He knew the injunction about waiting until you're forty years old. He wasn't. And having a teacher. He didn't. But he ignored them. He concluded that the teacher was there to keep you focused. He was very focused. And after forty, an individual probably had the experience and maturity necessary to appreciate the wisdom to be found in the Zohar, the Sefer Yetzirah, the Bahir, and the Sefer Raziel HaMalakh, the central texts of Kabbalah study. "I study alone," he replied.
"Now I know why I was sent to find you. You need a teacher," pronounced the Messenger, as he released the latches on his case. He flipped open the top, and began rummaging through its contents up to his elbows.
Jacobs was hoping to add a new level of spirituality to his life, not to become a mystic or to follow in the footsteps of the great Jewish sages like Akiba or Ben Zoma, whose mystical excursion drove him mad. His studies had added depth and new meaning to his more conventional scrutiny of the Torah. Early in his studies, he learned to think of his excursions in Torah like a walk in a rich aromatic orchard or in Hebrew pardes (sometimes PaRDeS). Pardes was an acronym that stood for the four different ways of interpreting Torah: Peshat, the direct meaning: Remez as an allegory: Derash is the midrashic interpretation, and Sod the "secret" or the mystical meaning. While he had always enjoyed Torah studies, pardes had opened new vistas that he never imagined existed. When Rob looked at Torah through the branches of pardes, every line of every parsha opened like a rose in summer to be appreciated for its color, prized for its aroma, and marveled for the details of its construction. Maybe he did need a teacher to help him to the next plateau. No, to have a representative seek him out was too much to believe.
The Messenger finally withdrew several flyers and multi-colored brochures from the bowels of his bag. This is whom you should be studying with," he said with a flourish as he spread the papers on the desk in front of Jacobs.
Robert quickly inspected the documents. He was sure that his expression betrayed his feelings as he scanned the sheets. "What does he take me for?" thought Rob. "You would think that he was selling shoes or insurance." He picked up the papers and deposited them in a desk drawer. "Thank you for coming in and I will take these and read through them."
The Messenger set his jaw and his eyes widened. "I do not think you understand the mistake you are making. You must have a teacher to help you separate the truth from the fallacy."
"Do you know what Maimonides said about study?" The Messenger squinted uneasily at Robert. "He said that 'the purpose of study should be knowledge, and the ultimate purpose of truth should be to know that it is true.' When I am ready, I will seek out a teacher. In the meantime, thank you for stopping by this morning." Robert began to usher him out of his office. "Let me show you to the elevator."
"I can find my own way out," admonished the Messenger. "And you'll regret your decision.
The Messenger closed the door behind him. Robert did not want any of his colleagues to be bothered by the Messenger. He rushed out of his office in search of the stranger. He was not in the hallway outside his office. He ran to the reception area and it was empty too. He checked the other corridors on the floor and the Messenger was nowhere to be found. Robert walked back to the Reception desk.
"Did he come back this way?"
"The little guy with the black bag?" Rob nodded. "Haven't seen him since he went to see you."
Robert ran down the stairs to the Security Guard. He had seen him enter the building, but he had never left. Rob even rushed out into the street and searched for the Messenger. He was gone. Rob pushed the button for the elevator and rode back to the Reception Area on the second floor of the building. "He could have gone upstairs, rather than out," thought Jacobs. Then he remembered that only the second floor had a Receptionist and that the remaining floors of the building required either keys or pass cards to enter. The elevator doors opened in the second floor lobby and Robert walked to the Receptionist.
"Did you find him?" she asked.
"No he just seems to have disappeared. Tell me exactly what happened."
"He came looking for someone, but he didn't know the name. He asked me to show him our telephone directory and he immediately picked you." She handed him a copy of the directory. While it was only the front and back of a single sheet of paper, there were other Jewish names before and after his on the list. Why was he selected?
Robert knew that in the same way that he had found Kabbalah, he would also find a teacher. He could not be sure of the authorship of the books that form the basis of the Kabbalah's wisdom. He would probably never ascend to the mystical levels achieved by the sages. That was not his goal. He thought once more about what Maimonides had said: "The purpose of study should be knowledge, and the ultimate purpose of truth should be to know that it is true." It would be a long journey for Robert Jacobs, but he was already on his way. Perhaps the Messenger was just a test of his kavanah his intent. Rob was not going to let an unannounced appearance by a stranger cast any doubt on his motives. He knew that what he was doing was right for him. His studies were special. They were often the best part of his day. Time invested, not merely spent. His Kabbalah studies gave his Torah studies a new perspective that he would not have traded for the world.
He was still disturbed as to how the Messenger found him. Was it a coincidence or something beyond his understanding at work? He would think about it. He would let it percolate for a while. His focus was sharp and his concentration unswerving -- even after a visit from the Messenger.
Robert Jacobs did find a teacher and his studies continued. He never read the brochures left by the Messenger. He could never find where he had put them. The Messenger never returned, but in a small way, he had never left either.